Here we are—at the very end of the Torah—and the Jewish people suddenly get a new name, used for the first time here and for a total of only three times (Devarim 32:15, 33:5, 26) in the entire Torah: “Yeshurun.”
What is in this name? At its root, the term—as in “ashurenu”—refers to” the capacity for transcendent—even prophetic—vision” (Rabbeinu Bachya on Devarim 32:15). The Jewish people had been granted the privilege of seeing Hashem at Sinai “face-to-face,” but then turned to focus instead on material things—rendering them incapable of perceiving the greater things and leading Hashem to say (Devarim 32:20), “I will hide My face from them.” In our eyes, God was transformed from a visible reality to an abstraction, an idea.
This is not the first time that this kind of a transition occurred. When Adam and Chava ate from the tree of knowledge, the verse (Bereishis 3:7) describes how their eyes were opened and they realized that they were naked. The great Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk (Meshech Chochma Bereishis 12:7) noted how immediately afterwards, when God Himself approached them in the garden, they could not even see Him coming. Instead, “vayishmu es kol Hashem Elokim mishaleich began—they only heard Him approach.” Adam and Chava had experienced a dulling of their spiritual senses. Thus, when Avraham arrived in Eretz Yisrael on his journey to restore man to the previous greatness forfeited by Adam and Chava, he celebrated the fact that God had become visible to him, “and he built an altar to God, who appeared to him.”
“Hearing is incomparable to seeing—aino domeh shemiah lereiyah.” We see from up close and get the whole picture, while our hearing is distant and requires a thousand words. It is, therefore, especially meaningful that this name, “Yeshurun”—implying our elevated spiritual vision—is introduced in the parsha titled, “Haazinu,” a term for “hearing.” The heavens and earth are called upon to do the best they can, to hear Hashem’s words that are ultimately directed to us—the Jewish people—who will always be distinguished by our not-always realized capacity to behold Hashem’s presence—to live with God as reality, rather than an idea.
On Yom Kippur, we read (Vayikra 16:2), “ … for it is in the cloud that I appear.” Whether at Moriah, at Sinai, over the Mishkan or within the Holy of Holies, Hashem consistently appeared to us in a cloud. On the Yom Tov of Succos, we live in those clouds; in the sukkah that recalls our time in the desert, surrounded by a constant visualization of Hashem via the clouds of His glory. That time in the desert was when we were in our most elevated state, where we lived with God as our most immediate reality—where the mundane became just an idea, an abstraction (see Rabbeinu Bachya, Kad Hakemach, Sukkah, who explains that the word “sukkah” means “to see.”)
As we—Adath Yeshurun—celebrate the forthcoming beautiful day of Yom Kippur and festival of Sukkot, we can consider it a glimpse into a time in the future when we will again dance and no longer struggle to visualize God, to make our faith real. We can mimic the transition of the closing of Maseches Taanis (31a), where the Talmud moves from its discussion of the Yom Kippur dance of the young in the fields to the ultimate dance: “In the future—in the end of days—the Holy One, Blessed be He, will arrange a dance of the righteous, and He will be sitting among them in the garden of Eden, and each and every one of the righteous will point to God with his finger, as it is stated: ‘And it shall be said on that day: Behold, this is our God, for whom we waited, that He might save us. This is the Lord; for whom we waited. We will be glad and rejoice in His salvation,’” (Yeshayahu 25:9).
Rabbi Moshe Hauer is executive vice president of the Orthodox Union (OU), the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization.