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Deuteronomy's latter parts contain dire prophesy and rebuke from Moses about the consequences of what he warns in the previous parasha:
I know that… you will completely corrupt yourselves, and turn aside from the way I commanded you. Evil will befall you in the latter days; because you will do what is bad in the sight of G-d, to provoke Him to anger… (31:26,28).
The details of what that evil will be is given at length - twice: in the prose form in the tochacha (passage of rebuke) in Parashat Ki Tavo, and in poetic form in this week's parasha, which this year is read on Shabbat Shuva, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
The Parshiot of this last book of the Torah are divided up in an unusual way. The first seven are of roughly equal length. The last four are very short indeed - typically only one third of the previous parshiot. That is not mere salami tactic; one explanation is this arrangement is deliberate, so that the tochacha in Ki Tavo is never read on the Shabbat immediately preceding Rosh Hashanah. That would place the Israelites in a bad light at the time the middat hadin - the stern judgment associated with that day.
Yet in this Parasha - between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur - Moses warns the Israelites of what will happen to them if they forget G-d through persistently and successfully pursuing wealth and affluence.
In the first stage 'they will be cut down' - [G-d's fire] will 'consume the earth its produce (32:22). Then 'I will accumulate evils against them. My arrows will consume them' (32:23). After that, G-d will work on the 'leftovers': 'on the outside the sword shall bereave, while indoors there will be dread' (32:25). And finally, the Land will be so unproductive that the people will find themselves parting company with it: 'I will scatter them. I will let Mankind remember them no more' (32:26).
It seems that the 'tochacha' of this week's parasha is equally unsuited for this very spiritually sensitive period - the days of repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
However, the wider contexts may give different perspectives.
In the tochacha in Ki Tavo, the context is given in one verse:
'Because you did not serve G-d with gladness and goodness of heart, when you had everything' (28:47).
Rabbeinu Bachye explains this verse to mean that serving G-d must be done with happiness, not grudgingly. Indeed, as the Rambam explains, teshuva - repentance - must be done out of love, not from yirah - fear, or mere desire of reward (Hilchot Teshuva 10:2). It implies that the curses fall on the Israelite people because they failed to serve G-d out of love. Teshuva, the Rambam elaborates, should come me-ahava - out of love. That means that a person does not merely comply with the teachings of the Torah, but fully accepts that it is the right thing to do. And violating the teachings of the Torah would not be seen in mere terms of punishment, but as the cause of sharp spiritual dissonance in the person. In sinning, he acts out-of-character because in accepting the Torah he knows what is right for him. And in teshuva he returns not to where he merely should be, but where he feels genuinely comfortable and 'at home'.
By contrast - in Ha-azinu - the context is of ahava. It opens with that setting: recognizing the Almighty as:
The Rock! (G-d). Perfect is His work, for all His ways are justice. A G-d of faith and without iniquity, righteous and upright is He. (32:4).
And the next few verses continue to describe poetically and dramatically the various ways G-d has being showing just that:
G-d alone guided them, and no other power was with them. He would make them ride on the heights of the land, and let them eat the right fruits of the fields… (32:12-13)
True, the Israelites were going to 'turn aside from the way' in the future. But the ahava is part of the scene of Ha-azinu - the fact that it is there gives a framework of how the Israelites are to return to G-d - teshuva me-avhava. It is in keeping to the full teshuva whereby after long suffering, the Israelites:
'…take to heart… and return to G-d… and obey Him with all your heart and all your soul' (30:1-2).
'With all your heart and all soul. Not teshuva mi-yirah, but teshuva mi-ahava. That is stimulated by recognizing the gratitude due the Almighty - as strongly hinted by this week's parasha. And the very notion that it frequently read between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur suggests the importance of the teshuva of this solemn period being teshuva mi-ahava.
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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