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Cantorial Comments - Parshat Haazinu                                  October 12, 2019 - 13 Tishrei 5780

10/10/2019 02:43:32 PM


“Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.”

  Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973), 36th US President


I often find that I am often comparing Yom Kippur to running a marathon, as it seems that in so many respects, the extended metaphor illuminates many different aspects of the value and experience of the day.  Nobody that I know really “likes” running a marathon, rather, it’s the comradery and teamsmanship, the festivity, the knowledge that we are doing something healthy for ourselves, and especially, the overcoming of a challenge that we find exhilarating.  I have yet to meet someone who says to me, “you know the last two miles of the marathon, when you’re dripping in sweat, you’ve got a painful stitch under your ribcage, but you’re still far enough away from the finish line that you can’t feel any relief that it’s almost over?  Yeah, I love that part”.  It is also true that unless you train and prepare properly, a marathon can be especially painful (if not dangerous) experience.  So too, those who only come to shul on the High Holydays and have never experienced a Shabbat service, are likely going to have a much harder time deriving benefit from the Yom Kippur experience.  Just as running a marathon without training can be a physical overload, Yom Kippur without Shabbat can be a God-overload.  Still, after finishing a long day in shul, most of us come home feeling good in the knowledge that we made it to the finish line.  We’re feeling a little bit lighter, a weight off of our shoulders (or that could just be the dehydration).  But this year, unfortunately, my personal feeling of post Yom Kippur euphoria was cut short when I came home to find that while I was in shul all day, my mobile phone and credit card numbers had been hijacked to make fraudulent purchases.


Of course, it’s all going to be just fine.  The fraudulent purchases were reported, the cards were canceled, and somebody at Rogers is working on getting me my phone number back, but it still feels terrible.  I ran the marathon, and somebody who wasn’t part of the race stole my prize t-shirt at the end.  The negative thoughts that ran through my head were almost worthy of having to do my “Al Chet” prayers all over again.  Unfortunately, that’s the big challenge.  While our jobs as Jews are to remain committed to ma’asim tovim (good works), and leading our lives in the spirit of Torah and mitzvot, there will always be forces that try to push us off track.  It’s easy to get demoralized and frustrated as we begin to wonder whether all that effort is really worth it when it would be so much easier to maliciously take what we want from others, just as some seem to want to take from us.  Yom Kippur may be just one day, but being Jewish is a lifetime, which means that we must hold ourselves to a better standard not just one day a year, but every day.


This week’s parsha is Haazinu.  Moses reveals the text of a song that he has written that he will teach to the Israelite nation.  The song reminds us that God is both righteous and just, and that all corruption stems not from Him, but from mankind.  The Israelites, therefore, should take care to remember their blessings of all that God has done for them, from delivering them from slavery to sustaining them during their forty years of wandering in the desert.  The song promises that in the future, there will be times when the Israelites are tempted to turn away from God and descend into evil, but it is especially at those times that they must remember their promise to be a holy nation, to always aspire to be better.  This promise, says Moses, must supersede all of your other commitments, it must be at the forefront of your thoughts and must guide your judgement and actions “for it is not an empty thing for you, for it is your life, and through this thing, you will lengthen your days upon the land to which you are crossing over the Jordan, to possess it” (Deut. 32:47).


Shabbat Shalom,


Wed, August 12 2020 22 Av 5780