‘Every Jew is a letter’ | Religious Life | jewishaz.com – Jewish News of Greater Phoenix

Posted By on October 6, 2022

As we come out of the High Holidays of 5783, I hope we can all make one last reflection on our Why, on the most important questions of who we are and what our lives are about. I hope were also considering: When we face difficulties on the journey of actualizing our unique purposes, where will we turn for stability and guidance?

I believe a simple and essential answer is found in Parshah Haazinu, a Torah portion that is special in that it is primarily written not as prose, but in the form of a shir, a poem or song. Just looking at the unusual spacing of the text, we can see that the Torah is doing something special here.

And this is all for the purpose of helping us today hear Moses speaking or singing, in this parshah, a love letter to Torah itself. HaAzinu, give ear, he begins at the start of Deuteronomy chapter 32. O heavens, let me speak; Let the earth hear the words I utter! Moses continues even more poetically:

May my discourse come down as the rain,

My speech distill as the dew,

Like showers on young growth,

Like droplets on the grass.

This serves as a call to soak in and imbibe the instructions of the Torah, and to me its a further call to, like Moses, sing our own songs as we journey on in our lives. Our lives songs are our deepest expressions of our values and purpose in the world. When we experience an encounter that takes us beyond ordinary feelings, we can find satisfactory expression only in song.

We sing because its the outpouring of our souls, the Jewish musician Joey Weisenberg once said. We fill up our cup, and then when the cup overflows, it overflows in song, and we sing to give thanks back to the world.

But whats even more powerful than singing our own song is learning to do it as a community. We must learn to not only provide space for each member to sing their own song, but to create a collective, harmonious chorus a symphony, even, of many different parts together.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, of blessed memory, passed on a teaching of the Baal Shem Tov: that just as one missing letter makes an entire Torah scroll unkosher, one missing Jew makes the entire Jewish people incomplete.

Every Jew is a letter, Sacks wrote in his book A Letter in the Scroll. Each Jewish family is a word, every community a sentence and the Jewish people through time constitutes a story, the strangest and most moving story in the annals of mankind.

This grand vision only works if we leave the comfort of our own denominations, congregations, ideologies and echo chambers and learn Torah together. At my pluralistic learning organization, Valley Beit Midrash, we thrive by bringing together Jewish adults from around the Valley to reflect deeply about their own values and to grow in their Jewish wisdom. However, our goal of keeping Jewish wisdom alive cannot be reached if the knowledge is left in the recesses of individual minds and souls. Our ultimate measure of success must be whether we can sing a more beautiful song, which we can achieve only when we all sing together.

As it says is Psalm 96, one of the famous psalms recited at Kabbalat Shabbat, Sing to the Lord a new song, sing to the Lord, all the earth. Singing a new song is not the task of Moses, or King David, or even the entire Jewish people. Everyone and everything must be redeemed by being elevated to its highest purpose.

At the end of Moshes poem, the parshah says, Moses came, together with Hosea son of Nun, and recited all the words of this poem in the hearing of the people (Deut. 32:44). With the Torah, we today are possessors of not just as sacred book, but a holy song. Were sitting on moral and spiritual gold, more valuable than any concrete asset. What we have in the Torah is transformative wisdom that shows us how to live a good life and has done so for thousands of years. But it can only truly be actualized collectively.

Studying Torah, a habit I hope we all continue into the new parshah cycle and the new year, is not just about having a personal intellectual experience, although that would be enough. It should also inspire us to lift up all others in our communities and to emerge as harbingers of a better world, with an enthusiasm that feels to us more like music than prose.

I wish you blessings, community, and song in 5783. JN

Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the president and dean of Valley Beit Midrash.

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'Every Jew is a letter' | Religious Life | jewishaz.com - Jewish News of Greater Phoenix

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