In this week’s Torah portion, Ha’azinu, we read Moses’ poetic description of the relationship between God and Israel. This portion is also known as the Song of Moses.
In verse 32:6 Moses refers to God as Israel‘s father. This metaphor of God as father particularly resonates this time of year. The Avinu Malkeinu (Our father, our king) prayer sees God as a father. The metaphor of God as a rock and Eagle are also mentioned. Lastly the idea of God’s countenance (face) being shown to us is of course also a metaphor.
Thinking of God in these mundane concepts allows us to relate to an otherwise unfathomable, ineffable Being. Knowing which aspects of the metaphor apply and which don’t requires study otherwise one runs the risk of attributing erroneous limitations to God based on the metaphor.
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Message from the Rabbi Sam Surely, this Instruction (ha-mitzvah ha-zot) which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, “Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?” No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it (Deuteronomy 30:11-14).
This message in our weekly Torah reading is timely as we approach the High Holy Days. There is disagreement among scholars about what the “this instruction” refers to. Is it referring to the work of Teshuva (repentance), the book of Deuteronomy, or more broadly to all Torah commandments? Regardless of what it covers the idea is pretty straight forward. Doing the right thing is doable.
I see it as a two-way street. Although it is expressed to the public as an encouragement to keep on the right path, it is also a message to the rabbis. We must keep Judaism as simple as possible so that people won’t give up and say it is just too hard. When rabbis put so many barriers and restrictions in place (in trying to keep people from sin) that it makes it incredibly difficult to be an observant Jew, to the point where people shortchange other important areas in their life just to keep up, maybe we rabbis are missing the message of this reading.