Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Haazinu
It took me until rabbinical school to learn most of my English grammar, but in so doing, a whole new world opened for interpreting text. I will share. A merism is a rhetorical device (or figure of speech) in which a combination of two contrasting parts of the whole refer to the whole.
Moses begins his 43-verse song (the week’s portion) with the words, “I call upon heaven and earth,” as he begins the synopsis of the entire Torah story (in 42 more verses).
As a merism, Moses is calling upon all of everything. It is as if to say, “Everyone and everything pay attention and be my witness.” He wants to impress upon Israel that he is about to share that which is most profound. From everything in the heavens, to everything on the earth, and to everything beneath. – all of the created and pre-existent everything. For Medieval scholar Rashi, “Now why did [Moses] call upon heaven and earth to be witnesses [for warning Israel]? Moses said: “I am [just] flesh and blood. Tomorrow I will die. If Israel says, ‘We never accepted the covenant,’ who will come and refute them?” Therefore, he called upon heaven and earth as witnesses for Israel-witnesses that endure forever. Furthermore, if they [Israel] act meritoriously, the witnesses will come and reward them.”
Most scholars look at the statement in terms of halacha – one needs two witnesses for anything legal. So, Moses believing that he will not live forever called upon the two witnesses that will post-exist him. Even while he anthropomorphizes them, his intention is to show lasting witness power. “I won’t be here to watch you, but they will be.”
Here is my concern, who is Moses to judge the people that way, even were he to live forever? As with every Biblical character (including God) we cannot help but see moral imperfection, even with the best of intentions. I struggle with seeing this farewell address from Moses as a final judgement call and warning.
So, as I look at the text through a different lens, I perceive a much healthier value to Moses’ song introduction. It takes a village to keep people straight. No one can thrive on their own. Even if pure at heart, our skill sets are so diverse that if we could not pool our resources, our lives would stagnate. So, in this sense, Moses is calling the huddle of everyone and everything viable to make sure that we are all in synch and ready to take on whatever comes next.
My fear is that we drowned Moses out. We live too much of our lives competing for power – the leg up – and spend very little energy taking care of and sharing with people outside of our narrow circles. Even the earth can’t give us energy, as it is fighting for its own life against our most reckless behaviors. We have polluted the air such that the heavens themselves are choking.
How can our team win when we have disabled key players in our game plan? So full of ourselves we forgot that the best quarterback fails without a front line and receivers. Archie Manning was one of the greatest talents behind center but played a career for a New Orleans Saints team that would not protect him. Each of us deserves more from ourselves and from each other than we are often willing to give.
The secret is simply to care. Jo Dee Messina gave us the tune, “My Give a Damn’s Busted.” The last lines border on prophetic, given the direction the world seems to be headed. “I really wanna care, I wanna feel something. Let me dig a little deeper. No, man, sorry – Just nothing, no You’ve really done it this time. My ‘give a damn’s’ busted.” How much more violence will it take for elements of our team to just say, “Sorry, my give a damn’s busted?” I already hear it from so many people. “I can’t watch the news.” “I just don’t care, anymore.” “I am too old for it to matter.” So, I call upon Heaven and Earth, and everything in existence and beg for a do-over. We have been used by politicians and the media and it has only cost us. We are about to turn the cycle of Torah. Perhaps as we return to the Genesis texts, it can be a re-genesis for the way in which we respect each other and the world that houses our menagerie.