Parashah of the week: Ha'azinu

“Make My teaching drop like rain, my sayings should flow like dew” Deuteronomy 32:2


A torah (Hebrew scripture) reading. The "yod" - a hand-shaped silver pointer - is used by the reader to mark his or her place in the text.

Jewish theology is intrinsically linked to the natural world. Abraham came to believe in God through studying the natural world and taught that religion does not shun the physical world, it embraces it.

The Kli Yakar (Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim Lunshitz, 1550-1619) writes that the reason many Jewish leaders were shepherds is because it afforded them time to contemplate nature. After all, Torah, the natural world and the human body reflect each other, as Ibn Ezra writes. Ultimately, the Creator of the world created it as an arena to practise His religion.

Deeper still, Rabbenu Bahya (1255-1340) writes that the natural world mirrors that of the spiritual realms — references to reward as “rain aplenty” thus refer to deeper spiritual heavenly occurrences.

The above concepts, coupled with our widespread exposure to the natural world with its rich experiences and phenomena, mean that parables and metaphors involving the world of nature abound in Jewish texts. The Torah calls on the heavens and earth to be witnesses and mountains provide the appropriate backdrop for seminal moments like the Giving of the Torah and Elijah’s eradication of idolatry.

In this week’s sidrah and the verse above, Torah teachings are described as being like “rain” and “dew”. What is the difference between these two and why are they apt descriptions for Torah teaching?

Multiple Jewish texts express that while rain falls from the heavens, dew rises from the earth. These concepts are broadened to refer to two different modes of inspiration or motivation.

Sometimes we are motivated “from above”. This is when God, leaders or others are the source of our inspiration. In festival terms Pesach is the epitome of this — God did all the miracles and led us out. But ultimately, longer-lasting is inspiration that originates “from below”,  fostered by us. In festival terms Purim is the epitome of this, Esther and Mordecai pulling the strings with no open miracles.

Yom Kippur is the most attended day in the shul calendar. It may certainly provide inimitable “rain” moments — we can and should be inspired by the prayers, the sermons and sessions.

Crucially, the inspiration needs to come from us too. We need to add our dew to the rain. If we are willing to invest in a day that refocuses on life, forgiveness and purity, if we are willing to ask ourselves how central Judaism is to our year, the first vital droplets of dew will have emerged.

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