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There are two approaches to understanding much of the prophecy contained in the grand poem of Moshe that constitutes this week’s Torah reading. Rashi in fact develops both themes thoroughly in his commentary. One view is that the Jewish people and their future are the subjects of Moshe’s Divine words.

The difficulties and challenges raised in the verses of this Torah reading are those that the Jewish nation and society will have to overcome in their historic and unprecedented journey in the story of human civilization.  Because of the nature of our existence in the world, the Jews are naturally fixated upon their own story and its events, both past and present.
The old maxim that all events and world leaders must be viewed through the lens of, “Is this good for the Jews?” has a great deal of truth attached to it. A basic necessity of Jewish life is knowledge  and understanding of our history and our central place in the story of the human race. It is difficult, if not almost impossible, to be a stanch Jew without such knowledge and an identity of individual and national self.
So, the prophecy and vision expressed in the Torah reading must perforce certainly be addressed to the Jewish nation. And that perhaps is one of the main reasons that these written words of the Torah were memorized by generations of Jewish schoolchildren throughout the ages. The message was simply too precious and vital for it somehow to be allowed to be ignored or forgotten.
The alternate interpretation of the prophecy contained in this week’s Torah reading is that these words and events refer not to the Jewish people exclusively but rather to the nations of the world generally. As such, all of the strife and violence that so characterizes the human condition will have to be experienced before the world generally comes to its senses and creates a more just and serene society.
The Jewish people will not be passive observers in this process, for they will be greatly affected by the general society as well. But, the heavy lifting, so to speak, is a universal challenge and problem and not an exclusively Jewish issue. This view is certainly reflected in the words and ideas of the Rosh Hashanah prayers, which speak of a universal recognition of the Creator of all and an acceptance of the sovereignty of Heaven.
Jews often feel isolated and even insulated from general world events that surround them.  But that is a very dangerous illusion to hold. Though in many ways separated from the world, because of our faith and the demands of our Torah, we are nevertheless part of that universal world.
The balancing act of Jews has always been their attempt to be part of the general society without compromising their uniqueness, faith and Torah observances. That is an important task that the prophetic poem of Haazinu sets before us. It enhances the spirit of this  great holy Shabbat of Shuva.
Shabbat shalom
Gmar chatima tova
Rabbi Berel Wein    

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