Parashat Ha'azinu begins with the verse "Listen heavens and I will speak; and hear earth, the sayings of my mouth." (Deut. 32:1) Rashi explains that with this verse Moses made heaven and earth witnesses to the words he spoke to the Jews. Why did Moses specifically need these two vast creations to be witnesses? Rashi says that Moses, a mortal, would not be forever able to remind the Jews of their obligations in Torah and mitzvot. Therefore, he chose two eternal entities to witness his reminder to the Jews to go in G‑d's way.

In addition to this, Rashi says that the heavens and earth are actually active witnesses. When the Jews behave according to G‑d's Will, the heavens send dew and the earth brings forth harvests. If the Jews deviate from Torah, G‑d forbid, these witnesses are the first to react by withholding precipitation and produce.

The Kli Yakar brings an alternate explanation: the fact that the heaven and earth exist proves to the Jews that they accepted the Torah upon themselves. They testify that if the Jews had refused the Torah at Sinai, the heavens and earth would have returned to a state of nothingness. The world's continued existence was dependent upon the Jews receiving the Torah at Sinai. Realization of this fact is what serves to remind us of our obligation to serve G‑d.

In last week's parasha, G‑d told Moses to teach Ha'azinu to the Jews. (see Deut. 31:19) Even today its verses (Ibid. 32:1-42) are commonly memorized by schoolchildren. This section (31:19) of Ha'azinu is also a song, and each Shabbat a different consecutive section was sung by the Levites in the Temple. May we merit to hear this song sung once again this new year in our rebuilt Temple!

As Yom Kippur is nearly upon us; I recommend reviewing the specific laws and customs involved, but here are a few highlights regarding one of the most holy days of our year: Just as fasting on Yom Kippur is a mitzvah, the preparatory meal eaten before the fast is an equally great mitzvah! The meal preceding Yom Kippur should be festive, and bread should be dipped in honey, ensuring that we will be sealed for a sweet year. Giving tzedaka is also a crucial mitzvah performed before Yom Kippur.

On Yom Kippur we attain truly lofty levels of unity as a nation serving G‑d…

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains several differences between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. On Rosh Hashanah, our purpose is to coronate G‑d as King of our lives. This goal continues throughout the Days of Repentance and reaches completion on Yom Kippur. Yet, what is the essential difference between the coronation on the two different holidays? On Rosh Hashanah, the Jews arouse in G‑d a desire to reign; this coronation takes place Above. On Yom Kippur, however, the coronation is revealed in This World.

So too, the prayers of Rosh Hashanah do not include confession of sins because this day is related to the Jew in his essence, a level of spirituality above sin. Yom Kippur, however, concerns the Jew in this physical world, a place where sin is possible. Yom Kippur, therefore, centers around atonement and confession.

Yet Yom Kippur unifies all Jews more than Rosh Hashanah. On Yom Kippur each and every Jew, even transgressors, unite in spiritual and physical service of G‑d. During Rosh Hashanah we rise to a level above sin, but unity with sinners is nevertheless impossible - until Yom Kippur. On Rosh Hashanah each Jew's spiritual service equally reaches his essence, but regarding physical matters, such as the holiday meals, each Jew is distinct. On Yom Kippur, this distinction between Jews does not exist because everyone is equally obligated to carry out the extra prohibitions of the day regarding physical conduct such as fasting, no leather shoes, etc. Thus, on Yom Kippur we attain truly lofty levels of unity as a nation serving G‑d.

Moving onto Sukkot.... There is a custom to begin building one's sukkah immediately after Yom Kippur. The mitzvah of sukkah is a unique one. Chasidut explains that every single action performed in a sukkah is a mitzvah! One is not required to study and pray, but can even fulfill the mitzvah by doing mundane physical activities such as eating (check the specific requirements of this) or sleeping. The Sages dubbed sukkah as an "easy mitzvah". This mitzvah is also unique in that it is not limited to use of a certain limb or organ as most other mitzvot are. With the mitzvah of sukkah, a Jew's entire body and even clothes are involved as they are encompassed by the sukkah itself.

May each and every Jew be sealed for a good new year!
Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

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