Parashat Ha’azinu/V’zot Ha-brakhah/Sukkot
During these days of Teshuvah – returning, I wish to return to one startling statement found in Moses’s final song, Ha’azinu. Moses speaks God’s words: “I have wounded, and I will heal, for none can save from My Hand.” (Deut. 32:39) I continue to be struck by the paradoxical implication of the verse – “I will heal – and no one can stop Me!” – as if anyone would want to stop God from healing!
I have considered this verse before. (See discussions in Sparks 2017 and 2020) But I am sadly aware that we are presently living in a time when too many people really are resisting being healed and are resisting bringing healing to the world. One huge example of this phenomenon is the perverse insistence by individuals and highly organized groups to oppose using the basic tools we have for fighting our pandemic – vaccinations and masking. These necessary healing resources are angrily opposed, sometimes out of a sense of fear and caution, but most often in the name of “freedom” and even, obscenely, in the name of “religious freedom.” And what is even more unbelievable is the effort to prevent others from availing themselves of these healing measures.
It is also appalling to watch developments in Texas and beyond, the results of years of thought and effort to deprive women of their healthcare by preventing them from obtaining abortions. I have no interest in trying to persuade anyone to agree with me that abortion is not murder. If that is what a person believes, let them not obtain an abortion. But it is wrong for anyone who holds such a belief to deny the fact that there are other people – many, many people – and many of these people are guided by their religious principles – who do not see abortion as murder, but as the difficult but necessary choice that must be made on behalf of the living human being whose health is directly affected, the pregnant woman. (Proponents of “religious freedom” for the sake of opposing vaccinations are all too happy to deny religious freedom to others if it means damaging women’s health!)
The decent thing to do in such circumstances of irreconcilable disagreement is to allow each side to follow their conscience. That is what Roe v. Wade established, an open space in which anyone may live according to their deeply held convictions. But the Texas law and its many powerful and determined supporters seeks to deprive the majority of society of the right to live their lives as honestly as they can. It is no coincidence that the result of the Texas law is to deprive women – and, disproportionately, women at society’s margins, of good health.
During this season we pray to God over and over again for life and health. But God’s healing is mostly entrusted into our hands. Long ago, our tradition developed the position – against other religious traditions – that it is a human obligation to create and administer medicines and treatments for the sake of healing. This obligation is imposed on humans by God. It is, as such, an infringement on my freedom, as every commandment is. We may perversely refuse to meet our obligations, but no one can save us from them.
Shanah Tovah – Hag Same`ah
Rabbi David Greenstein
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Thank you to John Lasiter for suggesting the title and selecting an image for this Torah Sparks – Rabbi Greenstein