If not for the fact that the Almighty wrote it himself, it would seem blasphemous.
Enveloped in the midst of the wondrous but scary song known as Ha’azinu is the tragic depiction of a nation gone astray. One that has forgotten the munificence bestowed upon it by the Master of the Universe. In the classical language of the text – vayishman yeshurun vayivat (Yeshurun became fat and kicked). We, who were once God’s pride and joy, who reflected the Divine yashrus (upright, just, straight) in this world – have become fat and have rejected, nay booted out, God from our lives. An image of decadence, stridency and indifference emerges.
he forsook the G-d who made him, he insulted the Rock of his salvation… The Rock Who bore you, you disregarded; you forsook the Almighty Who delivered you.
The cycle of punishment begins: Exile from our beloved land and suffering ensues. Unspeakable horror is alluded in sparse, yet graphic text.
Bloated with hunger, and embattled with demons and slashed by Meriri; and the teeth of animals will I send against them along with the venom of dust-crawlers. From without, the sword shall decimate, and from within chambers, terror; both lad and lass, suckling and aged man.
We begin to sense an ominous ending,
I thought, ‘I shall abandon them,’ I would eliminate from mankind mention of them.
and it is precisely then that we encounter the unexpected turnabout
Were it not…
No God says, I will never destroy you – this I guarantee. But why pray tell have we merited this? Once again we are surprised:
for the enemy’s amassed rage, lest their oppressors estrange; lest they say, ‘Our armed might has prevailed, and not Ad-noy has performed all this.’
And here we arrive at the obvious and striking questions that plague our commentators.
1. Must God brook the fools? If there is a Divine game plan, of what consequence is the ranting of arrogant and evil simpleton clown who impudently claim victory over God? Indeed, did not Titus, Nevuchadnezzer and so many others make that very claim – and yet God allowed them to carry out their evil plans? Is God bound to the laws of maris ayin (literally, what will be seen by the eye, a rabbinic principle that focuses on how an observant Jew’s public behavior appears to others)?
2. More troubling is the apparent omission of God’s past promises to the Patriarchs that He will never destroy Am Yisrael (Bereishis, 15:18 cf. Ramban). Has the Bris Bein Habesarim, the Covenant between the Parts been abrogated, chas v’shalom? Remember after the Golden Calf, Hashem offers to make a nation out of Moshe’s progeny – a necessary technical fulfillment of His promise. Total destruction is not on the table. Why then does the Torah formulate God’s hesitation to destroy His people in terms of the Gentile perception, when God is seemingly mushba v’omeid – previously bound to eternalize His nation?
Having recently celebrated Rosh Hashana, consider the deep words of the Ramban – whose notion at once gives us comfort and remind us of the Jew’s great responsibility. Listen to his beautiful formulation and with one fell swoop, our questions vanish.
God created man among the lower creatures in order that man acknowledge his Creator and be thankful to Him. He placed in his hand the choice to do evil or good – but when people sinned willingly… only Israel remained devoted to his name and so He made known through them [His existence] by means of signs and wonders… and this became known to all nations. Now if He were to reconsider and their memory be lost… the purpose of the creation of man will be nullified completely for no one will be known amongst them who knows his Creator
To acknowledge God is to affirm the world’s (= man’s) purpose. Devoid of meaning, whither existence? Were Bnei Yisrael to leave the world scene, then all hope for ultimate universal recognition of Hashem would cease.
Way back when, Avraham Avinu began the mission; he taught that to love God means to share the passion. [Thus Avraham is called Ohavi – the one who loved Me – by the prophet Isaiah). At that moment, k’viyachol, it is as if Hashem said to Avraham: You are My eternal people – My last hope – ein tikvah l’acharisecha. Give me nachas (joy)! Nah al tishkacheini – Please don’t forget me!
From then on, the job of the Jew has always been to inform the world there is God and the implications thereof. Simply put, our task is: l’takein olam b’malchut shakai.
Our parsha depicts a people gone astray from its purpose: K’viyachol (it is as if), Hashem sighs:
My people are not doing their job – why are you here at all. I only placed you here to have a relationship with you and the world… But alas, I have no choice but to keep you around – for they are the only ones I have left. Were you to leave, then all would be lost. No other nations have a chance of knowing Me. And so, I need to shake you up – but only so that you should remember Me. I will never destroy you. I need you.
We just exited the day of judgment – where we almost completely forgot sin, omitted overt requests and focused on one theme. A theme that is all over the machzor and is the essential concept of the shofar: God, you are my melech, king. A king implies a nation. We, and I are ready for the calling. I need You and want to be needed. With all my meanderings and digressions. I am here to say I love You and want to teach the world You love them.
Let us be successful and may the next Rosh Hashana take place in the rebuilt Jerusalem with the active participation of the whole world – whose fate (although they do not know it) also hangs in the balance.
Rabbi Asher Brander is the Rabbi of the Westwood Kehilla, Founder/Dean of LINK (Los Angeles Intercommunity Kollel) and is a Rebbe at Yeshiva University High Schools of Los Angeles
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.