Weekly Reading Insights:
Ha'azinu 5779



Overview of the Weekly Reading

To be read on Shabbat Ha'azinu, 13 Tishrei 5779/Sept. 22, 2018

Torah: Deut. 32:1-52
Haftorah: II Samuel 22:1-51

Ha'azinu is the 10th Reading out of 11 in Deuteronomy and it contains 2326 letters, in 614 words, in 52 verses

Ha'azinu (Deuteronomy 32:1-52) is the song that Moshe, along with Yehoshua Ben Nun, sang to the People of Israel before he passed on. He warned the people to pay close attention to the words of this song, so that they would be able to live long in the land. G-d then told Moshe to climb the mountain and look at the land which the Jewish people were about to enter but Moshe was not, as he broke faith with G-d's word in the desert, with the Waters of Dispute. It was on Mt. Nevo, that Moshe was to pass on.

An essay from
Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, director of Ascent

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One of the central parts of the Yom Kippur prayer service is the alphabetical "al cheit" prayer where we confess to the sins we likely committed during the past year. The reason we need to confess verbally is explained by the kabbalists (Derech Mitzvosecha, Mitzvas T'shuva and other places): There are three necessary components to fulfilling the commandment of teshuva, returning to G-d by turning away from our negative behavior. Every negative action we do creates a prosecuting angel that testifies against us in the heavenly court. Our sincere regret for the negative action destroys the soul of the prosecuting angel. Our verbal confession destroys the body (however ethereal) of the prosecuting angel. The resolution not to commit the same sin again in the future erases the residues left by the negative action on our soul. We repeat the same confessions a few times over the course of Yom Kippur so that we remain pure throughout the day as our appeal to be forgiven is being reviewed.

The Sh'lah Hakadosh and other great scholars ask: Why, in all the detailed sins we describe, do we mention, "the sin that we committed before you with our evil inclination"? A Jewish person's innermost core is a divine soul that is literally a part of G-d. He or she is by nature pure. Every time we say "al cheit" we should say that it is because of our evil inclination, because it is the cause of the evil inclination, which is merely an external part of us. What is the particular sin we are singling out in this confession?

The Talmud (Brochos 54a) asks why the Hebrew word for "heart,", in the verse from the Shema-"b'chol levavecha," "serve G-d with all your heart,"-has two letter "bais's" when only one is needed? And it answers: Because each person actually has two inclinations, a positive one that reaches for G-dliness and a negative one that reaches for the world. The verse says, "serve G-d with all of your heart" (with two bais's) to teach us that we that we are commanded to serve G-d with both of our inclinations, even with the evil inclination that reaches for the things of this world!

The Rebbe connects this idea to another Talmudic statement (Kidushin 30b), where G-d is quoted as saying, "I have created an evil inclination and Torah as it seasoning." Just like seasoning does not nullify the flavor of the food, but only improves and enhances it, so too does Torah affect the evil inclination. Torah study and its commandments do not come to destroy the evil inclination, but rather to purify and elevate it. The ultimate goal is to use the evil inclination to do good, so that it becomes like an ox that is made to plow a field. Not only should the evil inclination not be an obstacle to serving
G-d, it should itself serve G-d! For example, if you like to eat, let your eating remind you of your dependence on food, and that there others who need to eat but do not have the means, and help them by giving charity. Or, if you have an over-abundance of confidence, use that confidence to volunteer to take over a project that will reveal more G-dliness in the world.

This is the meaning of the confession in the al cheit prayer, "for the sin we committed before you with our evil inclination." We are referring to the sins we committed because we did not successfully elevate and purify our evil inclination itself. Yom Kippur is not just a day of regrets, it is a day for transforming all our attributes into better platforms for serving G-d. With this perspective, one can view all of the al cheit confessions in terms of the positive potential there, waiting to be enhanced by you. What seasoning will you use?

May the Almighty guide us this coming year to understanding ourselves well so that we can identify and even transform our negative traits so that they too serve G-d.

Gmar chatima tova, may you be signed and sealed for a good and sweet new year.

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For last year's essay by Rabbi Leiter on this week's Reading, see the archive.


Specifically, for an overview of the recommended articles in the columns:
Holy Zohar, Holy Ari, Mystic Classics, Chasidic Masters, Contemporary Kabbalists, and more,
click to Ha'azinu

one sample:

Mystical Classics
The Mighty Hand of Justice

by Nachmonides; adapted from Rabbi Dr. Charles Chavel's annotated translation

"And in all the mighty hand…and in all the great terror."

The concluding verse of the Torah alludes to the wonders that Moses displayed during the Redemption: the division of the Red Sea, the smiting of the firstborn, the division of the Red Sea, and the giving of the Torah.

To continue, click here.

For the rest of "The Masters of Kabbala and Chumash" on this Weekly Reading; and on all the other Readings.

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For another taste of recommended Kabbalah articles on a variety of subjects,
click to the
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