- See, then, now, that I, I am He;
There is no god beside Me. (Deuteronomy 32:39)
At the very end of the Yom Kippur liturgy, we experience a highly dramatic moment in the calendar year, a moment when beginning and end are connected. After fasting all day and reviewing our deeds since the last Yom Kippur, just before the shofar is blown we shout seven times, "Adonai hu HaElohim ! [Adonai is God!]" It is exactly how we started our journey a year ago. As last year, we emphatically affirm God seven times, having reached our destination safely. The cycle is complete. And then in good Jewish tradition, we affirm God in another classic Jewish way — we head to the break fast to eat.
During this week's Torah portion, Haazinu, we get a forshpeis (foretaste) of that dramatic moment, when the end of the journey is connected with its beginning. Moses, in his penultimate poetic speech to the Jewish people, nearing the end of his own life, declares in God's name: " R'u atah, ki ani, ani hu v'ein Elohim imadi [See, then, now, that I, I am He; there is no god beside Me]" (Deuteronomy 32:39).
The Chatam Sofer (Rabbi Moshe Schrieber, 1763-1839, Slovakia, quoted in Itturei Torah, vol. 6 [Tel Aviv: Yavneh Publishing House, 1989], p. 213) raised his eyebrows at this verse: Why is the word "I" (in Hebrew, ani) repeated twice? Why does Moses use the word, "now" in this verse? Doesn't this verse echo other biblical moments of revelation? For the young generation of Israelites gazing across the Jordan River into the Land of Israel, this is the beginning of their redemption. But for Moses, the Chatam Sofer teaches, it is a moment of memory. When he started his journey, the Israelites were back in Egypt, enslaved to Pharaoh, pathetic, and in exile. "God said to Moshe [at the Burning Bush]: EHYEH ASHER EHYEH/I will be — there howsoever I will be — there" (Exodus 3:14; translation by Everett Fox, The Five Books of Moses [New York: Schocken Books, 1995], p. 273). These words, too, double the first-person pronoun "I," using the future tense (in the eyes of the Chatam Sofer) as a promise that the future redemption was certain, that the whole journey would make sense, and that Israel would one day affirm God.
Now, at the end of the forty-year journey, Moses understands the meaning of those words from Exodus. Now, Moses' poem uses the present tense, " Ani, ani hu [I am I]." God is what God said God would become. It is a moment of arrival, clarity, and joy, a moment of Moses' affirmation of God in wholeness. The promise is about to be fulfilled.
The traditional commentator Ibn Ezra (Spain, twelfth century) offers us a similar reading, referring us to Isaiah, who also spoke for God with the doubled form of "I": "Anochi, Anochi [I am I], the One who comforts you" (Isaiah 51:12). God, Ibn Ezra teaches, does not change; only our perceptions of God change as we travel through life. When we come to an awareness of this, we are comforted by the realization that God's awesome presence is always with us. God is.
The Shabbat before Yom Kippur is called "Shabbat Shuvah," usually translated as "Shabbat of Repentance." But it is also "Shabbat of Turning Back," when we look back to see the beginning of our journey one year ago. For some, the year has been a prosperous one; for others, a year of pain, disappointment, and loss. At times, God seemed absent. But the moment at the end of Yom Kippur when we declaim seven times that "Adonai is God!" is one of reassurance, wholeness, and hope; of ultimate awareness; and of profound understanding that God's oneness pervades all being.
BY THE WAY
- Originally, back at the first "sprouting" of the redemption of Israel, while they were in exile in Egypt, the Holy One said to Moses: " Ehyeh asher Ehyeh — I will be — there howsoever I will be — there." (Ex. 3:14) According to Rashi, who cited the Sages, God meant: "I will be with them through this suffering, and I will be with them throughout all their enslavement to other nations." But now in Ha'azinu, when Moses recites his Song, it is the present and future redemption that are mentioned. The Holy One says, "Now that the Time has come, 'I am I.' Way back then, back at the Burning Bush, I spoke in the future tense, 'I shall be'; but now that the Time has come, I speak in the present tense, 'I am I.'" ( The Chatam Sofer, Rabbi Moshe Schrieber, 1763-1839, Slovakia, quoted in Itturei Torah, vol. 6 [Tel Aviv: Yavneh Publishing House, 1989], p. 213)
- "I . . . I" — It is repeated twice for emphasis, just as Isaiah repeated the first person pronoun, "Anochi, Anochi — I, I" (Isa. 52:12), implying, "I am God; I shall never change." This is the correct meaning. (Abraham ibn Ezra, Spain, 1092-1167, commenting on Deuteronomy 32:39)
- A prayer for the journey
We could say it every day
When we first leave the soft warmth of our beds
And don't know for sure if we'll return at night
. . . When we leave our homes for a day, a week, a month or more-
Will we return to a peaceful home? Untouched by fire, flood or crime?
How will our travels change us?
What gives us the courage to go through that door?
A prayer for the journey.
For the journey we take in this fragile vessel of flesh.
. . . Every life, every day, every hour is a journey.
In the travel is the discovery, the wisdom, the joy.
Every life, every day, every hour is a journey.
In the travel is the reward, the peace, the blessing.
(Sheila Peltz Weinberg, "A Traveler's Prayer," in The Tapestry of Jewish Time, by Nina Beth Cardin [Springfield, N.J.: Behrman House, 2000], p. 244)
- The Chatam Sofer portrays a God who wants to be with us in both our suffering and our joys, even if we cannot appreciate the fullness of God's presence at all times. As we conclude the Jewish year, when were moments that you felt God's presence? When did you feel God's absence? What moments of profound realization and awareness of God did you have during the year?
- As Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg suggests in her poem, how have your travels changed you this year since you first began your journey?