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.
These beautiful words, filled with the imagery of nature begin this great final lecture by Moses to the people of Israel. Moses wants a moment to speak and impart to the people memories of forty years and before. A chance to remind the people, these children, that they carry with them into the Land of Israel, not only that which they need to sustain them, but also the words, history, and blessings that have been bestowed upon them since the time of Abraham and Sarah. This is the last great lecture of Moses to his students, his children, his people, before his final days; before his last great climb up to Mount Nebo.
Moses first calls upon heaven and earth to serve as witnesses to his last great lecture. Rashi writes: "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 that endure forever" (Rashi on 32:1).
Moses's greatest fear before his final climb is in not knowing whether or not his life's work may have been in vain. From the time he returned to Egypt, led the people out, and fought for them, time and again, when God wanted to give up on them and find another people to fulfill the covenant, Moses pursued his lifelong goals that God imparted to him. Moses never gave up. He might have found other ways to fulfill the goals, but he never stopped pursuing them.
Rashi implies that these words of Haazinu are reminders that just as the rain provides life to the world, so too does Torah. Moses asks that his words should rain down "as the dew, like showers," to come down in small droplets. Moses hopes to teach the Torah and impart his knowledge before his final days by providing them like a quenching rain that will nourish the Land and allow for new growth. Rashi knows that if the rain comes too quickly or too hard it will only overwhelm the people and possibly destroy them (Rashi on 32:2).
Throughout our lives, we are students of all sorts of teachings-from Torah to life lessons. We have many teachers who impart their wisdom to us and challenge us to achieve greatness. And then, at some point, we each become not only a student (for each of us is always a student), but also a teacher. There is so much for us to share in our lives that we want to impart this knowledge so that others may either follow in our footsteps or avoid the mistakes we might have fallen into.
These life lessons may be imparted throughout our lifetime if we are so fortunate or they may be shared at our funeral. But no one wants to wait until he or she is gone to share a little bit of wisdom.
Randy Pausch, Carnegie Mellon professor and alumnus, is one who didn't wait. Told that he had but months to live, he took the opportunity to deliver his last lecture to his students, colleagues, family, and friends for one last teaching. He did this not to cry woe (for he was dying), but rather to share important life lessons through his lecture, "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams." He spoke about the importance of overcoming obstacles, enabling the dreams of others, and seizing every moment (because "time is all you have . . . and you may find one day that you have less than you think"). This is a reminder to everyone to choose life.
Randy reminds us that "brick walls are there for a reason: they let us prove how badly we want something." We all encounter brick walls throughout our lives. We wonder if, given the obstacles or challenges, fulfilling our dreams is even possible or should be pursued. But we can't give up-we've come so far.
In Parashat Haazinu, Moses and the people are at the border. They are waiting to enter the Land promised to their ancestors. The journey has not been easy and the future holds its own set of challenges. But they may heed the lessons, heed the warnings, embrace the blessings, and accept the gift that is theirs and for generations yet to come.
This is Moses's last lecture. He knows the end of his days is imminent and this is his time to impart lessons to the people. His only hope is that they have listened and learned from him, and now are ready to begin the next step in their journey.
Each of us has a lecture to give, lessons to impart. We are students, teachers, children, and parents. Will earth and heaven stand witness for us if we ask, so our words will not be lost and no one can say they were never spoken? Will our words rain down like a gentle shower quenching the thirst to share, embrace, and teach? It is not good for us to wait for the end of days, but rather, we should speak these words now, share our poem with those whom we love today, and allow the droplets of blessing to rest upon all those whose lives they touch. These are the words and these are the blessings.
Rabbi Heidi M. Cohen is the rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom in Santa Ana, California.