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A Yom Kippur Meditation

You're always listening

to someone...

by John J. Parsons

Every year just after the solemn time of Yom Kippur we read parashat Ha'azinu, the great prophetic song that Moses was commanded to teach the Jewish people before he died. In the Sefer Torah (Torah Scroll), the song is written in a stylized two-column format with extra spaces. Each line of the shirah (song) is matched by a second, parallel unit (Talmud: Shabbat 103b).

Ha'azinu reminds us that who we listen to ultimately decides our fate. It begins, הַאֲזִינוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם וַאֲדַבֵּרָה - "Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak" (Deut. 32:1). The song is didactic, intended to teach us something.  It begins quietly: "like gentle rain upon the tender grass, and like showers upon the herb...." The Spirit here appeals to the humble to drink in the message given from above.  Heed first the kol demamah dakkah, the "still small voice" (קוֹל דְּמָמָה דַקָּה) and receive the proclamation of the Name of the LORD and His greatness (Deut. 32:3, see also Ex. 34:6-7). Understand His attributes (middot): the LORD is the Rock (הַצּוּר), his deeds are perfect, and all His ways are just. He is the Faithful God (אֵל אֱמוּנָה), without iniquity, forever true and upright (צַדִּיק וְיָשָׁר הוּא) (Deut. 32:3-4).

The world has its message or its "song," chaverim, which is invariably focused on fear and egotistic self-preservation. We are tempted, are we not, to listen and accept such propaganda without serious reflection....  After all, we are always listening to someone, but the all-important question is to whom? The inner voice of your soul gets its messages from somewhere. Tragically, many of our opinions are formed by heeding to the "voice of the world," i.e., the crowd, the songs and movies of pop culture, and especially the propaganda (um, "news") that is designed to manipulate and enslave the masses....


Who are you listening to?  The Midrash Rabbah says that the ear (אזֶן) gives life to all the organs of the body.  How so? By listening (שׁמע, shema) to the Torah. This idea is repeated in the New Testament: "Faith comes from listening to the Word of God" (Rom. 10:17).  The Word of God (דְּבַר־אֱלהִים) is our very life, chaverim.  Listening to other voices (regardless of how seemingly well-intended) means cutting yourself off from the Source of life itself.... Hearing and obeying are linked, and "hearing" the messages of this corrupt world can eventually make you into an enemy of God Himself (James 4:4). The world always speaks its message to members of its "crooked and twisted generation" (Deut. 32:5). How else do politicians gain their audiences?

So what's the message of this prophetic song?  What's it all about?  Well, Ha'azinu is essentially about Israel's history: past, present and future.  It begins with Creation itself and the establishment of the 70 nations (Deut. 32:7-8). It goes on to say that the LORD chose Israel as the "portion" of His people (Deut. 32:9). God found them in a desert land and protected them "as the pupil of His eye" (v.10). He was like an eagle brooding over its nest, "fluttering over its young," covering them with its wings, and carrying them over the high places. In poetic terms, the LORD suckled them with "honey out of the rock" and fed them the fat of lambs (v. 11-14).

But Jeshurun (יְשֻׁרוּן, a term of endearment for Israel from yashar, meaning "upright") "grew fat and kicked," forsaking the God who made him, and "made fun of" (נבל) the Rock of his Salvation (צוּר יְשֻׁעָתוֹ) (v. 15). Israel then turned to other so-called gods, even sacrificing to demons ("no-gods"), disregarding the message of the fathers (v. 17). Israel "forgot" the LORD who gave them life (v. 18). This provoked Him to "hide His face from them" (see the article on hester panim, the Divine Absence, for more information). The Jews would be sent into exile and provoked relentlessly by a "nation of fools" (Deut. 32:21; see Rom. 10:19, Hos. 1:9-10) -- perhaps an ironic play on Israel's "making fun of" the Rock.  Misfortune and disaster would be the reward of their forgetfulness. Indeed, God would have destroyed Israel completely were it not for the sake of His Name and reputation among the nations (v. 26-27). The LORD, however, would never allow Israel's enemies to think their strength was behind His chastisement of His people.... No, and despite their worldly claims to the contrary, their Day of Calamity is soon at hand: God Himself will exact vengeance and recompense upon the nations in the latter days (v. 35).

In the "end of the End of Days," when God sees "that their power is gone and nothing is left," He will recall His mercy and pour out comfort upon His people Israel. Then He will judge the earth and the dreadful "Day of the LORD" (יוֹם יְהוָה) will come. The nations will be judged with catastrophic judgments (v. 37-43). God will avenge the blood of His children, repay all those who hate Him, and atone for Israel (וְכִפֶּר) on that great and awesome day (v. 43). This is ultimate fulfillment of Yom Kippur, friends....

Are you listening, chaverim? Bring greatness to the Name of the LORD by keeping His word within your hearts. "For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live" (v. 47):

For it is no empty word for you, but your very life,
and by this word you shall live long in the land.

Study Torah! Take hold of truth. Gain da'at Torah - a Torah perspective - and read between the lines of the world's "news." Do not heed the messages of this world and live in its present despair (or promise, as the case may be).  Quit playing charades. Take heed rather of the message of life.

Time is short and the days are evil. There will be a day of Reckoning. On that Day, what you valued most will be exposed once and for all.  The masks will all come off.  The truth of what you worship will be manifest to all.  You will then give account for how you spent your life, what messages you believed, and what voices you heeded....

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