“Ha’azinu” is a one chapter (Deuteronomy 32) portion that sets the stage for the coming completion of Deuteronomy. This “song” of Moses (it is written in Torah in poetic form like the Song for the Reed Sea in Exodus) is, according to Plaut: “a hymn of hope to an Israel that will prevail in spirit as well as in body”. Crucial to that hope, it would seem, is a theme that is still with us, as we move from the power of Yom Kippur.
“Remember the days of old. Consider the years of ages past. Ask your father, he will inform you, Your elders, they will tell you.” (32:7). I think the this verse speaks to one of the major themes of this season as well as our entire Jewish life cycle. For Boomers, now becoming increasingly aware of our own aging, this verse is even more poignant. This verse speaks to the traditional notion of “generation to generation” (la dor va’dor). We sat yesterday for Yizkor during Yom Kippur and read of and considered the power of memory. It is not only memory that is so important,as the verse states; it is also a sense of personal and communal history that can serve as a bridge between generation.
Too often, in our youth oriented culture, we lose track of family or institutional memory. Yes, change and adaptation are essential for survival. Yet, this verse reminds us that we can learn much about how to navigate a future by studying and honoring the past. The honor and respect for elders, so much a part of our tradition, sometimes gets pushed aside or ignored in much of today’s world. Yet, this portion and this one verse, serve to remind us that human life experience of those who have come before us can be a rich reservoir of memory and wisdom. To consign it just to “what once was”, allows this mine of memory to go untapped. To do that, may consign the present to re-live past mistakes and to ignore the richness of memory.
Rabbi Richard F Address