Monthly Archives: September 2015


Ha’azinu is not always read; every third year or so, it comes out on Shabbat Shuva, and that Haftarah is read instead.

But when it is its own Shabbat, sometime during the Tishrei holiday season, then we read David’s poem from Shmuel II, which parallels Moshe’s poem of He’ezinu

Linear annotated translation of the Haftarah of Ha’azinu

Among the parallels is the importance placed on the quality called Tamim

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Ha’azinu – Being ‘Tamim’

In Parshat Ha’azinu, Moshe uses a poetic form to describe how G-d runs the world, in particular, how He deals with the Jewish People. He starts off by saying:

הַצּוּר תָּמִים פָּעֳלוֹ כִּי כָל דְּרָכָיו מִשְׁפָּט אֵל אֱמוּנָה וְאֵין עָוֶל צַדִּיק וְיָשָׁר הוּא:
The Rock, His work is ‘tamim’, for all His ways are just; a G-d of faithfulness, no evil, righteous and straight is He. (Devarim 32:4)

‘Tamim’ is usually translated as “perfect” or “unblemished.” The reason for that translation is the numerous times this word is used to refer to sacrificial animals, which are required to be “tamim,” free of blemish. The word for “blemish” is “moom”, and it is used to contrast the behavior of the Jewish People with that of G-d:

שִׁחֵת לוֹ לֹא בָּנָיו מוּמָם דּוֹר עִקֵּשׁ וּפְתַלְתֹּל
They have corrupted, His non-children, with their blemish; a generation that is perverse and cunning. (Devarim 32:5)

The Parsha is not talking about animals, which might have a torn ear or a broken leg. What, then, is the blemish of the Jewish People, and conversely, what is the quality of ‘unblemished’ that is ascribed to G-d?

There is a commandment in the Torah,

תָּמִים תִּהְיֶה עִם ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ:
Be ‘tamim’ with Hashem, your G-d. (Devarim 18:13)

If the quality of ‘tamim’ belonged only to G-d, we could have translated this term as “perfect” and “unblemished.” But what does the Torah mean when using it in reference to human beings? How can we be commanded to be perfect and unblemished?

In the Haftarah, King David lists the different ways in which he has done G-d’s will. On that list we find:

וָאֶהְיֶה תָמִים לוֹ
I have been ‘tamim’ to Him. (Shmuel II, 22:24)

So whatever this quality might be, David has been successful in achieving it.
Like Parshat Ha’azinu, the Haftarah describes how G-d runs the world, in particular, how He deals with the Jewish People. This is how King David puts it:

עִם חָסִיד תִּתְחַסָּד עִם גִּבּוֹר תָּמִים תִּתַּמָּם: עִם נָבָר תִּתָּבָר וְעִם עִקֵּשׁ תִּתַּפָּל:
To a loyal person, You are loyal; to an ‘tamim’ man, You are ‘tamim’
To a clean person, You are clean, and to a perverse person, You are cunning
(Shmuel II, 22:25-26)

According to the Haftarah, if a person is ‘tamim’, then G-d is ‘tamim’ to him back, and if a person is perverse, than G-d is cunning to him back – just like the terms used in Ha’azinu. But here, the opposite of ‘tamim’ is not “blemished,” it is “perverse” and “cunning”.

“Perfect” is not a fitting antonym of “perverse” and “cunning.” What, then, is this quality of ‘tamim’, that is one of the ways we describe G-d, and is also one of the ways that we are expected to behave?

The commandment, ‘Tamim be with Hashem Your G-d’ appears in the context of fortune telling. We are forbidden to engage in any form of spiritualism, necromancy, or divination. Instead, we are asked to be ‘tamim’. The Torah is telling us not to play games with G-d, not to try to outguess Him, not to try to get insider information that we are not meant to have. The blemish that we need to avoid is guile.

The Haftarah says that when a person acts toward G-d without guile, without attempting to manipulate Him or trick Him, then G-d, too, acts toward him without guile, and rewards him according to his actions, pure and straightforward. King David points out that the converse is also true – when a person attempts to be perversely crooked, and thinks that G-d will not notice and will just go along with his plans, in fact, the opposite happens. G-d continues to reward him according to his actions, but being that his actions are crooked, the outcome is anything but straightforward.

In the ancient world, there were theologies and pantheons whose gods were cunning and manipulative, toward each other, and toward their worshippers. They would destroy or reward based on their transitory whims and fleeting desires.

When Moshe Rabbeinu and David HaMelech teach us how G-d runs the world, the most important point they make is that our G-d is not like that. He is a “rock,” He does not act on whims; He is ‘tamim’, guileless. He has a plan for the Jewish People and a plan for the world, and He acts to further that plan. Moreover, our own actions dictate how He acts towards us. When we are “perverse and crooked” and figure that we know better how the world should be run, and try to force G-d to our will, then that is a blemish that G-d does not tolerate in us. When we let Him run the show and follow His ways, then He protects us from all obstacles so that we can fulfil His plan.

We do not always see this happening. To our human eyes, it sometimes seems that the world goes in every which way but straight. As prophets, Moshe Rabbeinu and David HaMelech were able to see G-d’ ways as ‘tamim’. We are not prophets, but we are the descendants of prophets. Maybe if we do our part, if we are ‘tamim’, guileless, with G-d, and don’t try to manipulate or outguess Him, then we shall see it, too.

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Shabbat Shuva – The Illogic of Teshuva

The Shabbat between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur is called Shabbat Shuva, based on the Haftarah that is read that begins with the words “Shuva Yisrael.”

שׁוּבָה יִשְׂרָאֵל עַד ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ כִּי כָשַׁלְתָּ בַּעֲוֹנֶךָ: קְחוּ עִמָּכֶם דְּבָרִים וְשׁוּבוּ אֶל ה’ … אֶרְפָּא מְשׁוּבָתָם אֹהֲבֵם נְדָבָה כִּי שָׁב אַפִּי מִמֶּנּוּ: אֶהְיֶה כַטַּל לְיִשְׂרָאֵל יִפְרַח כַּשּׁוֹשַׁנָּה
Return, Israel, to Hashem your G-d! For you have stumbled in your sin.
Take with you words, and turn back to Hashem. …
I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely; for My anger has turned from him. I will be like dew to Israel, he will blossom like the lily (Hoshea 14:2-6)

In this Haftarah, G-d urges the Jewish People to return, and promises to accept and love them. The prophet Hoshea uses the metaphor of dew; unlike rain, which is withheld if we don’t deserve it, dew appears year-round no matter what. By comparing Himself to dew, G-d states that His relationship with us is eternal and constant, and His love for us is unconditional.

Parshat VaYelech, which is usually read on Shabbat Shuva, tells us of one of the very last things that G-d says to Moshe, which appears to be in stark contrast to the above message:

וַיֹּאמֶר ה’ אֶל מֹשֶׁה הִנְּךָ שֹׁכֵב עִם אֲבֹתֶיךָ וְקָם הָעָם הַזֶּה וְזָנָה אַחֲרֵי אֱלֹהֵי נֵכַר הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר הוּא בָא שָׁמָּה בְּקִרְבּוֹ וַעֲזָבַנִי וְהֵפֵר אֶת בְּרִיתִי אֲשֶׁר כָּרַתִּי אִתּוֹ…
וְאָנֹכִי הַסְתֵּר אַסְתִּיר פָּנַי בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא עַל כָּל הָרָעָה אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה כִּי פָנָה אֶל אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים…
Hashem said to Moshe: you are about to rest with your forefathers, and this nation will get up and whore after the foreign gods of the land that it is going to, and leave Me, and break My covenant that I made with it….
And I will definitely conceal My face on that day, because of all the evil that it does, for it turned to other gods… (Devarim 31:17-18)

G-d says to the Jewish People: I know you are going to fail. I know that you are not capable of doing what you have committed to do. And I want you to know that I know.

From a perspective of rational logic, this does not add up. Why does G-d even bother choosing the Jewish People if He knows that failure is inevitable? If there is no hope of the Jewish People actually keeping their commitment to G-d, what is the purpose of the entire enterprise? And besides, what is the point of telling us this? “Bye, Moshe, you’ve done a great job, but you should know, the moment you die, these people will turn their backs on everything you’ve taught them. Just saying.”

This is the Parsha that we read between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, the days of repentance and introspection? Is it not utterly fatalistic and defeating, the opposite of the Haftarah of Shuva with its unconditional love?

Perhaps not. Perhaps the only way for us to understand the power of Teshuva, of the ability to return, is by understanding the message of Parshat VaYelech.

G-d does not have to be “rational.” He chooses to bind Himself to the Jewish People even though He knows that we will fail. He tells us that we will fail so that we do not for a moment consider that our disappointing Him can nullify our relationship. He tells us that He will “conceal His face” from us, so that we do not for a moment think that He has left us.

Teshuva is not “rational,” either. Using the verses of the Haftarah, the Midrash analyzes all the different ways that Teshuva breaks the rules of logic:

אמר ריש לקיש: גדולה תשובה, שזדונות נעשות לו כשגגות, שנאמר +הושע יד+ שובה ישראל עד ה’ אלהיך כי כשלת בעונך. הא עון מזיד הוא, וקא קרי ליה מכשול.
Reish Lakish said: great is Teshuva, for it turns deliberate sins into accidental misdeeds, as it says, ” Return, Israel, to Hashem your G-d! For you have stumbled in your sin”. Sin is deliberate, and it calls it stumbling.
בא וראה שלא כמדת הקדוש ברוך הוא מדת בשר ודם. מדת בשר ודם, מקניט את חבירו בדברים – ספק מתפייס הימנו ספק אין מתפייס הימנו, ואם תאמר מתפייס הימנו – ספק מתפייס בדברים ספק אין מתפייס בדברים. אבל הקדוש ברוך הוא, אדם עובר עבירה בסתר – מתפייס ממנו בדברים, שנאמר +הושע יד+ קחו עמכם דברים ושובו אל ה’, ולא עוד אלא שמחזיק לו טובה, שנאמר וקח טוב
Look how different the ways of G-d are from the ways of a human being. A human being, if his friend humiliates him, maybe he would make up with him, maybe he wouldn’t make up with him. And even if he would make up with him, maybe he would be swayed by words, or maybe he wouldn’t be swayed by words. But G-d, if a person sins in secret, makes up with him and is swayed by words, as it says, “take with you words, and turn back to Hashem” (Hoshea 14). Not only that, but He even considers it goodness, as it says, ” and take only the goodness.” (Talmud Yoma 86b)

G-d is not human. He can turn back the clock and He can reverse cause and effect. He can allow us to retroactively turn our actions from malicious crimes into accidental mistakes. He can allow us to “take words to turn back to Him” – to change our narrative and then turn that new narrative into reality. He can know that we will fail, and still keep us as His People, forever, unconditionally.

He can conceal His face from us, and still be with us. There is nothing that we can do to make Him leave us. Even when we fail, even when it feels that we are far from Him, He is with us anyway. The path back to Him is much shorter than the path away. It may not be rational or logical in our eyes, but that is how G-d has chosen to run His world, and that is what He has communicated to us through His prophets, Moshe and Hoshea.

And in the words of R’ Nachman, popularized in this song: Afilu Be’Hastara

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Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

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