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Punishment

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."

Collective Responsibility, One for All and All for One

Nitzavim comes in the cycle of Torah readings just before Rosh HaShanah and is particularly appropriate for the High Holidays because it stresses the importance of repentance. The tone of the passage is at once both lofty and terrifying.

It begins with Moses' inspiring address to the entire people of Israel shortly before he is to die, "You stand this day (Atem nitzavim hayom), all of you, before the Eternal your God — you tribal heads, you elders, and you officials, all the men of Israel, you children, you women, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water drawer" (Deuteronomy 29:9-10).

D'var Torah By: 
The Whole of the Community Is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts
Davar Acher By: 
Daniel Septimus

And as we rapidly approach the High Holiday season, it is even more fitting that we evaluate what being in a community means to each one of us, just as Dr. Firestone so poignantly identifies in his well-articulated d'var Torah for this week.

Our Torah portion this week, Nitzavim, begins, atem nitzavim hayom, kul'chem. "You stand this day, all of you." Moses is speaking to the Israelite community one last time before they enter the Promised Land and before he dies. He is holding every member of the community accountable for their actions.

Hiding from Ourselves

The Chasidic tradition brings us the following story:

D'var Torah By: 
Asking Questions with Eyes Wide Open
Davar Acher By: 
Jason Fenster

Something felt different this year. Tragedy after tragedy opened our eyes to injustice in new, heartbreaking ways.

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