I thank Chazzan Steve Klaper, one of the founders of Song and Spirit, for the wonderful commentary below. His inspiration drew upon the last verses in Deuteronomy (Dvarim in Hebrew) that were read in synagogue over Simchat Torah a week or so ago. It speaks to me deeply. Especially the next to the last paragraph. What kernel stays with you?

In Ha’azinu Moses prepares to take leave of this world. He wants his final words never to be forgotten, so he sings them…The theme of Moses’ libretto is essentially, Don’t blame God when things go wrong.God is not there to serve us. We are here to serve God. God is not there to relieve us of responsibility. God calls us to responsibility.

This whole drama began with the Adam and Eve legend in the Garden of Eden. They sinned, the man blamed the woman, the woman blamed the serpent, the serpent blamed God for making him a serpent. The great cry of human history is, “it’s not our fault — we’re the victims.” It wasn’t us. It’s the politicians. Or the media. Or the corporations. Or our genes. Or our parents. Or the system. Even the Nazis were convinced it wasn’t them. They were “only obeying orders.” And when all else fails, blame God. And if you don’t believe in God, blame the people who do. We forever seek to escape from responsibility.

Moses is saying, When things go wrong, don’t blame God. The final commandment might as well be: thou shalt not see thyself as a victim. We have power, we have agency, we’re the one life form on this planet capable of shaping its own destiny, in the image of the Divine, free, creative, and therefore responsible. The Greeks had it wrong; we’re not playthings of the gods; our fate is not already sealed before we’re born. The view of modern science, which often insists that we’re merely a collection of chemicals driven by electrical impulses in the brain, is likewise wrong. Our consciousness, our personality, our chi, our life force energy — these are all far larger than what’s in our skulls.

It is not what God does for us that transforms us; it is what we do for God. If you’re not sold on the idea of God the Creator, think of it this way: We are not defined by what happens to us but rather by how we respond to what happens to us. If we change the way we think, then we change the way we feel and the way we act. We become masters of our actions, instead of prisoners of our reactions.

This doesn’t just happen. Yes, it takes work, sometimes years of work. But, as we reach the end of Torah, we’re reminded that fate is never final. There is always hope. 

photo courtesy of Debra Darvick