Torah Portion for the week Monday September 13th called “Ha’Azinu” means “Listen” from Deuteronomy 32
In majestic language, Moses breaks into song, investing his final testament to the Israelites with all the power and passion at his command. He begins dramatically but gently, calling heaven and earth to witness what he is about to say.
Listen, you heavens, and I will speak; Hear, you earth, the words of my mouth. Let my teaching fall like rain And my words descend like dew, Like showers on new grass, Like abundant rain on tender plants. ((Deut. 32:1-2)
But this is a mere prelude to the core message Moses wants to convey. It is the idea known as vindicating God’s justice. The way Moses puts it is like this:
He is the Rock, His works are perfect, And all His ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, Upright and just is He. ((Deut. 32:4)
In this new month of Tishrei/Libra – a month depicting the scales of Justice, we ask the question “Is God just? If He is, then why do bad things happen to good people? Is God corrupt? No – the defect is in His children, “A crooked and perverse generation”. (Deut. 32:5)
“Why do bad things happen to good people?” Of all the questions Moses asked God, this was the only one to which God did not give an answer. The simplest, deepest interpretation and answer is given in Psalm 92, “The song of the Sabbath day.” Though “the wicked spring up like grass and all evildoers flourish, they will eventually be destroyed forever” vs 7. The righteous, by contrast, “flourish like a palm tree and grow tall like a cedar in Lebanon.vs 12”
Evil wins in the short term but never in the long. The wicked are like grass, whereas the righteous are more like trees. Grass grows overnight but it takes years for a tree to reach its full height. In the long run, tyrannies are defeated. Empires decline and fall. Goodness and rightness win the final battle.
As Martin Luther King Jnr said in the spirit of Psalm 92: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” meaning change takes a long time, but it does happen. ... Each of us who work for social change is part of the mosaic of all who work for justice; together we can accomplish much.
On 3 April 1968, Martin Luther King delivered a sermon in a church in Memphis, Tennessee. At the end of his address, he turned to the last day of Moses’ life – the Torah portion for this week - when the man who had led the children of Israel to freedom was taken by God to a mountain-top from which he could see in the distance the land he was not destined to enter. That, said King, was how he felt that night:
I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over and I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.
That night was the last of his life. The next day he was assassinated. At the end, the still young Christian preacher – he was not yet forty – who had led the civil rights movement in the United States, identified himself with Moses.
Moses is bringing the Torah to a close with a theme that has been present from the beginning. God, Creator of the universe, made a world that is fundamentally good: the word that echoes seven times in the first chapter of Genesis. It is humans, granted freewill as God’s image and likeness, who introduce evil into the world, and then suffer its consequences. Hence Moses’ insistence that when trouble and tragedy appear, we should search for the cause within ourselves, and not blame God. God is upright and just. The shortcomings are ours, His children’s shortcomings.
God requites good with good, evil with evil. When bad things happen to us, it is because we have been guilty of doing bad things ourselves. The fault lies within ourselves. For it is written: “As ye sow, so shall ye reap”.Gal:6:7
Difficult though this is, it has had the effect through history of leading us to say: if bad things have happened, let us blame no-one but ourselves, and let us labour to make them better. This truth leads us time and again to emerge from tragedy, shaken, scarred, limping like Jacob after his encounter with the angel, yet resolved to begin again, to rededicate ourselves to our mission and faith, to ascribe our achievements to God and our defeats to ourselves.
God is a faithful - God who forgives us when we confess and repent lest we be enslaved to unforgiveness. A scripture that amplifies our response and commitment to forgive others 70 x 7 is from Matthew18:21-35 the New Testament reading for this week.
From the Haftorah this week – the prophetic word from Joel 2: 15-27 “Blow a trumpet in Zion: Gather the people and call a solemn assembly, Let the priests and ministers weep, let them say “spare your people O Lord”, then the Lord will take pity on His people and He will restore the years the locust has devoured……and you will know that I AM the Lord your God, and none else, and My people shall never be ashamed”
In this season of tyranny and injustice, segregation and apartheid in our land, as we stand up for our civil and human rights, God has taken us to the mountain top to allow our eyes to see the “Glory of the coming of the Lord” and we will join with all of God’s children singing the Song of Moses and a new Song of Deliverance “Free at last, free at last, Great God Almighty, we are free at last”.
Ref: Hebrew4Christians: El Shaddai Ministries: Notes from teaching by Rabbi Sacks: Martin Luther King Jnr: Quote “I have a dream”: Glory of Zion: Times and Seasons; Gen 32: Psalm 92: Gal 6:7; Matthew 18: Forgiveness: Joel 2