We are at Rosh Hanikra, just meters from the Israel-Lebanon border. We go down to where the Mediterranean crashes through the caves it has carved out of the mountainside. Despite more conventional sources of excitement—the descent by cable car, a good shoot-'em-up story of how the Haganah blew up a bridge here—our young children are most captivated by the light and shadow; by the sea's pulsing blue and green; by nature's slow, smooth transformation of the cliffs into these magnificent colorful grottoes. Here, water meets rock, and both are forever changed.
This week's portion consists almost entirely of poetry. Haazinu is Moses' valedictory song: The stammerer whom we first encountered in the Book of Exodus has become the people's poet laureate. We read this portion each year, in the midst of our soul-searching and desire for repair, on Shabbat Shuvah, the Sabbath of Repentance and Return, which falls between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. The poem is didactic—a summing up of Israel's transgressions, God's power and love, and God's undying promise of divine deliverance. Moses begins with a stirring call: "Give ear, O heavens, let me speak;/ Let the earth hear the words I utter!/ May my discourse come down as the rain,/ My speech distill as the dew,/ Like showers on young growth,/ Like droplets on the grass." (Deut. 32: 1-2) God enters the poem in the next two verses in which Moses uses one of biblical poetry's stock metaphors, calling God "the Rock—whose deeds are perfect." (Deut. 32:4)
Rain and rock: How are we to make sense of these first verses? The common interpretation of our classical commentators is clear: Moses wants the people of Israel to receive his instructions as thirstily as the Land of Israel receives rain, to embrace the Torah as life-giving and essential. Moses issues the words that are meant to touch the people. The reference to God as the Rock seems to be unrelated to the rain image. It is just a common yet powerful way to describe God's unchanging steadiness and strength.
But Rosh Hanikra gives the poem a new dimension. There, by the border crossing, water meets rock and both are changed. And today, on the Sabbath of Repentance and Return, that summer day in the caves evokes the transformative and chutzpahdik hope that the waters of human prayer and yearning might touch the Rock and create beauty; that our tears have impact not only here where we shed them but in heaven; that we confess our sins before the Holy One of Blessing not simply to remind ourselves to do better next time but, as our sages taught, to propel God from the Throne of Judgment to the Throne of Mercy. A possibility and a promise: Namely, that the prayer that issues from the earnest human heart actually has the power to move God. Especially now, especially here, at the border crossing.