The majority of Parashat Ha’azinu consists of the Song of Moses–a message God tells Moses to give the Israelites to remind them of their transgressions and promise their ultimate redemption. Much of the song speaks of all the punishments God enacted for Israel’s sins, to the point where God might have destroyed the Israelites completely. Ultimately, God chooses not to destroy them “for fear of the taunts of the foe, their enemies who might misjudge and say, ‘Our own hand has prevailed; none of this was wrought by the Lord’” (Deuteronomy 32:27). Instead, God leads them to better ways, redeems them, and helps them to conquer their enemies.
This parsha, read during the Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, challenges us to think critically about how we make choices. Ultimately, God chooses to redeem the Israelites out of fear of what the Israelites’ enemies might think, not out of goodness. This prompts a series of pressing questions: are we expected to forgive others out of the goodness of our hearts? What role do fear and the expectations of others play in our own decision making? And what role do we play in the redemption of others?
As students contemplate their offenses and successes over the past year in preparation for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we might encourage them to consider how others have influenced them, what influence they have over others, and how they can use these understandings to better themselves and the world.
Brian Hertz, Engagement Associate and Ezra Fellow at Johns Hopkins Hillel