United Hebrew Congregation, 13788 Conway Road, St. Louis, MO 63141 | 314-469-0700

September 25, 2020 – Nitzavim

Shabbat Message from Rabbi Adam Bellows

This is a very special Shabbat that only occurs once a year: Shabbat Shuvah. It is the Shabbat between Rosh HaShanah (The Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement). Thus, we pay extra attention, this Shabbat, to our current behavior so we may make better choices in this coming year.

The first shlish of Parashat Ha’azinu is Deuteronomy 32:1-52.

No one can prepare you to be a parent. No book, no family wisdom, no class, can actually prepare someone to be a parent. With our first child, Max, we thought we were all set, planned, ready for him to be born. Then…he arrived. Nothing was as they told us it would be. But we lived and we learned. We adapted and we thrived. Next came Lila, and by then, we had our own way of doing things. By the time Jonah joined, our strict parenting rules became a bit more laxed. Of course, in the age of COVID, all parenting rules sort of flew out the window.

Not only did no one effectively prepare me to be a parent, no one prepared me on what to do when I am angry with my baby. How do I discipline? How much is too much? When should I just pick my battle?

In this week’s Torah portion, Ha’azinu, we hear a very poetic rant at how disappointing God’s children are. Not that I support stereotypes, but it does rather echo a typical Jewish parent guilting their children when they misbehave: “I work 9 am-5 pm to put food on the table, and this is how you repay me?? (Hopefully you heard a stereotypical Long Island Jewish accent when you read that.)”

First, some background on this parashah. It is the final parashah we read in our Torah cycle, despite it being the penultimate. Due to a special Torah reading on Sukkot, we never publicly read Parashat V’zot HaBerachah on its own. We do read it, though, on Simchat Torah, the holiday on which we end the Torah and immediately begin again. The final chapter of the Torah is a powerful scene in which Moses, who has accepted his inevitable death, ascends the mountain, never to be seen again. When I read it, I hear Mozart’s “Lacrimosa” as the rain washes away the desert dust. Moses walks slowly, but steadily up the mountain to accept his fate…

…Then BOOM! God creates the world again in Genesis Chapter 1.

Before we end the Torah, though, God has one last message condemning our behavior and asking us to change our ways. God’s message, delivered via Moses, consists of …… secontions.

In the first section, Moses calls upon the Heavens and the Earth as witness to the plea he is about to make on behalf of God. He literally calls upon existence to pause and to take heed. Then Moses reminds Israel what God did for them way in the beginning. It reminds me of the recent movie from the Marvel comics called, “Guardians of the Galaxy.” The main character, Quill, is reminded constantly by his adoptive father that he had spared Quill as a child by not feeding him to his alien comrades. Similarly, my own mother would often remind me, “I carried you in my belly for nine months.” Then came the guilt: “And this is how you repay me??”

Moses says, “Remember the days of old…when The Most High…fixed the boundaries of Peoples in relation to Israel’s numbers…[God] found [Israel] in the desert region…[God] set [Israel] atop the highlands to feast on the yield of the earth…But Yeshurun (another name for the Nation of Israel) grew fat and kicked…You forgot the God who brought you forth” (Deut. 32:7-18).

So God details all the ways the People of Israel will be punished for not behaving properly. Again, as a parent, I can understand. I often detail the consequences of sad choices to my children. They are, perhaps, less violent consequences than what God lays out, but they are details none-the-less.

After all, it is not that God wants to destroy us, just as I do not mean to destroy my own misbehaving children. Rather, I want them to make better choices in the future. Moses reminds Israel of this, that God just wants them to be better listeners. He says, “Take to heart all the words with which I have warned you this day. Enjoin them upon your children, that they may observe faithfully all the terms of this Torah. For this is not a trifling thing for you: it is your very life; through it you shall long endure on the land that you are to possess upon crossing the Jordan” (Deut. 32:46-47).

In other words, God gives Israel a warning for all generations. Make good choices, be good listeners, hands are NOT for hitting, and you will live a good, long life.

Though Yom Kippur begins this Sunday evening, Shabbat is still packed with opportunities for learning and worship. Saturday morning at 9 am will be Torah study, followed by a live-streamed Shabbat service (Note: There is no Bar or Bat Mitzvah ceremony this Shabbat). Saturday evening will be “Next Week Now” at 7:30 pm which will discuss the following week’s Torah and Haftarah and include Havdalah. Sunday evening marks the beginning of Yom Kippur, and Monday will include many learning and worship opportunities. Please refer to our website for more information.

Shabbat Shalom and G’mar chatimah tovah! (“May you be sealed in the Book of Lives Well Lived!”)