I write this d’var Torah acknowledging that with its completion, I have written a d’var Torah every week for 12 years straight. That’s a lot of digging in, finding meaning, extrapolating relevance and, lest I forget, editing by my amazing editor, my Rabbi Consort, Duncan Gilman. I’m often asked about my process for writing these weekly columns, and it’s a little embarrassing to reveal that I write them a year ahead of time. That way, I’m never without something to say, and I always have at least a basic structure to work from, should the world go awry, which it almost always does.
As I’ve written about so many weekly portions, and they’ve all appeared in print, it also means I have to check to make sure I’m not repeating myself. Usually, it’s easy enough to take the same topic and explain it in a different way, but sometimes I’m at a loss. Occasionally I only want to talk about one specific moment in the Torah portion, and while repetition isn’t necessarily bad, it feels risky to repeat myself on my blog and the Neveh Shalom website.
The good news for me is that this week’s Torah portion has a reminder about finding connection to its own words, and it’s helpful advice to live by too. This week we read the penultimate Torah portion, Parshat Ha’azinu, which has the special honor of being the last section of Torah read on Shabbat morning. Parshat Ha’azinu is a poem which warns against the negative behavior of the Israelites and explains the blessings that will befall them with the good behavior they are certainly capable of. The text ends with Moses ascending the mountain into the clouds as he takes his leave of the Israelite nation. This parshah is the link between generations, between new and old leadership, and between living on earth (in the land of Israel), and living with God (on top of the mountain in the heavens).
At a point in this week’s Torah portion, Moses shares that the Torah is “not an empty thing from you.” That is to say, if the Torah is lacking in meaning, it’s not because the meaning isn’t there, but because you might not have found the connection yet. It is simultaneously the worst advice I want to hear on days when I struggle with what to make of our tradition, and at the same time, the most helpful reminder that there are always moments, words, sounds, phrases that will have meaning for me.
I find it fascinating that towards the end of the entire Torah we get this reminder to look closer, deeper, broader into the text to find meaning. The answer is it’s always there, we just have to open our hearts and minds to find it. As someone who writes every week, I often struggle with this, and yet Moses and God are right – the knowledge is there, I just need to open myself to hold a new perspective.
Ha’azinu translates to “and we listened.” May we open our ears to listen to one another, our hearts to hear anew, our minds to connect to something new and meaningful for us in the new year.