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Punishment

A Song You Will Remember

In last week's portion, Vayeilech, we read, “Then Moses recited the words of the following poem to the very end, in the hearing of the whole congregation of Israel” (Deut. 31:30). This verse concludes last week’s portion, Parashat Vayeilechand in doing so, creates one of the most dramatic cliffhangers in our entire Torah. Surely this forthcoming poem, Moses’ actual last words to the Israelites, will be emotional, inspirational, and transformational.

D'var Torah By: 
Transitioning from Fear and Awe to Celebration
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Brian T. Nelson

Cantor Sacks has beautifully discussed the importance of Shirat Moshe, the Song of Moses, and her expertise in analyzing the musical components of this parashah highlights succinctly how it retells Israel’s relationship with God throughout the Exodus and Moses’ leadership. There is also something noteworthy when one simultaneously considers both the arc of the poem’s narrative and the timing of its recitation. This year Shirat Moshe is read in between the Yamim Nora-im (the High Holidays) and Sukkot. The arc of the poem tells of God’s power to punish B’nei Yisrael when they turn away from God, and then reminds us of God’s willingness to defend B’nei Yisrael and seek vengeance upon those who would do them harm. 

Going Out and Coming In: Transitions of Leadership

In our High Holiday machzor, we read a poem entitled, “The Sacred Pilgrimage,” by Rabbi Alvin Fine: "Birth is a beginning and death a destination. But life is a journey ..."  The familiar verses of this poem could easily be the underlying emotional narrative of Parashat Vayeilech.  In this week’s portion, Moses is in the midst of this process; for in Parashat Vayeilech, Moses officially retires and begins to prepare for his death.

D'var Torah By: 
Lessons in Self-Reflection From Moses
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Kevin Kleinman

In her commentary, Cantor Sacks helps us reflect on Moses’ life and legacy by quoting a poem that is often recited at memorial services: "Birth is a beginning and death a destination … But life is a journey … The poem connects beautifully to Moses’ own self-examination at the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, VayeilechHere, Moses literally stands in the liminal moments between life and death ...

The Tension Between Hubris and Humility

In its brief 40 verses, Parashat Nitzavim immediately presents us with tensions between confidence and condemnation, promise and punishment, and ultimately, between humility and hubris. Throughout the text of these two compact chapters—Deuteronomy 29 and 30—Moses consistently oscillates between inspiring the Israelites toward their future and forewarning them about their inherent (and perhaps inevitable) flaws.

D'var Torah By: 
Insights Into the Needs and Fears of Baby Boomers
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Laura Geller
In the beginning of Parashat Nitzavim, we read: “You stand this day, all of you, before the Eternal your God ... "(Deut. 29:9).  As Cantor Sacks notes, Moses’ language in this section, “rouses the people before him to confidence and promise, and to inspiration and importance.” 

The Spiritual Climax of Now

As we near the end of Deuteronomy, prepare to begin the yearly Torah cycle anew, and celebrate the finale of the fall holidays, we are poised for a remarkable spiritual climax. This week’s Torah portion, Haazinu, includes Moses’ dramatic theological poem – a powerful cry of the heart because he wants to ensure that the community understands the core principles of what it means to be an Israelite. 

D'var Torah By: 
Speaking So All Can Hear
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Melissa Buyer-Witman

"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. 32:2). Moses eloquently pleads to his community: Haazinu, “Listen.” He urges them to hear his sage counsel one last time before they make their way to the Promised Land without him.

On Adaptive Jewish Leadership and Embracing Change

The central leaders throughout the Bible share some important characteristics. While each one is appointed or finds him- or herself in positions of significant leadership in very different ancient contexts, each example models core elements of the complexity, potential, and importance of Jewish selecting and supporting of leaders today. A prime example of the multifaceted nature of selecting a new leader is best exhibited in Parashat Vayeilech by the appointment of Joshua as the leader of the Israelites as they prepare to enter the Land of Israel. 

D'var Torah By: 
Be Strong and Resolute: Believe that You Can Change
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Emily E. Segal

This brief and beautiful Torah portion, Vayeilech, is read this year on Shabbat Shuvah, the Shabbat of Return that falls between the High Holidays. Three times within this brief portion we find the words “Be strong and resolute,” as follows: Moses, standing on the cusp of his death, on the brink of ending his service to God and to the Israelites, lays the groundwork for his disciple and successor Joshua to lead the people into the Promised Land. 

The Depths of Human Agency and God’s Surprising Laughter

In this week’s Torah portion, Nitzavim, an aspect of the fundamental genius of Jewish existence is illuminated. In renewing the covenant God's intention is revealed: that human beings are intended to interpret and determine the meaning of Torah.

D'var Torah By: 
Yes, You Are a Good Jew
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Jeremy Gimbel

“I’m not a good Jew.” This is a phrase we hear far too often. But in Parashat Nitzavim, we learn that each and every Jew is valued as a part of the community.

Remember the Days of Old

In Haazinu, Moses recites a poem telling the people of Israel that they must give glory to God and be true to God whose ways are just. He instructs them to consult their elders and “remember the days of old.” 

D'var Torah By: 
The Times They Are A-Changin'
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Stefan Tiwy

In his d'var Torah on Parashat Haazinu, Rabbi Marc Saperstein makes the case that Moses' request to “remember the days of old” (Deuteronomy 32:7) literally obligates the Israelites and us, their spiritual descendants, to engage in the study of our people's history. At the same time, he acknowledges that history is neither an absolute nor infallible science.

A Failure of Leadership and Moses’ Downfall

Haazinu is one of the shorter sections of the Torah, and it is made up almost entirely of a breathtaking and chastening poem. The term "awesome" tends to be overused today, but this poem is truly awesome. Unfortunately, the power of the Hebrew rhythm and poetic style is lost in the English translation, but we can still sense some of the majesty.

D'var Torah By: 
Moses Reaches Out to Us Across the Generations
Davar Acher By: 
Paul Citrin

The poem in Haazinu presents divine attributes, affirms God's providential care and bounty; the place of the Jewish people in relation to God and the world; divine wrath; punishment and chastisement; treatment of Israel's enemies, and hope for the future of Israel. All of these topics in such a small space echo Abravanel's view, "The words of Torah sometimes seem few in quantity, but they are great in quality" (ibid., Itturei Torah).

On Repentance and Seeking Peace Above and Below

"And Moses went (Vayeilech) and spoke these words to all Israel" (Deuteronomy 31:1). This opening marks the beginning, not only of the parashah, but also of the long death scene for Moses that will not be completed until the very end of the Torah two portions hence. Traditional commentators noticed an unusual locution. Usually the Torah reads "And Moses spoke … " Only here does it say "And Moses went and spoke … "

D'var Torah By: 
God Goes with Us On the Road to Repentance
Davar Acher By: 
Sarah Weissman

Dr. Firestone beautifully suggests that vayeilech Moshe, "Moses went," means that Moses went to the Israelites before his death and spoke words of t'shuvah, encouraging the people to repent, and to pursue peace between each other and between each of them and God. Just a few verses later, the word "to go" appears again, only this time it is God who "goes."

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