Parashah Ha’azinu:Deuteromomy 32:2
“May my discourse come down as the rain, my speech distill as the dew, like showers on young growth, like droplets on the grass.”
Moses’ final lesson: It’s like rain
For the past 10 days, much of the conversation we’ve been having with God and ourselves boils down to one question: “What are doing on this earth?”
Hopefully, during the High Holidays — through the melodies, the sermons and prayers — we developed a more focused idea of what we wish to accomplish with our remaining days on this earth.
Pursuit of pleasure? Sure. But is that all there is?
Our Sages tell us that each of us is unique. There is something we are meant to do on this earth that only we can do. Conversely, each of us has one personal obstacle that we need to overcome in order to become a better person.
There are many who spend a lifetime looking for a one liner or a Tweet that captures the purpose of our existence.
“Honor your neighbor as yourself?” What a wonderful concept.
“We are all descendants of the generations of Adam.... and therefore we are all equal.” Some believe that this is the most important lesson of the Torah.
The philosophy that resonates most profoundly for me comes from the legendary rabbi, the Vilna Gaon (1720-1797), who posited that the meaning of life is to make ourselves into something better.
He noted that a person “needs to perpetually strengthen himself...if not, ‘why is he alive?’
But how do we accomplish that?
A rabbi, who I studied with prior to the High Holidays cautioned me not to encourage congregants to commit to changes they are not capable of making.
Many have endured troubled childhoods, or abusive relationships. How is it possible to strive for spiritual perfection when some of the roots of our imperfections are embedded so deeply within?
Our Sages teach us that in part, the answer lies in the verse which opens this week’s Torah portion — Ha’azinu (“Open your ears.”) This is the last Shabbat portion we will read before we complete the Torah cycle and return “to the beginning.”
Moses in his final dissertation, presents — in the form of a poem — the message that there are no “one-shot answers.” He looks at the heavens, and drawing upon the life-giving power of water, envisions droplets of rain descending from heaven.
Says Moses: “May my discourse come down as the rain, my speech distill as the dew, like showers on young growth, like droplets on the grass.” (Deuteronomy 32:2)
What a beautiful teaching.
Moses is telling us — with his final ounce of energy — that the key to a meaningful life, is not found within the expanse of a large overarching clouds, but rather within the multitude of droplets contained within a rain shower.
How many times a day are we tempted to lose our patience? How we deal with those impulses, which are drops of rain, can determine our inner happiness.
How many times do we blame others for the deficiencies in our lives? These are the droplets of dew that form beneath our feet.
How often are we too busy or self-indulgent to spend time with our children or grandchildren? These represent “showers on young growth.”
The fact is, the average 30,000 days each of us lives over 80 years, is irrigated constantly by thousands of decisions, thousands of droplets — each gifted to us by the heavens.
Each day we face decisions — to be ethical or not — to be loving or not — to be patient or not — to remain angry at others — or not.
Indeed, is the composite of these drops that will determine the success of our lives.
So, as we complete this season of repentance, as we already begin edging toward the temptation of mistakes we’ve committed in the past, perhaps this opening teaching from Moses can provide some inspiration: We are the composite of our small actions. And, we are just as good as our next decision.
According to our Sages, there are two types of change: one comes through a sudden revelation — an epiphany — a lightning bolt — and the other through gradual understanding and change.
Moses, I believe, is confirming this week that Torah — as it is with our lives — is multifaceted.
As we bid farewell to the High Holidays, we embark on a new challenge: How can we — through the composite of these decisions — ensure that we do not return next year with the same list of behaviors and faults, which we recently promised to improve upon.
Let us rather develop a sensitive heart that inspires us through every interaction, every sentence uttered, every impulse to descend — to improve.
Sin is such a difficult word. It made us cringe slightly during the High Holidays.
Rather, let us turn our confessions into positive actions, as we remind ourselves each time we are faced with a dilemma or an instinct to lose our composure: “I can do better. I can do better. I can do better.”
As Moses inspires us to consider, life is a series of raindrops which can either refresh or submerge us.
Moses teaches, that we can do better — if we gather our actions like rain, to make ourselves and this world into something better.
Shabbat Shalom, v’kol tuv.
Rabbi Irwin Huberman