Haazinu 5777 – English

Rabbi Gustavo Kraselnik
Congregacion Kol Shearith Israel
Of the 79.977 words that make up the Torah, only one –which appears in Parashat Haazinu– is composed exclusively by one letter. 
Verse 6 (Deuteronomy, Chapter 32) of Moses’s farewell chant, which spans the first 43 verses of the 52 that make up this parashah, begins with the word הֲ (“Ha” translated as “is this”) and implies a severe warning for the people of Israel:
ה לה’ תגמלו זאת עם נבל ולא חכם
Is this how you repay the Lord, you disgraceful, unwise people?

Not only must the letter ה appear separate from the beginning of the verse, but the Jerusalem Talmud (Megillah 1:9) indicates it must be written in a larger size to match the height of the letter Lamed, which is the tallest in the alphabet, and so it appears in the scrolls of the Torah.
The Midrash (Tanchuma Haazinu, 5) explains in a creative way why the letter ה must appear separate from the following word. The reason is to mark the end of Moses’s signature as the author of the poem. If we take the first letter of each of the initial 6 verses of the poem, in Gematria (assigning numerical value to letters), the sum is 245, which is the same value as in the name Moses. 
Rashi (France, 11th Century) claims that the initial expression of the verse “Is this how you repay the Lord?” implies astonishment. Astonishment at the people’s attitude of rebelling against He who has the power to punish them and who also has been the provider of all their blessings. Along this same line, although for different reasons, the RaSHBaM (Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir, grandson of Rashi) and the Hizkuni (Hezekiah ben Manoah, France, 13th Century) also consider the verse reflects astonishment but at the idolizing practices of the people of Israel. 
And then Moses calls the people “disgraceful, unwise.” Rashi explains this by saying, “a disgraceful people, that has forgotten everything that has been done for them, and an unwise people, for disregarding the consequences of their actions.” Abraham Ibn Ezra (Spain, 12th Century) interprets “disgraceful in their actions and unwise in their hearts” (which was thought as the center of knowledge).
However, the commentary I like the most, is by the Hafetz Haim (Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan, Eastern Europe 1839-1933), who links these two concepts with the words of the prophet Jeremiah, “Me they have forsaken and have not kept My law” (16:11), and relates it with the brilliant passage from the Talmud of Jerusalem where God says, “Let them leave Me but not My Torah, for through the Mitzvot they will return to Me” (Chagigah 1:7). Therefore, “disgraceful” means without knowledge of God, and “unwise” means without the redeeming wisdom of the Torah.
In his lecture, Moses warns with astonishment his contemporaries of their ingratitude and their greatest act of rebellion: to become a people estranged from God and Torah. 
Are Moses’s words a wake-up call for us as well?
In these days of Teshuvah (repentance), may we be able to renew our faith and include God in the equation of our lives, that the study and practice of Torah may become a source of guidance and inspiration. 
A good year. May we be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life. 
Shabbat Shalom y Shanah Tovah