For the week of October 15, 2005 / 12 Tishri 5766
Torah: Devarim / Deuteronomy 32:1-52
Haftarah: 2 Samuel 22:1-51


Can You Hear It?

Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you. (Devarim / Deuteronomy 32:7).

One of the purposes of this High Holy Day season is to reorient ourselves. The blast of the shofar (ram's horn) has been likened to the sounding of an alarm. It is our wake up call to arouse us from the sleepiness of our complacency: it is a call to open our eyes to see what is really going on around us.

This week's Torah reading is a song of Moses that God had told him to sing to the people. It was to be a song of warning to the nation of Israel, whom God said would turn away from him and his ways in the years to come.

Like the shofar, this song was to be a wake up call in the hope that the people would discern the seriousness of abandoning the God who rescued them from slavery in Egypt.

We have heard so much about wake up calls in the past several years. From 9/11 to 7/7; from the tsunami to Hurricane Katrina, we have heard the alarm. But one of the essential elements of alarms is that their message must be clear. There is a big difference between the intention of an alarm clock and a fire alarm. Both get our attention; both would likely wake us up when we are sleeping, but if we couldn't distinguish between these two alarms, we wouldn't know what to do. We would probably do one of two things: First, we might panic. The alarm would get our attention. We would know that we needed to do something, but since we would not know what, we would start to behave erratically and uncontrolled. When we panic, we often add more trouble to the current situation than what the alarm was seeking to draw our attention to.

The other thing we might do when we are not sure of the meaning of an alarm is do nothing. This often occurs what we want to avoid panic. We also might wait for someone else to tell us what is going on. Until then we would ignore it.

After all life is full of alarms, many of which are false. Remember when car alarms began to be popular? They were so sensitive that it didn't take much for one to go off. The end result was people would ignore them, both the real ones and the false ones. The prevalence of false alarms rendered the real ones useless.

Therefore there is no benefit to us to be told that the disasters of the past few years are wake up calls unless we understand what the messages of these things really are.

The same is true for Moses' song. It is a song of warning to the people, but for what purpose? There is almost a sense here that even though they would hear it, they would not heed its message. The story of the Bible bears this out. For the most part the people ignored God and suffered for it. There were only a few exceptions of those who truly understood its message and did something about it.

That is part of the message of this song. The fact is most people don't heed warnings. Most people live life the way they want and don't care about the consequences. But there are a few who do. These are those who don't base their response to God's warnings upon the reactions (or lack thereof) of others.

Moses' song is a wake up call, but only a few would ever hear its message. It's just like being in a building that is about to collapse, but most people are not aware of the warning signs and just continue about their business. Others take the situation seriously. Isn't that what happened at 9/11? The tsunami was similar. There were many people who should have understood the warning signs that preceded its deadly onslaught, but they didn't.

God is speaking through these things as he does through the Scriptures, both through Moses' song in this week's reading and other passages, but can we hear it? And if we hear it, will we do anything about it - or will we continue to choose to ignore it?

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