Congregation Etz Hayim at Hollis Hills Bayside

The consolidated communities of Hollis Hills Bayside Jewish Center and Marathon Jewish Community Center

Shabbat Haazinu 5776

As we build a bridge between the seriousness of Yom Kippur and the unbridled joy of Sukkot, the Torah portion that serves as the link this year is Haazinu. It’s Moshe’s farewell to the People in poetic form coming at the end of several chapters of his signing off in prose. But there’s a common thread between Moshe’s prose and verse. In either literary form, Moshe reminds the People that they have a tendency to blow it, and they should consider themselves lucky to still be around.

The reason he gives in this week’s portion is what the legendary Bible teacher from Hebrew University, Nechama Leibowitz, called “a very daring anthropomorphism indeed.” That is, God is described in painfully human terms. Specifically, the Torah says: 

“I might have reduced them to naught,

Made their memory cease among men;

But for the 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 32:26-27)

The “very daring anthropomorphism” to which Leibowitz referred is God’s fear. God would have done away with Israel but for the fact that God “feared” that the nations of the world would misunderstand the Divine plan and take unwarranted credit for Israel’s demise. Does that mean that God has an ego? Insecurities? Is God afraid?

On Shabbat morning, we’ll see how Ibn Ezra tries to weaken the force of this expression, and we’ll discuss why it might be better to appreciate the phrase, given what Leibowitz callled “The unusual boldness and starkness of the expression” when applied to God. And maybe there’s good reason to wrestle with the idea of God’s being afraid in the days between Yom Kippur and Sukkot. Can you make that case?

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David Wise