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Moses' Final Lesson:  It's Like Rain #795

09/22/2023 05:39:00 AM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Parashat  Ha'Azinu

"May my discourse come down as the rain, my speech distill as the dew, like showers on young growth, like droplets on the grass."  (Deuteronomy 32:2)    

Moses's Final Lesson: It's Like the Rain

For the past 10 days, much of our conversation with God boils down to one question: “What are doing on this earth?”

Hopefully, during Rosh Hashanah—through the melodies, the sermons and the prayers—we developed a more focused idea of what we wish to accomplish with our remaining days on earth.

Pursuit of pleasure? Sure. But is that all there is?

Our Sages remind us that each of us is unique. There is something only we are meant to do to improve this world. But, each of us has a personal obstacle that we must overcome to become a better person.

Many spend their lives looking for a one liner or a Tweet that captures the purpose of their existence.

“Honor your neighbor as yourself?” What a wonderful concept.

But does the idea that we are to honor our neighbors limit us in some way? These days, too many are inclined to limit who is their true neighbor. Too many are divisive because of politics, religion, background or geographical location.

The great Sage, Ben Azzai, takes the idea one step further:

“We are all descendants of the generations of Adam...and therefore we are all equal.” (Genesis 5:1). Some believe that this is the most important lesson of the Torah.

The philosophy that resonates most profoundly for me comes from the legendary rabbi, the Vilna Gaon (1720-1797), who posited that the meaning of life is to make ourselves into something better.

He noted that a person “needs to perpetually strengthen himself...if not, 'Why is he alive?'”

How do we accomplish that?

A rabbi I studied with prior to the High Holidays, cautioned me not to encourage congregants to commit to changes they are not capable of making.

Many have endured troubled childhoods or abusive relationships. How is it possible to strive for spiritual perfection when some of the roots of our imperfections are so deeply embedded in us?

Our Sages teach us that, in part, the answer lies in the verse that opens this week's Torah portion—Ha'azinu (“Open your ears.”)

This is the last Shabbat portion we will read before we complete the Torah cycle and return “to the beginning.”

In his final dissertation, Moses presents—in the form of a poem—the message that there are no “one-shot answers” to life's complexities. He looks at the heavens, and drawing upon the life-giving power of water, envisions droplets of rain descending.

Says Moses: “May my discourse come down as the rain, my speech distill as the dew, like showers on young growth, like droplets on the grass.” (Deuteronomy 32:2)

What a beautiful teaching.

With his final burst of energy, Moses tells us that the key to a meaningful life, is not found in a drenching rain but rather within a multitude of droplets.

How many times a day are we tempted to lose our patience? How we deal with those impulses, which are like drops of rain, can determine our inner happiness.

How many times do we blame others for the deficiencies in our lives? These are the droplets of dew that form beneath our feet.

How often are we too busy or self-indulgent to spend time with our children or grandchildren? These represent “showers on young growth.”

The fact is, the average 30,000 days each of us lives over 80 years, is irrigated constantly by thousands of decisions, thousands of droplets—each gifted to us by the heavens.

Each day we face decisions: to be ethical or not, to be loving or not, to be patient or not, to remain angry at others—or not.

It is the composite of these drops that ultimately determine the success of our lives.

So, as we complete this season of repentance—as we begin edging toward the temptation of mistakes we've committed in the past—perhaps this teaching from Moses can inspire us: We are the composite of our small actions. And we are just as good as our next decision.

According to our Sages, there are two types of change: One happens with a sudden revelation—an epiphany, a lightning bolt. The other develops through gradual understanding.

Moses, I believe, is confirming this week that Torah—as with our lives are—is multifaceted.

As we enter the last day of the High Holidays, Yom Kippur, we embark on a new challenge: How can we—through the composite of these decisions—ensure that we do not return next year with the same list of behaviors and faults, which we recently promised to improve upon? 

Let us rather develop a sensitive heart that inspires us to improve—through every interaction, every sentence uttered, every impulse to descend.

As I mentioned on Rosh Hashanah, “First, let’s think about what we did right and celebrate, and then, let’s think about what we can do better—and contemplate.”

Let us be inspired as we confess our shortcomings this coming Yom Kippur. Let us focus on the aftermath of each tap, as we affirm, “I can do better, I can do better, I can do better.

As Moses inspires us to consider, life is a series of raindrops that can either refresh or submerge us.

Moses teaches that we can do better—if we gather our actions like rain—to make ourselves and this world into something better.

G’mar Chatimah Tovah—May we, with God's blessings, inscribe ourselves in the Book of Life.

Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem. Kol tuv.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Wed, February 21 2024 12 Adar I 5784