Rabbi Frydman-Kohl on Parashat Ha’azinu

The view from Mount Nebo (Flickr photo)

Moses was underestimated. He doubted himself and was underestimated by Pharaoh, Amalek, Korach and the chieftains of Moav and Amon. Yet, cajoling and criticizing, Moses consistently brings the people closer to their national and spiritual goals.

In Ha’azinu, Moses calls upon the heavens and earth to witness the warning that he is about to deliver to the people of Israel. He uses images of water – dew, rain, light rain and heavy downpours – to convey the seriousness of his discourse, and to remind us that water – and other natural resources – require attention.

Yogi Berra, the great baseball player and manager, used to say, “You can observe a lot by just watching.” Moses reminds people to pay attention to their elders and what earlier generations say and do. We look at business, religious and political leaders for cues about aspirational, adequate and antithetical behaviour.

It must have been painful for Moses to be told by God that the people of Israel will falter and fail. Yet even as Moses scolds the people, he has faith in them. He knows that the path designated by God will not be easy and not accomplished all at once, but is continually before us.

As Moses reaches the end of his life, he ascends to Mount Nebo, which – on a clear day – can be seen from the American Embassy in Jerusalem. He is tired and seems to offer his final poem-song, as the Shabbat reading of Torah is concluded for the year. Yet Moses still has a bit more. He is still in the game and will return on Simchat Torah to bless the tribes and people of Israel. As Yogi Berra once commented, “You give 100 per cent in the first half of the game, and if that isn’t enough, in the second half, you give what’s left.”