Parshat Ha’azinu – Torah – The Key to Jewish Survival

By Avner Friedmann

On the last day of his life, Moshe delivered a prophetic poem to the Children of Israel, telling them what would happen to them through history, up to the true and complete redemption, may it happen speedily, in our days. He concluded by proclaiming the key to Jewish survival,[1] “Apply your hearts to all the words that I testify about you today, to instruct your children to be cautious to do according to all the words of this Torah. For it is not an empty thing from you; rather it is your life, and through this matter you will prolong your days on the land that you cross the Jordan to possess.” Rashi explains that the words,[2] “It is not an empty thing from you” means that, “it is not for nothing that you will toil in it; for a great reward depends upon it”.

We, as Jews, have the obligation to toil in Torah study, but that, in and of itself, is insufficient in assuring Jewish survival. As the verse teaches us, we also have an obligation to transmit Torah to our children. As Parents, HaShem entrusts us with the pure and impressionable souls of our dear children and we have the duty and responsibility to educate and train them in Torah, so that they too can live a life of Torah and mitzvot and transmit them to their children as well.

This is indicated by HaShem’s statement about Avraham, the first Jew. HaShem had many reasons to love Avraham, however He only mentions one: “For I know him; that he will command his children and his household after him, so that they observe the way of Hashem to do righteousness and justice, so that HaShem may bring upon Avraham that which He spoke concerning him.”[3]  However if, G-d forbid, we do not transmit Torah values to our children, we run the risk that, because of ignorance, they will eventually fall away from its observance altogether and ultimately see no value in it.

The Holy Zohar states, “Woe to those who do not want to know and do not have the proper preparation and attitude when approaching Torah.”[4] Because of ignorance, the holy words of Torah can seem to be empty and meaningless, G-d forbid. However, a Jew who has Torah knowledge will recognize that,[5] “It is more precious than pearls and all your desirable possessions cannot compare to it. Length of days is at its right; at its left are wealth and honor. Its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace. It is a tree of life to those who grasp onto it, and those who support it find fulfillment.”

Now, at first glance, the wording of the verse, “For it is not empty from you (מכם)”, seems odd. Would it not have been more appropriate to state, “For it is not empty for you (לכם)” Why then does it state, “from you”? However, the Zohar explains that the Torah itself is never empty or lacking, G-d forbid. On the contrary, it is the source of all wisdom and goodness. Rather, if you find it to be lacking, know that the lacking is “from you”.

As King Solomon wrote in the book of Proverbs,[6] “If you have become wise, you have become wise to your benefit; but if you have scoffed, you alone bear the responsibility”. The Torah is HaShem’s infinite and perfect wisdom, as king David wrote, “The Torah of HaShem is perfect” (תורת ה’ תמימה)[7]. Therefore, when a person becomes wise in Torah, he benefits greatly. Moreover, the degree of his benefit is commensurate to the degree of his learning, devotion to Torah and observance of its mitzvot.

However, the opposite is also true. If a person becomes ignorant of Torah due to lack of learning and practical observance, it becomes empty and devoid of meaning for him. However, he bears the responsibility for this. This is because the lacking is from him, not from the Torah. The result is that not only will his life be empty, but he will fail to transmit true Torah values and lifestyle to his children as well, thus weakening Jewish survival. Eventually, his children or grandchildren may assimilate and be lost to Judaism altogether, G-d forbid.

In our times, many Jews are far from Torah, not by any fault of their own, but because of several generations of non-observance. They are like lost sheep that cannot find their way home. Therefore, it is the duty of every observant Jew to bring them back to their Father in Heaven. One of the mitzvot in the Torah is to return a lost object. The Torah states[8], “You should not observe your fellow’s lost ox or sheep and ignore them, but you shall surely return them to your fellow.” In a sense, it is as if HaShem is telling us, “If you see My lost children, like sheep wandering in the wilderness, do not ignore them. Please, do whatever you can to bring them back to Me”.

If we respond and do our utmost to return HaShem’s beloved children to Him, He will surely answer our prayerful requests on Rosh Hashanah,[9] “Our G-d and the G-d of our forefathers, reign over the entire world in Your glory. May every creature know that you are its Creator and may all who have the breath of life in their nostrils proclaim, “Hashem, the God of Israel rules, and His kingship governs all.” May this come to pass speedily in our times. Amen.



[1] Deuteronomy 32:46-47.

[2] On this verse.

[3] Genesis 18:19.

[4] Zohar, VaYeitzei 163a.

[5] Proverbs 3:15

[6] Proverbs 9:12

[7] Psalms 19:8

[8] Deuteronomy 22:1.

[9] Machzor – Rosh HaShanah litergy

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