Last week’s Torah portion ended with God asking Moses and Joshua into the Tent of Meeting to teach them a poem to read to the Children of Israel, a poem that summarizes the relationship of God and Israel up to the present, and prophecies Israel’s future. This week’s portion, Ha’azinu (Deut. 32:1-52) presents that poem, and then, after Moses has read it to the people, he is summoned by God to learn of his impending death, a death that will occur before he enters the land, but as God has previously promised, Moses will see the land from the mountaintop upon which he will die.
Early in the portion (32:10-11) the text reads, “He (God) found him (Israel) in a desert region, in an empty howling waste/He engirded him, watched over him/Guarded him as the pupil of His eye/Like an eagle who rouses his nestlings…” Modern Torah commentator Professor Nehama Leibowitz wonders why this is said, when God encountered the people Israel before the wilderness, in Egypt. If the passage is referring to God’s kindnesses to Israel, why not start with the exodus from Egypt? Because, she concludes, the text is focusing on God’s greatest kindness to Israel, the gift of Torah, which occurred in the wilderness. Redemption from Egyptian slavery was merely the first step in getting them to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, and the beginning of peoplehood, forged in the desert, where God took them under His wing like fledgling birds.
During these ten Days of Awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as we examine the deeds of the past year and look forward to our future, let us regard ourselves as if in a wilderness, buoyed up by God’s strong wings as we strive to make our way into a new year.