September 27, 2012
Let Heaven and Earth Hear
Parashat Haazinu (Deuteronomy 32:1-32:52)
If each spoken word is a droplet of water, then each voice that utters is a wind that brings forth rain.
Though, the wind has no shape. Though, water comes in all shapes and sizes. Though, no mortal power can divine the weather even a few days hence, words turn patterns as surely as the wind turns seasons about the globe.
We have familiar words, torrents of them; some smother us with wholesome joy, others shatter glass and hearts as easily as any tornado. We recognize the peal of anger, the lightning-quick lashes of a fiery tongue. We know frost as hard and cold as any frozen lake when we share — windpipe constricted — the bitterest of news.
Oh yes, there are times when the tongue and head rock from gales of laughter, that warm pleasure that dispels the rainiest of days. There are times when we befriend a stranger and wonder, akin to snowfall in autumn, will it stick or melt away? We wonder at the mystery of loving words. Love is a mist that occludes everything except the ones whom we love. Who can say what the restless wind whispers in secret to the branches of those rooted trees?
We know the love of chirping toddlers who take to their mothers like young grass to dew. Blink once and it is all gone. We know windless days as well, the humbling summer of silence. Ignored, avoided, the words wish to form, but the throat is as parched as a salted desert.
Yet, of all the many words that shower the earth, that flood our lives with meaning — which take root and which take flight? Which words are as ephemeral as a seedless watermelon, giving enjoyment now, but condemned never to bear fruit? And which words rain sustenance to trees that shall offer fruit even to the thousandth generation?
Nearing the very end of Deuteronomy, as Moses’ last breath draws near, Israel’s greatest prophet composes a song of farewell. Written in couplets, it begins like this:
Give ear, o heavens, that I will speak,
Hear, o Earth, these words of my mouth,
May my doctrine drip as rain,
May my words distill as dew.
As mist to fresh blades of grass,
As mighty showers to herbs’ green leaves.
— Deuteronomy 32:1-2
The song continues with a variety of images and metaphors; however, this first remarkable image of water remains to saturate the mind. For Moses, Torah is the fountainhead, the spring of life. This is not the salted water of the sea, nor is it the deluge left by a hurricane, or even the light snow flurries that dust the sky but never quite kiss the earth. It is living water, the water that sustains, that collects on leaves, that seeps deep into the soil. It is the dew that bathes the grass and the mighty waters that nourish new grain. It is water that cultivates one generation so it can cultivate another.
It is rather fitting that the Song of Moses is read just before Sukkot — the festival that marks the end of Israel’s harvest. For if we can sing with the gusto with which Moses sang, at the end of the year, at the end of the harvest, at the end of his life, beseeching heaven and earth to heed the song of Torah. Undoubtedly, the lyrics will remain, the words will linger into the New Year long after we have put our backs to planting afresh and irrigating anew.
Words are water, our voices the wind that carries the rain.
Rabbi Yehuda Hausman is a Modern Orthodox rabbi who teaches in Los Angeles. He writes about the weekly parasha on his blog, rabbihausman.com.