Haazinu: On recognizing the spiritual riches at home


Deuteronomy 32:1-52

II Samuel 22:1-51

An elderly Jewish woman called her travel agent. "I want to purchase a ticket to Katmandu. I must see the holy man who lives on the top of the mountain there," she said.

"Katmandu!" exclaimed the incredulous agent. "That is a very arduous journey. It is an 18-hour flight followed by travel on a yak over treacherous terrain and, finally, a climb up a steep mountain. Why don't you just take a nice cruise or tour?"

"No," the determined woman replied. "I am going to Katmandu. Get me a ticket right away!"

After wearying travel, she reached the foot of the mountain where the holy man lived. Her guide said, "This is as far as we go!"

"What do you mean?" she asked. "You have to take me to the top to see the holy man."

The guide responded, "It is too difficult to get up there, and even if we were to make it, the holy man only allows you to say three words."

"If you will not take me, I will go myself," the determined woman replied, as she continued her pilgrimage.

Exhausted after the climb and breathing heavily in the thin air, the woman reached the summit and approached the holy man, who was dressed in long saffron-colored robes. Seated on a red velvet cushion with his feet crossed, he was deep in meditation.

She waited for him to focus on her and when she had his attention, she uttered her three words.

"Marvin, come home!"

This humorous story serves as a reminder that there are Jews who do not appreciate their own heritage and look elsewhere to answer life's most profound questions. For example, large numbers of Jews have been attracted to Buddhist teachings, at the expense of their Jewish heritage. Many others seek answers in other traditions.

Literature is replete with the recurring theme of the individual on a quest, who only at long last, discovers that whatever he was searching for was right under his nose. Shakespeare captured this theme in "King John": "Unthread the rude eye of rebellion,/And welcome home again discarded faith."

So many parents have seen children go off to seek "the truth" only to find that it was in the religion of their childhoods. Watching children set out on a quest, parents struggle to pull them back home to seek the answers they hunger for.

That age-old theme resonates in Haazinu, this week's Torah portion.

Moses offers his final speech, the "Song of Moses." He remonstrates and admonishes the Israelites before they set off for the Promised Land without him. He has reason to be concerned because the last time he had been away from the people, when he ascended Mount Sinai for 40 days, they strayed and built an idol of gold. Moses' words reflect a parental warning:

"I know that, when I am dead, you will act wickedly and turn away from the path which I enjoined upon you, and that in time to come misfortune will befall you for having done evil in the sight of the Lord and vexing Him by your deeds" (Deuteronomy 31:29).

Moses hopes that the Israelites will not search elsewhere for life's truths:

"May my discourse come down as the rain,/My speech distill as the dew,/Like showers on young growth,/Like droplets on the grass" (32:2-3).

The tensions between dependence and independence, between our own faith and that of other cultures, between holding on and letting go are all highlighted in Haazinu.

This new year provides opportunities for study and enriched understanding of our valued heritage. In the Bay Area, we are blessed with many synagogues, as well as Jewish communal organizations, libraries and museums. We have dedicated clergy, religious professionals and teachers who are eager to instruct and reach out to the thirsty, the hungry and those who have searched everywhere else but at home.

Jewish leaders and parents also want to reach the Marvins of the world before they go off to contemplate life on the top of some distant mountain or at a faraway academy.

The goal is to create an appreciation of what is right at home. It is the responsibility of everyone in the community.