Friday, September 21, 2018

Perceiving Change

Parashat Ha’azinu, also called Shirat Ha’azinu, the poem or song of Ha’azinu in Hebrew, is literally laid-out in the Torah scroll as a poem, not as the typical prose one finds. Moses’ final words become more rhythmical, and reflective of the Jewish journey from days of old as he approaches his final moments on earth. This penultimate Torah portion presents many famous verses, one of which is the following:

Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations; ask your father, and he will show you; your elders, and they will tell you” (Deuteronomy 32:7). Moses reminds the generation about to enter the Land of Canaan that one of the best ways to move forward is to look backward. Interestingly, although not appearing in this context, the Hebrew root k.d.m is found in words such as kedem, which means “in the past” in Hebrew, yet kadimah, sharing the identical three letter root, connotes moving forward. The Jew progresses by gauging past history.

But the Hebrew word for years, “shnote” as it appears in the verse above, can also mean “changes” in Hebrew. Using this connotation, the verse reads, “Remember the days of old, consider the changes of the generations…Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, using the alternative understanding, suggested that Moses may have been saying something in addition to the power of precedent. If a leader wants to succeed, they must understand changes in attitude and thought of those they want to lead. This does not imply that societal changes trump Torah principles. Moses would be the last person to make such a claim. But it behooves the leader to know how to communicate in the lingo of the generation.

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