Poetry in Motion: Vayelekh 2018

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: What kind of writing do you prefer to read? Are you more interested in prose that is straightforward and to the point, or something more flowery and “artful”?

As Moses’s life draws to a close, he is asked to recite a poem as a final message to the Israelites:

The Pitch: “Therefore, write down this poem and teach it to the people of Israel; put it in their mouths, in order that this poem may be My witness against the people of Israel.” – Deuteronomy 31:19

Swing #1: “The poem is the entire Torah from beginning to end. And this was the purpose of the commandment, that each man should write a complete Torah scroll for himself, including the poem within it, so that nothing shall be missing from all the things that are in the Torah.” – Ralbag

Swing #2: “The meaning of the words ‘this poem’ is the poem which I am about to recite for you now, and that refers to the Torah portion Ha’azinu, and it is called a poem because Israel will forever recite it as a poem and a song, and also because it was written as poetry.” – Ramban

Swing #3: “But does God require a witness? Rather, the poem was to remind God not to judge Israel too harshly. For, through knowing their nature (Deuteronomy 31:21), God still chose them to be the covenanted people.” – Malbim

Late-Inning Questions: Is it significant that the Israelites needed to hear a poem at this moment in their history? Whom, do our commentators believe, most benefit from this form of communication? What kinds of words impact us the most? Can we remember the importance of words as we approach Yom Kippur, and hold ourselves accountable for the words we say and hear?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: As of this writing, Hurricane Florence does not appear to be as threatening to Charleston as was once feared, but we certainly hope for the safety of anyone in harm’s way. I am greatly appreciative of the many synagogues across the Eastern United States that have offered us hospitality and help during a scary time.

The Big Inning at the End: Ten years ago today, Chicago Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano threw a no-hitter against the Houston Astros … in Milwaukee. Why were they playing there? Because Hurricane Ike was threatening the Houston area, so the game was moved to a neutral site. Again, here’s hoping that Hurricane Florence’s threats mainly do not come to fruition.

Shabbat Shalom!