Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Ha'azeinu- How Would You Like to be Remembered?


Vayomer aleihem simu l’vavkhem l’khol-ha’d’varim asher anokhi meiid balhem hayom asher t’tzavum et-b’neikhem lishmor la’asot et-kol-divrei haTorah hazot.
And he said to them, “Direct your heart to all the words that I testify against you today; that you will command them to your children to observe and do all the words of this law.” (D’varim 32:46)
As the situation became tense in Israel, I was struck by the difference in nature of demonstrations held in support of either side of the conflict. Rallies supporting Israel consistently spoke of peace. Songs of national pride, of hope, and of peace began and ended rallies. It’s an observation that always strikes me. In time of war, rightly or wrongly, we do not rally for victory. We rally for peace. I tried this summer to come up with Jewish war songs. There are, after all, some wonderful music that arose from the wars of the past built patriotism and confidence. Songs like “Over There” or “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” still build excitement and pride when heard today. This summer I tried to come up with Jewish war songs. We have songs of national pride: Am Yisrael Chai. We have songs of our home and our land: Yerushalayim Shel Zahav. We have songs about the home front: Bashana Haba’a. And we have songs of peace: Shir L’Shalom. However, when I tried to come up with a rah-rah war song, I could only think of Shirat HaYam and Shirat Devorah, the Song of the Sea and the Song of Devorah, sung when Devorah and Barak defeated Sisera. I could think of no post-biblical war song.
On the shores of Yam Suf, usually translated as the Red Sea, Moshe’s song is one of military victory. It is a song sung by all the people together. “Az yashir Moshe u’vnei Yisrael…” “Thus sang Moshe and the children of Israel…” Together we sang for the glorious military victory God had just won over the Egyptians. “Ashirah LA-donai ki gaoh ga’ah; sus v’rokhvo ramah vayam.” Together we sang, “I will sing to A-donai for he is surely exalted; horse and rider He has thrown into the sea.” This is even the verse repeated by Miriam as she leads the people in song and the women in a victory dance. On the shores of the sea, leading a downtrodden people, the message is clear- A-donai ish milchamah, A-donai is a warrior.” 
But here, in Ha’azinu, on the banks of the Jordan River, as the people ready themselves for a military campaign, it is only Moshe that sings. His song is not about the Ish Milchamah, the Warrior, but about faithfulness. This song is not a song of victory. It is not a song of might for the enemies we are about to encounter. Instead, Moshe sings to the heaven and earth itself. On the eve of this great military campaign, Moshe reminds the people that God is faithful and so shall we be.
Ha’azinu is Moshe’s ethical will to the people Israel.  How many of us know, as Moshe did, that the words we say may be our last. Imagine what we might say if we knew they were our last words. The song ends with Moshe entreating the people, “All the words I testify to you today, that you may charge your children to guard to do all the words of this Torah….  For it is your life.” With what words would we want to be remembered? Would they be words of pride and war, or will they be songs for the home front, longing for a future of peace?
May we all be bound up in the Book of Life.  Together we pray for a shanah tovah umetukah, a good and sweet year, one in which peace can spread.