13 Tishrei  5777  פרשת הַאֲזִינוּ, י”ג תשרי, תשע”ז

This song or poem, Ha’azinu needs to be understood, taken to heart and applied to our lives. In it we get a glimpse of the history of Israel from being slaves in Egypt to becoming a nation. Israel would fail our Creator time and time again as we all do. The message here for every one of us is although we fail, the Creator is the God of beginning again. He constantly gives us the opportunity to return to Him and to make things right with Him and our fellow man. That is the beauty of being with our God and is the special message of Sukkoth which I will address at another time. 

The subject I want to present today relates to two questions from our sages: Is our Creator a “conditional” God or a God of “continuity”.  It appears that He is conditional i.e. if we don’t obey Him then this will happen to us. Most people see Him as a God who constantly points a finger waiting to punish us the minute we fail. There are other people who say “Since You created me, how I act is your problem, not mine.” I often see this in children who blame their parents for their behavior.  I heard one child say to his parents in a counseling session “I didn’t ask you to be born.”  This attitude is pervasive and is called “passing the buck” where we justify our actions and refuse to acknowledge that we are responsible for our behavior. That is what these Moedim are all about. It is the time of year when we go before the Creator confessing to Him what we have done wrong and seeking His help to improve.

On the other hand we see the God of continuity.  The Ten Commandments being the basic constitution of Israel hold the remainder of the Torah upon its foundation. They give us the building blocks for our relationship with our Creator, with ourselves and finally with our neighbors – bein Adam l’Makom, bein Adam l’atzmo and bein Adam l’chavero. When asked the question “what is the greatest of the commandments” Rabbi Yeshua responded “ you are to love the LORD your God with all your heart, your soul and your might and you are to love your neighbor as you love yourself.” The three relationships are contained within this expression in the same way that the Creator divided His revelation to us, in three: the Mitzvoth (the Commandments, in reference to Him), the Chukkim (the ordinances, in reference to us) and the Mishpatim (the judgments or obligations to do in reference to our neighbors). Once our Creator has given us His teachings of what to do and not to do, the consequences belong to us.  Being forewarned is forearmed. This is important to understand. When our Creator warns us about what not to do, does that make Him a party pooper? Doesn’t He want us to enjoy His Creation? The very reason that He warns us is for our own good and when we disobey we harvest the consequences of that disobedience.  This is the concept of “free will”, God’s greatest gift to us.

There are many examples in Scripture of people who placed the blame of their decisions upon others beginning with Adam and Eve. God called out to Adam three times, “where are you?’ Didn’t He as the Creator know where Adam was? This is an indication that He doesn’t pass judgment upon us before giving us plenty of opportunity to turn to Him and acknowledge what we have done. But what does man do? Instead of Adam saying I am sorry, I disobeyed you, he blamed the woman that God gave him. Eve did the very same thing blaming the snake that God had made. This is how we pass the buck.  Even Moshe Rabeinu blamed the people of Israel for the reason that he couldn’t enter the Promised Land, not acknowledging that it was because of his own disobedience. King Shaul did the same thing. We constantly blame others when our behavior is questioned.  For this reason I hold more to the position of God’s continuity rather than being conditional. The Creator doesn’t punish us; we punish ourselves. However because of man’s depravity sadly many innocent are caught in the cross fire of our disobedience and they too have to suffer the consequences but it is not the Creator who does this to us.

In Ha’azinu, we are at the end of Moshe’s days and he wants his people to be ready. This poem is a prophetic teaching for the acharit yamim, the end of days. This doesn’t necessarily mean the distant future, it could be tomorrow. The Torah shows us that history repeats itself, it is a continuum. However instead of learning from history, from the mistakes of our fathers, we tend to repeat them. Our characters are a product of our homes, our upbringing. That is the reason for our reactions which stem from our parents. Today psychologists have seen that if you come from a broken home, the chances are much higher that your home too will be broken demonstrating the extent to which we are influenced by the environment in which we live.  Moshe warns his people that the land they are about to take is infected. It doesn’t mean that the soil is bad but that the people there have different values than theirs.  If they allow themselves to get too close to them, they would accept their ways as the norm. Today all who hold onto to the true values of the Torah are more challenged than any other groups because we live in a contaminated environment. Our values are denigrated; we are called bigots and brain-washed fanatics who cannot think for ourselves. Sadly the religious people who are supposed to uphold the Torah have changed the Word of God and no longer reflect who He is. Character no longer matters as long as you keep the rules.  Today in the US elections we are dealing with two candidates who have little or no morality.  It is sad when we need to vote for the lesser of two evils instead of voting for the person best qualified to hold the highest position in the land.

Moshe was telling the people that they needed to be careful not to be contaminated by the people who were living in the land. The way to be protected from this was to be strong in the principles that the Creator had handed down to them. It is important to immerse ourselves in what He said, not what others say.  People say that our God is the same yesterday, today and forever. How then could He say one thing yesterday but change His mind tomorrow? Did He make a mistake?  That is what is being taught. Sadly it is the religious people who push these ideas. Moral values have been replaced by what is easier to live with.  We are a confused people when it comes to right and wrong. Our children are being bombarded in schools by various ideologies.  They are being brainwashed about things that used to be wrong but today are right. They are told that the most important thing is as long as they love each other. In Europe euthanasia is the pill of the day. If you don’t like this life, you can take the pill.  Torah teaches us that life is sacred but humanity teaches us that we can do whatever we want with our lives.  Who do you believe? In this song Moshe tells the people what they will do, that they will deviate and turn onto the wrong path but in the end God will remember His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He doesn’t even tell them that they need to do teshuva but that He will take care of us anyway.

Two thousand years ago there appeared another leader, Rabbi, Prophet, Messiah Yeshua who came to bring his people back to the Torah.  Beside all the other cosmetics, if you study the characteristics of what was expected of the messiah, it was just that…to bring us back to Torah. It was not coincidence that in his first public address to the people in the Sermon on the Mount, he spoke of being light in the world, to humble ourselves and that the Torah would be forever. In this New Year 5777 we see many similarities to the time that the Israelites were leaving Egypt to the time when Yeshua was serving in Israel and to what Israel is facing today.  In the three situations Israel is under a foreign power. You may think that Israel is a free nation, completely independent of foreign rule.  This is not the fact. As much as they would like to be, they are not even in the position to tell the world where their capital city lies.  Israel knows that it is Jerusalem but the nations refuse to acknowledge this.  When the UN or the USA says something about Israel, there is little they can do. Recently UNESCO titled the area of the Holy Temple Mount as “Occupied Palestine,” referring to the Jerusalem site only by its Islamic name and that the Jews do not have the right to be there. The Al-aqsa mosque is the third religious site for the Muslims and the story that Mohammed ascended from this site was fabricated centuries after his death. This area has always been the center of Jewish worship from the time of King Solomon who built the Beit Mikdash, the dream of his father King David.  In fact, the Vatican holds a bas-relief of a scene of the Romans holding a menorah that they took from Jerusalem.

When you want to believe a lie you simply have to repeat it over and over. When moral values are changed, there are consequences that ensue. Our Creator is merciful, loving and caring but He will never force you back to Him. His true love waits for you to come to Him. This is the message of Moshe to his people. They would be on their own without him and they would face many difficult challenges. Always keep in mind the Words of the Creator. That is why he told them to write the Torah and to have it read aloud to the entire people every seven years. We needed a constant reminder of what our Creator wanted for us. When religious people took His Word and changed it, the consequences for the world were dire. It was no longer universal and simple. The greatest treasure of the world was hidden from a spiritual starved people. The spiritual food of the Torah is no longer shared.

Another similarity was the leadership at these three times. Israel was being absorbed by Egypt to the point that they didn’t remember their God. They looked at the gods of Egypt as being greater than the Creator and He needed to intervene. At the time of Yeshua, it was similar. Israel was being oppressed without the freedom to even elect their own officers. Their religion was dominated by Rome with their priests being politicians in the pocket of Rome. The nation was divided into multiple factions fighting among themselves.  Today Israel has a minority of religious people who dominate the politics of the state. They are very demanding and they tell the government what to do while they do not pay taxes or serve in the army. They are bringing Israel back to the dark ages. Israel is more divided today than any other nation in the world. This small state has more than 16 official political parties compared to the huge country of the USA which has only 2 parties.  The only way that Israel ever unites is when they have an outside enemy.   Like the Phoenix rising from the ashes, we miraculously emerged from the Holocaust as a nation, a Jewish state.  This window of opportunity was quickly shut and soon every nation turned again against Israel. At the beginning we had the desire to return to our Land and to our God. Little by little Israel has been copying the other nations and has now lost its flavor. This is exactly what Yeshua warned us about…”You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. Mathew 5:13-15.  What good is Israel if we are not a light to the nations, ohr l’goyim?    

I want to read you Deuteronomy 32: 15 “Jacob has eaten to his heart’s content, Yeshurun, grown fat, has now lashed out. (You have grown fat, gross, bloated.) He has disowned the God who made him, and dishonored the Rock, his salvation.”  Yeshurun is a play on words. The word “yashar” in Hebrew means straight. Israel was to walk a straight path. They had grown complacent, no longer a light to the world. Today Israel is advanced in every area, a diamond in the Middle East but now is fat. They boast that they don’t need anybody and even less, God.  “They scorned the Rock who fathered them. 16They provoked Him to jealousy with foreign gods; with abomination they provoked Him to anger”.  Today it is shocking how many gods, superstitions and witchcraft are practiced and accepted today in Israel. It would better not to believe in anything.   He is a loving Father and as a father who loves his children, He corrects them. (Proverbs) 17 They sacrificed to demons who are not God; to gods they did not know, to newcomers of yesterday whom their fathers did not fear.  18 You forgot the Rock who fathered you, the God who made you, you no longer remember.19 Adonai saw it and, in anger, he spurned his sons and daughters.”

How much clearer does it need to be? Our Creator brought other people to the place where they would make us jealous. They might have less understanding but they would be more faithful.

At the New Year it is time to make sure that we are not holier than thou, that we humble ourselves before the Creator as Yeshua the Messiah told us; that we not place ourselves upon any pedestal but instead lower ourselves and look up to Him; and that we work daily to improve ourselves. We need to be the example to others. It doesn’t matter how big or small we are, we can shine brightly when we are doing what is right.  If we don’t do what is right, we bring darkness to the world. May this be a time of inner search and to keep growing! Our tradition is that the time to have our names sealed in the Book of Life ends after Sukkoth. We will struggle as the Scriptures say but our struggles help us grow and become stronger. Let us honor Messiah Yeshua in his desire to bring us back to Torah.