Sedra of the week: Haazinu

Sedra of the week: Haazinu

Rabbi Naftali Schiff looks at the forthcoming portion of the Torah

As the Jewish people are poised to enter the Promised Land, Moshe delivers his final message as a song – fusing past, present and future. He reminds the people where they are coming from, and offers sage advice for the challenges they will face as an independent nation in their own land.

When we read through this week’s sedra, the penultimate one in the Torah, we are treated to a history lesson like no other. As a boy, I saw how history bored some of my classmates to tears; facts, figures, names, battles were to be memorised and regurgitated.

As director of JRoots, I have had the privilege of taking thousands of young Jews to Poland. One of the most powerful quotes they encounter is attributed to George Santayana, which is written at the entrance of Auschwitz block 4: “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

The Torah uses the word zikaron, memory, to teach us that history is our story, an ongoing narrative that is part of our lives.

Haazinu is a history lesson set to a song. The Hebrew word for song is shir, which can also mean a “chain” (See Mishna Shabbat 5:1). This evokes powerful images of seder night, where we sing about our past, present and future. Singing passionately about our identity infuses it with life and safeguards and protects our heritage for future generations like shiryon, a suit of armour.

It is no coincidence our sedra falls between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when we also express our hopes, dreams and aspirations for ourselves, the Jewish people, and the world at large through singing our prayers. May we all have an uplifting Yom
Kippur, one where we unite as a people, who sing of a better world and then go and turn that dream into a reality.

  •   Rabbi Naftali Schiff is chief executive of Jewish Futures and JRoots
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