7 Haiku for Parsha Ha’azinu (in which arrows and swords drink like pirates) by Rick Lupert


I
The final concert
A solo performance – Words
of Moses like rain

II
We are protected
with clouds – like eagle babies
We are like God’s eye

III
When we drank the blood
of grapes – When we sucked honey
from rocks – Who did that?

IV
Poseurs – pretending
they could bring us down – God burns
up their vanities

V
You know you’ve lost God’s
favor if your wine tastes like
serpents’ bitterness

VI
Let your arrows and
swords drink ’til they’re drunk – Let them
vanquish enemies

VII
Did you hear the song
Moses sang? It is the last
one you’ll hear from him


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

Torah portion: Beauty and love


Over and above the din of desires there is a calling, a demanding, a waiting, an expectation. There is a question that follows me wherever I turn. What is expected of me? What is demanded of me?

— Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Our penultimate Torah portion is … a poem. Even allowing for the oral culture of the time, ending a book of narrative and law with song is a pleasant twist.

Ha’azinu describes God’s power as creator of the world and sovereign of history, the power that chooses Israel, wins wars and ensures the harvest. The material has been covered before in Deuteronomy, but here curses and threats are noticeably absent. Rather, the promise of a prosperous future is emphasized. The poem champions God’s love of Jacob, the people Israel:

He found him [Jacob] in a desert region,

In an empty howling waste.

He engirded him, watched over him,

Guarded him as the pupil of His eye.

Like an eagle who rouses his nestlings,

Gliding down to his young,

So did He spread His wings and take him,

Bear him along on His pinions (Deuteronomy 32:10-11).

Poetry is the preferred medium to describe God’s love, and the medium is part of the message. 

Another twist: Moses speaks as the Israelites are about to fight their way into Canaan. They need to hear about the warrior aspects of God who leads them, and indeed, they do in much of the poem that follows. But how does it begin?

The Rock! — His deeds are perfect,

Yea, all His ways are just;

A faithful God, never false.

True and upright is He (Deuteronomy 32:4).

Not strength, but moral impeccability and commitment. Not might, but fairness and loyalty. Or as I see it: beauty and love. The beauty of ethical living and justice. The love behind commitment and loyalty.

I think most would accept that commitment in a relationship can, and in fact, usually does, flow from love. However, perhaps not all would agree that we are attracted to a life of moral integrity because it is beautiful. Morality, as it has famously been argued, is rooted in duty and rationality, not the subjective taste of what each individual finds attractive. There is truth in this view. But such thinking fails to account for how people actually behave.

In the debate over moral education, I side with those who emphasize the cultivation of virtue over developing skills in rational decision-making (though both are important) because for most people, moral action comes less from dispassionate, prudential thought and more from passionate feelings for the right and the good. 

Some of the time, we do the right thing because we weigh the moral calculus and conclude that it is the highest good. But most all the time, we are attracted to truth and goodness because in the realm of spirit, the right and the true are beautiful.

It begins with hearing the Divine call mentioned above by Heschel. While the response might come from a well-reasoned sense of duty, from our heads, it is most likely to come from the spark of godliness within us, from our hearts. God without calls to God within.

The pull of holiness is in our nature. The Torah describes us as created in the image of God. (The English translation falls short; think “likeness,” not appearance.) This is a very deliberate choice of words. We don’t think of reasons to connect with an image. Rather, we are attracted by something beautiful about it, often in ways we cannot articulate. 

And then we explore the reasons. This is important. Reasoned thought guards against the false images, the idols that seek to entice us. Rationality can, and does, influence our desires and shape our virtues. Our thinking and feeling are never separated. But in the end, moral motivation comes from a pull on the heartstrings. 

When we respond, we actualize the image of God we embody. The beauty and love of our godly potential becomes reality. We move closer to holiness.

I write these thoughts because we read Ha’azinu on Shabbat Shuva, the Sabbath of repentance, of returning to God by examining our lives and trying to change for the better. How do we catalyze deep and lasting transformation? 

For me, it starts with listening. Do I hear God calling my name? The key spiritual move is to rediscover and reconnect with the image of God that I already am, the Divine lure that pulls me forward, and then use my imagination to envision a better future and a better self. A more loving person. A more beautiful life.

 

Rabbi Mike Comins teaches the Making Prayer Real Course (makingprayerreal.com) and directs the TorahTrek Center for Jewish Wilderness Spirituality (torahtrek.org). He is the author of “A Wild Faith” and “Making Prayer Real” (Jewish Lights Publishing).

Let Heaven and Earth Hear: Parashat Haazinu (Deuteronomy 32:1-32:52)


If each spoken word is a droplet of water, then each voice that utters is a wind that brings forth rain.

Though, the wind has no shape. Though, water comes in all shapes and sizes. Though, no mortal power can divine the weather even a few days hence, words turn patterns as surely as the wind turns seasons about the globe. 

We have familiar words, torrents of them; some smother us with wholesome joy, others shatter glass and hearts as easily as any tornado. We recognize the peal of anger, the lightning-quick lashes of a fiery tongue. We know frost as hard and cold as any frozen lake when we share — windpipe constricted — the bitterest of news. 

Oh yes, there are times when the tongue and head rock from gales of laughter, that warm pleasure that dispels the rainiest of days. There are times when we befriend a stranger and wonder, akin to snowfall in autumn, will it stick or melt away? We wonder at the mystery of loving words. Love is a mist that occludes everything except the ones whom we love. Who can say what the restless wind whispers in secret to the branches of those rooted trees?

We know the love of chirping toddlers who take to their mothers like young grass to dew. Blink once and it is all gone. We know windless days as well, the humbling summer of silence. Ignored, avoided, the words wish to form, but the throat is as parched as a salted desert. 

Yet, of all the many words that shower the earth, that flood our lives with meaning — which take root and which take flight? Which words are as ephemeral as a seedless watermelon, giving enjoyment now, but condemned never to bear fruit? And which words rain sustenance to trees that shall offer fruit even to the thousandth generation? 

Nearing the very end of Deuteronomy, as Moses’ last breath draws near, Israel’s greatest prophet composes a song of farewell. Written in couplets, it begins like this:

Give ear, o heavens, that I will speak,

Hear, o Earth, these words of my mouth,

 

May my doctrine drip as rain,

May my words distill as dew. 

 

As mist to fresh blades of grass,

As mighty showers to herbs’ green leaves.

 

Deuteronomy 32:1-2

The song continues with a variety of images and metaphors; however, this first remarkable image of water remains to saturate the mind. For Moses, Torah is the fountainhead, the spring of life. This is not the salted water of the sea, nor is it the deluge left by a hurricane, or even the light snow flurries that dust the sky but never quite kiss the earth. It is living water, the water that sustains, that collects on leaves, that seeps deep into the soil. It is the dew that bathes the grass and the mighty waters that nourish new grain. It is water that cultivates one generation so it can cultivate another. 

It is rather fitting that the Song of Moses is read just before Sukkot — the festival that marks the end of Israel’s harvest. For if we can sing with the gusto with which Moses sang, at the end of the year, at the end of the harvest, at the end of his life, beseeching heaven and earth to heed the song of Torah. Undoubtedly, the lyrics will remain, the words will linger into the New Year long after we have put our backs to planting afresh and irrigating anew.  

Words are water, our voices the wind that carries the rain. 

Shabbat Shalom.


Rabbi Yehuda Hausman is a Modern Orthodox rabbi who teaches in Los Angeles. He writes about the weekly parasha on his blog, rabbihausman.com.

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