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The Metaphor

This week, the Shabbat between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur is Shabbat Shuvah, the Shabbat of Repentance. It gets its name from the Haftarah we read this week from the Book of Hosea, which begins with the words:

שׁוּבָה יִשְׂרָאֵל, עד יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ: כִּי כָשַׁלְתָּ, בַּעֲונֶךָ
Return, O Israel, unto the LORD your God; for you have stumbled in your iniquity.

Hosea 14:2

Generally, the Haftarah is attached to each weekly Torah portion because of something in the reading that parallels a theme in the Parsha. This week, however, because we are in the Ten Days of Repentance from Rosh HaShanah to Yom Kippur, the Haftarah calls us to return to God because of all the evil things we have done. It kind of fits with the general theme of the "Days of Awe." It speaks about how wonderful life will be for those who repent of having gone astray. It parallels the Parsha, which follows the pattern of saying how glorious life is by observing the laws of the Torah, but is then followed by a prophecy saying that we will abandon the Torah and all of the horrific curses that will come from that. Frankly, it's a pattern that is repeated so much throughout the Torah that… we get it.

Because of the special Haftarah reading, this week's parsha, Parshat Ha'azinu, often gets second billing. It's the shortest parsha in the cycle of Torah readings, only one chapter in length, but it is a beautiful example of biblical poetry. The first half of the poem is lovely and speaks of the relationship between God and the Jewish People. The second half… not so much.

The Parsha begins with a mirror of Genesis 1, calling upon “Heaven” and Earth just like God created “Heaven” and Earth.

וְתִשְׁמַע הָאָרֶץ, אִמְרֵי-פִי .הַאֲזִינוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם, וַאֲדַבֵּרָה
יַעֲרֹף כַּמָּטָר לִקְחִי, תִּזַּל כַּטַּל אִמְרָתִי
כִּשְׂעִירִם עֲלֵי-דֶשֶׁא וְכִרְבִיבִים עֲלֵי-עֵשֶׂב

Listen, O heaven, and I will speak; and let the earth hear the words of my mouth.
My doctrine shall fall like the rain, my speech shall drop as the dew; as the light rain upon the grass, and as the showers upon the herb.

Deuteronomy 32:2-3

It's not strange for water to be used as a metaphor for Torah. Indeed, it is a standard in Midrash and other Rabbinic literature. It's the basic worldview of the Rabbis. Just as no living being can survive without water. So, too, the Jewish People cannot survive without Torah. There is a famous story in the Talmud about Rabbi Akiva (another of our greatest sages), who was imprisoned during the Roman occupation of the Land of Israel for the heinous crime of teaching Torah, and for which he was later executed in the most horrific way. While he was in prison, Rabbi Akiva continued to teach Torah. His students asked him why, in the face of certain death, he would continue to do so. Rabbi Akiva responded by saying, just as a fish cannot survive without water, so too… a Jewish cannot survive without Torah. Torah is the lifeblood of the Jewish People.

What makes this week's parsha unique is the different forms of water used to describe the Torah. It's rain. It's dew. It's light rain. It's showers of rain. However, the Torah portion does not include all the other forms that water takes beyond rain and dew. It is ice. It is fog. It is mist. It is snow. It is hail. It is sleet. It is a cloud. It is fresh water. It is salt water. It is hot. It is cold. It is blood. It is sweat. It is tears.

If water is a metaphor for Torah, it should include all the manifestations of water. Indeed, in Pirkei Avot 5:22 Ben Bag Bag said:

בֶּן בַּג בַּג אוֹמֵר, הֲפֹךְ בָּהּ וַהֲפֹךְ בָּהּ, דְּכֹלָּא בָהּ.
"Turn it over, and turn it over (again), for all is therein."

Ben Bag Bag was speaking of the Torah. He challenges us to continuously search, study, and examine it deeply, for all life lessons can be found in it. His words reflect deep devotion and reverence. But if water is a metaphor for the Torah, imagine if we look at the metaphor differently. Imagine… if we were to use Torah as a metaphor for Water.

  • Just as the Jewish People can't survive without the Torah, no life form can exist without water.

  • The Torah is the "Tree of Life." A tree without water will die.

  • Turn it over, and turn it over again, for all is contained therein. Water is everywhere and in everything. Turn it over, and turn it over again. Examine it. Where is the water?

  • The "Sea of Talmud" reflects the vastness, the intricacies, and the complexity of the Talmud. Imagine the Talmud of the Sea.

We could continue this ad infinitum, but suffice it to say that just as the Jewish People will not survive without Torah, life will not survive without water.

Listen, O heaven, and I will speak; and let the earth hear the words of my mouth.

Water will fall as the rain, it will drop as the dew; as the light rain upon the grass, and as the showers upon the herb. It will give life to all.


Which brings us back to the Haftarah for Shabbat Shuvah.

"Return, O Israel, unto the LORD your God; for you have stumbled in your iniquity. Take with you words, and return unto the LORD. Say to God: 'Forgive all iniquity, and accept that which is good."

Hosea 14:2-3

Not to belabor the metaphor, but if we were to return to God and stop polluting the water, pillaging the ocean, and poisoning the rivers, then what would we see?

"I will be as the dew unto Israel.
You shall blossom as the rose and cast forth your roots like (the Cedars of) Lebanon. Your branches shall spread, and your beauty shall be as the olive tree, and your fragrance as (cedar) Lebanon. They that dwell under your shadow shall again make corn to grow, and shall blossom as the vine; the scent thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon. Ephraim [shall say]: 'What have I to do anymore with idols?'
As for Me, I respond and look upon you; I am like a leafy cypress tree; from Me is your fruit found. Whosoever is wise, let them understand these things, whosoever is prudent, let them know. For the ways of the LORD are right, and the just do walk in them."

Hosea 14:6-10

None of this would be possible without "God." And none of this would be possible without water. Perhaps the metaphor extends beyond the Torah.


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