Poetry, Faith, and Justice
Posted on September 22, 2015
This week we read great Torah portions on Yom Kippur, which falls Tuesday night and Wednesday, that explore holiness and commitment to God. In our Reform tradition in the morning we will read from the portion of Nitzavim in Deuteronomy, which affirms that we have the responsibility in this great season, to choose life and God. In the afternoon we will chant from Kedoshim, the Holiness Code, which teaches us how to be holy through sacred and ethical lives.
Next Shabbat we chant the one of the final portions of the entire Torah reading cycle, Ha’azinu, penultimate section of the final book of the Torah, Devarim. Ha’azinu composes Moses’ last poetic words to the people of Israel before his death, and it’s an elaborate instruction, charge, and prediction of the future for the Israelites. Ha’azinu is both a final look inside the thoughts of the greatest leader our people has ever had, and a fascinating snapshot of what was predicted for the future of the twelve tribes once they arrived in the Land of Israel.
Ha’azinu is a longish poem, and the powerful poetry includes a description of God’s word dropping like a gentle rain on tender grass, and a vision of the Lord’s justice and faith as complete and flawless. It describes God’s love for Israel bringing forth honey from the very rock to nourish and favor our people, a kind of prediction of the way that Israel has made the desert bloom today.
In language that is rich and complex but also challenging, Moses promises God rewards those who preserve justice, but punishes those who fail to keep faith with God. In one memorable phrase that has made its way into our prayerbook Moses says, “Ki shem Adonai ekra, havu godel Leiloheinu—I will proclaim the name of the Lord; ascribing greatness to our God.”
Accordingly, our role as Jews is both to praise God, and to create justice. Both are important, and both support each other in our world. We praise God and acknowledge that justice comes from the One Source of morality. And then we work to assure that justice for all is central to our moral life.
We must strive not only to be good, but to create goodness in our world.
May you be sealed in the Book of Life for a good year, a g’mar chatimah tovah, and have an easy fast on Yom Kippur.