parasha

Ha’azinu 5779

 

Torah Nurtures Growth

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites


Most of this week’s Torah portion, Ha’azinu, is a poem, said my Moses during his final days, describing the Jewish nation’s “life cycle”: choice, sin, punishment, repentance. God chose the Jewish nation and gave it the Torah – a set of directions and understandings that is meant to guide the life of the nation and of the individual; at a certain point, the nation abandoned the Torah path and turned to other cultures that appealed to it; God’s response was punishment – the words of Ha’azinu speak of exile from the Land of Israel; after many years, the nation returned to its homeland and is slated to merit God’s divine graces in it.


At the beginning of the poem, Moses prefaces with several words regarding the desired influence of his words further on:

 

My lesson will drip like rain; my word will flow like dew; like storm winds on vegetation and like raindrops on grass.
(Deuteronomy 32, 2)


As is typical of scriptural poetry, the words are metaphorical and there is a parallel between the segments of the poem. Even if we do not examine each expression in the poem, it is clear that Moses is using the description of rain that seeps into the earth and nurtures growth as an allegory for what he hopes his words will do: They will seep into the hearts of its listeners and of readers throughout the generations of the future and nurture new desires and blessed actions.


The sages of the midrash developed the rain metaphor and deduced some important lessons. Let us examine one of them:


“My lesson will drip like rain” – ‘lesson’ means Torah as it says, “For I gave you good lesson; forsake not My instruction. (Proverbs 4, 2);
“like rain” – just as rain is life for the world, so are words of Torah life for the world…;
Just as rain is one and it descends on trees and gives them each a distinct flavor, to the grapevine, in accordance with its nature, to the olive tree, in accordance with its nature, to the fig tree, in accordance with its nature, so words of the Torah are all one, and they give the “flavors” of Scripture, and Mishna, Talmud, Halachot (Jewish laws), and Aggadot (commentary).”
(Sifri Deuteronomy, section 306)


The sages who wrote this midrash noticed an interesting phenomenon. Rain falls on plants, “brings life to the world” and is uniform in its traits. There is no difference between a drop that falls on an apple tree and one that falls on a cactus plant. And yet, the results of the rain differ. The drop that fell on the apple tree nurtured the growth of a healthy, sweet, and juicy fruit, while the drop that fell on the cactus plant nurtured the growth of a thorny branch.


What creates the difference? The partnership with the plant. The rain alone does not do anything, but when it encounters the thirsty plant, it nurtures it in accordance with its nature.


The Torah is like drops of rain. He who looks at the Jewish bookcase from the outside sees books – collections of pages with texts. But that same book, in the bookcases of different people, brings about different effects in accordance with the nature of those learning it. Every person who studies Torah can sense the change the learning creates within him. But this change is not the result of the Torah alone but also of the character and nature of the learner. A person receives the Torah and studies it and is influenced by it based on the traits he brings to the learning, “each with its distinct flavor… in accordance with its nature.” From here we can understand that learning Torah is not enough to make us better and more worthy people. We must develop good traits, patience, composure and other suitable characteristics in order for the Torah to nurture in our hearts the growth that we desire.


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