Ha’azinu (Deuteronomy 32) Words of Comfort and Support

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           Moses has concluded his farewell sermons and, in this week’s portion, offers a poetic summary of Deuteronomy. It is really Moses’s last testament for as the portion ends, he is called (32:48ff) to the place that at which he will die. This poem contains a variety of issues, especially in how God is seen. Indeed, some commentaries see in God’s reluctance to totally punish the Israelites, a sense that God is concerned about God’s own honor. As Rabbi Plaut comments: “In Moses’ song, it is not compassion that motivates God. Rather it is His honor that must be protected.” (“The Torah”. P.1564) God, it seems, like so many of us, is very concerned about what others will say.

            This portion also provides a wonderful insight into so much of our modern world. In the second verse we read the phrase “May my discourse come down as rain, my speech as the dew”. Some commentaries take up this verse as to the difference between rain and dew. Rabbis Kerry Olitzky and Lawrence Kushner, in their “Sparks Beneath The Surface”, take up the words of Rabbi Solomon Ulman. “Words like rain can be soft like morning dew that gently offers itself the earth’s vegetation, tending to growth. Or words can be like torrential rain that destroys and uproots.” (p.265). How current is this commentary? Look at last week’s hurricane to see how rain, as a torrent, can destroy.

            What Ullman is saying also speaks to our world. How we speak to someone really does make a difference. It behooves us to know to whom we speak and in what context, so our words may nurture and support rather than hurt and destroy. Perhaps the message we can take from this week’s portion is to be reminded that in this new year how we speak can have a profound impact on another person. Many of us have heard the stories from tradition about how words can kill, and this has even greater meaning in the age of social media. But let’s also try to remember the words as “dew”; gentle words that nurture, that allow another person to grow and to feel supported and loved. We need those words now more than ever.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Richard F Address

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