|This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my maternal grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, my paternal grandfather Moshe Ben Yosef A”H, uncle Reuven Nachum Ben Moshe & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein.
It should also be in Zechus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-HaRav Gedalia Dov Ben Perel
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Yechiel Baruch HaLevi Ben Liba Gittel
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-Chaya Rochel Ettel Bas Shulamis
-Nechama Hinda Bas Tzirel Leah
-Amitai Dovid Ben Rivka Shprintze
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
הַאֲזִינוּ ● Ha’azinu
● Is there a flaw in the “eagle’s wings” analogy? ●
“Earning Our Eagle’s Wings”
Earlier, we referenced how Moshe Rabbeinu introduced Shiras Ha’azinu by summoning the heavens and earth to hear his speech, as the Pasuk writes, “Ha’azinu HaShamayim Va’Adabeirah V’Sishma HaAretz Imrei Fi”-“Give ear, Heavens, and I shall speak, and hear, Earth, the expressions of my mouth.”1
Why their attention was necessary, Rashi explained, was that since they are not mortal beings, only they can truly be relied upon to bear witness to Moshe’s warnings to the nation after he would pass on.2 Additionally, Rashi suggests further that the heavens and earth’s attention was required as they would ultimately need to carry out G-d’s will based on the behavior of man, for example, either giving off or withholding rain and produce.2
A Universal Matter: The Heavens & Earth
Surely, all of the above would explain the significance and relevance of the heavens and earth, but did they actually need to be invoked in this song? If they had not been formally summoned, would they not bear testimony? And if they were not singled out by name, might they have actually neglected to carry out G-d’s will? Granted, the heavens and earth may be necessary “witnesses” to Moshe’s message and “enforcers” of the Divine will, but perhaps their presence in this song is suggestive of even further significance.
Indeed, if one thinks about it, the fact that Moshe calls upon both the heavens and the entire earth to listen, if nothing else, suggests that Moshe’s message to the B’nei Yisrael is universally significant, that it pertains to all of Creation, that the heavens and earth and all who inhabit them ought to pay close attention. What is this universally significant message of Shiras Ha’azinu?
“Give Ear, O Heavens… Earth can listen too.”
Though both the heavens and earth are invoked in this song, if one looks closely at Moshe’s poetic words, the roles of heaven and earth as the audience of this song do not appear completely identical.
“Ha’azinu HaShamayim Va’Adabeirah…”-“Give ear, O Heavens, and I shall speak…”1
In this clause, Moshe specified that the heavens should first give ear, and then he will speak. It is only after that where Moshe adds “…V’Sishma HaAretz Imrei Fi”-“…and hear, O Earth, the expressions of my mouth”1 where the earth is then also urged to listen up.
Thus, from Moshe’s words, it seems as though Moshe’s primary concern was that the heavens were listening, but that, at the same time, the earth would also “gain” from his words.
“Like rain…upon vegetation”3
And yet, when we look at Moshe’s words further, it is Earth that seems to become the primary audience, as Moshe states, “Ya’arof KaMattar Likchi Tizal KaTal Imrasi K’S’irim Alei Deshe V’Chir’vivim Alei Eisev”-“My lesson shall drip like rain; my expression shall flow like dew; like storm winds on vegetation, and drops on grass.”3
Indeed, the above metaphor which likens Moshe’s words to his audience as rain upon vegetation necessarily puts the earth in the limelight as it is the earth—and not the heavens—that is sustained by rainfall. In other words, though Moshe seems to require the “ear” of Heaven, it is Earth that would gain the most from listening to his message. The question is what this incredible message is to which Moshe needs the heavens to listen, but for which Earth itself really thirsts.
“On Eagle’s Wings”4
As Shiras Ha’azinu takes off, the song recalls Hashem’s care for the B’nei Yisrael, famously likening Him to a “Nesher,” an eagle or a vulture who carries its young securely on its wings.5 Rashi elaborates on this well-known Mashal or parable, quoting the tradition6, explaining how, unlike most birds, the Nesher does not hold its fledglings from its feet, for while the other birds fear the superior, higher flying predatory birds, the Nesher itself fears no one above it. Thus is the authority and confidence with which G-d secures us, His children.
The parable could have ended there and the lesson of G-d’s protection for us would have been conveyed most aptly. However, the Midrash adds that although Nesher does not fear any force above, its only fear is of arrow shots coming from below; thus, rather than letting the young birds be hit with the arrows, the Nesher sacrifices itself for its young and takes the arrow shot, allowing the young bird to live another day. In this vein, the Midrash teaches that when the B’nei Yisrael escaped Egypt and were being shot at by their Egyptian pursuers, due to the fact that they were “on eagle’s wings,”4 G-d’s angel guarded the people with the pillar of cloud which took the arrows in their stead.7
An Accurate Analogy?
This famous parable, at face value, is uplifting and inspirational, but if one is being intellectually honest, there is an obvious flaw in the accuracy of this parable. The imagery of the mother bird taking the arrow and dying for its young—though it may bring a tear to the eye—does not accurately parallel that which the incorporeal G-d experiences when He protects His people.
Granted, both G-d and the Nesher might secure their children with undying love and superior protection, but does G-d ever have to sacrifice His “life” for His children the way the mother bird must sometimes do for her young? Yes, the pillar of cloud accepted the brunt of the arrows, but does G-d Himself ever suffer any hits or blows when He guards His young? G-d cannot sacrifice His actual “life” because He is Eternal, All-Powerful, and is physically incapable of feeling any pain or lacking. If He could, He would not be G-d, after all.
Where then does the Midrash get off presenting using such a Mashal to ascribing such “Mesiras Nefesh” or self-sacrifice to G-d when He does not and could not actually “die” for His children?
An Eternal Truth
As we return to the question pertaining to the respective roles of the heavens and earth as “listeners” to this song, let us first be reminded of the fact that although Heaven and Earth cannot verbally testify to that which they hear, their appointment by Moshe Rabbeinu, as was said, is due to their relative “immortality.” In other words, perhaps according to the Pashut P’shat, Moshe’s invoking of Heaven and Earth means to suggest that that the following message an is an eternal truth, relevant for all times—past, present, and future. Practically speaking, Moshe was not concerned that the spheres of Heaven and Earth would literally speak up later as witnesses. His concern was rather that this song’s content and message stand before Heaven and Earth, so-to-speak, being clear to all as day—to be known and accepted as reality which must be seriously contemplation of reality in light of accepted knowledge and history can attest to. It makes the messages heard by something immortal, reality itself.
It is perhaps in this vein that Moshe would proceed to urge the people, “Zechor Yemos Olam…”-“[just] Remember the days of old [lit., forever]…”8—that they should wake up, just review history, and recognize that what he is saying is true. If they should stubbornly refuse and turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to Moshe’s words, “Heaven and Earth”—reality itself, will testify to their objective truth.
The Woes of Public Preaching
Now, why it is that Moshe apparently needed Heaven’s ear before he could speak when it was apparently the products of the Earth that needed to hear the message most can perhaps be explained homiletically by a phenomenon and irony that exists in the world “public preaching.”
Often enough, there exists a particular audience that may be thirsting for a particular message; however, that audience may be too stubborn or indifferent to give the speaker a voice and platform for which to communicate that most important message. If the leader attempts to target that audience directly, the message will not be heard, but will fall on deaf ears. Though the message needs to be stated, a lecture would prove futile.
However, if the speaker has a strong and intrinsically motivated base of an audience to “give ear” to his message and provide him that platform, it makes the lecture worth it. Even if that already motivated audience is not in desperate need of that particular message at the moment, they will greatly appreciate the talk and make it possible. And once that lecture is happening, there is at least an opportunity for those who may be less motivated but more in need to actually hear the message.
In the case of Shiras Ha’azinu, if the heavens—the devoted listeners—will give Moshe their ear, then Moshe can begin speak. The hope though is that the earth—which really needs this message—will also listen in to Moshe’s message and gain from it. Indeed, there is an unquestionable, target audience who desperately needs to hear Moshe’s speech, namely the inhabitants of Earth.
Now, what is it that universally important message which the heavens and earth ought to listen to, which the inhabitants of Earth need to heed?
The Age of the Universe – Recalling Creation
Earlier, we mentioned that Moshe urged the people to simply review the past, “Zechor Yemos Olam…”8 The question is: How far into the past did he want them to go? There are subtle textual hints in this poem would suggest that the matter of Moshe’s speech is as old as the universe, that in fact, Moshe wanted the people to return to the beginning of time itself, Creation.
- “Heaven and Earth”
Indeed, the very speech itself begins with “Heaven and Earth” whose origins are described at the outset of Creation.9
- “Father,” “Acquirer,” “Maker” and “Founder”
Moreover, Shiras Ha’azinu employs terminology to describe Hashem which highlights His role as Creator10; “Avicha”-“your Father,” “Kanecha”-“your Acquirer,” “Asecha”-“He made you,” “Vayichoninecha”-“and He founded you.”
- The State of Chaotic Emptiness
Furthermore, Ha’azinu explicitly recalls the desolate state of the earth in its infancy, borrowing the term “Sohu”-“empty,” from Bereishis11 when describing the “emptiness” of the desert land.12
- G-d’s Hovering
And for the final parallel for now, in the aforementioned analogy of the mother bird, Ha’azinu features another rare expression, “Yiracheif”-“[over its young] it will hover,”13 which is borrowed from and parallels Bereishis as “the spirit of G-d was hovering [“Merachefes”]” over the earth which was inundated by waters.11
Now, why would Moshe ask the B’nei Yisrael to review history dating back to the beginning of time? Apparently, his message pertains not just to the single nation of Israel, but to the entirety and purpose of Creation. What is that message?
Treasures of Creation
If we consider both the manifest content of Shiras Ha’azinu and its echoes of the Creation narrative, this song points us to a repeating cycle, how in each stage of history, Hashem had a treasured centerpiece of Creation which He protected. At first, it was the world itself. Hashem hovered over the earth, roosting upon it like a mother bird. But then, after establishing life in that world, Hashem focused on the center of life, mankind, “…B’Hafrido B’nei Adam…”-“…When He separated mankind…,”14 indeed, another parallel to the Creation narrative.
In fact, G-d separated man when He imbedded within him, among all living beings, a unique soul and a “likeness” of Himself.15 That is why mankind can be likened to G-d’s young. G-d’s endowment of this unique spirit in man and the parental care which G-d for man as a result are referenced in Ha’azinu as well; “…Y’Sovivenhu Y’voneineihu Yitzrenu K’Ishon Eino”-“…He encircled him, He granted understanding to them, He protected them like the blackness [pupil] of His ‘eye.’”12 Indeed, Hashem protected mankind and designated him to represent Himself on this world, to guide the world through and in accordance with Hashem’s will. This was man’s mission when he was created and placed on the pedestal, secured atop Hashem’s eagle-like wings.
But, when push came to shove, did man, with His G-dly soul and all, appropriately represent G-d and guide the world through His will? A review of history will reveal that in fact he did not. Despite being coddled, man failed to fulfill His G-d-given mission by sinning against Him, and eventually against fellowman in subsequent generations. Hashem would even go as far as inundating the world in water again to start over with a narrower array of humans to represent Him and be the guiding light in the world. When the Noahides failed, followed by the Semites or descendants of Sheim, eventually Avraham Avinu would take the burden of the mission alone. But even Avraham’s progeny couldn’t all uphold the Abrahamic mission, nor could all of the progeny of his son Yitzchak Avinu. The mission would fall entirely on the shoulders of Yaakov Avinu and his progeny, the B’nei Yisrael.
With that introduction, Moshe Rabbeinu zeroes in on the new centerpiece of Creation, the B’nei Yisrael, whom He selected as His “treasured nation.”16 With that introduction, the mission of Israel takes on a universally important meaning, as the heavens and earth themselves depend on whether or not the B’nei Yisrael would fulfill their G-d-given mission and purpose.
Taking Our Arrows
With all of the above, perhaps we can explain the parable of the Nesher. We were wondering how G-d could truly be likened to the mother bird who sacrifices her own life for her young, when G-d can practically feel no pain or die for us? How exactly is that G-d suffers from the arrow shots?
But, if one thinks about it, when G-d protects us and grants us life and we do not fulfill our mission as His representatives on Earth, when we fail to meet G-d’s agenda for all of Creation, G-d, in effect, does end up taking arrows for us. When G-d has set us as the flagship and cornerstone of Creation and subsequently provided us special protection as His centerpiece, He plays the role of the mother eagle that hovers over its young and then lifts it onto his wings, out of harm’s way. And Hashem is happy to do that for us because, after all, we are Hashem’s “baby,” the ultimate expression of Himself. But that comes at a cost to Him and His agenda for this world. Chazal tell us that all of Creation was established to express G-d’s glory.17 That when we sin to Him and detract from His glory, we interfere with His plan for all of Creation and effectively “kill” Him off from this world. He ultimately takes the arrows for us.
Seizing the Mother Bird
R’ Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld presented a similar analogy between Hashem and the mother bird in light of the Mitzvah of Shiluach HaKein, sending forth the mother bird.18, 19 The message of this Mitzvah, R’ Sonnenfeld explains, is that it is brazen and inappropriate to take advantage of the parental love of the mother bird by using it as a tool to seize both the mother bird and its young at once. Indeed, if not for the parental love, the mother bird could have easily fled the nest and saved itself. To grab the mother bird while it is protecting its young is to exploit that parental love. Therefore, the Torah charges us to first send away the mother bird.
It was in this exact vein, R’ Sonnenfeld suggests, Chazal taught that one who decides to sin with the intention that he would later engage in Teshuvah (repentance) or be atoned for on Yom Kippur would not be able to achieve Teshuvah or atonement20, because to sin with such intentions would mean to brazenly take advantage of and exploit Hashem’s Parental love for us, His young, at a time when He is desperately trying to protect us.
On Rosh HaShannah, the birthday of mankind—the centerpiece of Creation, each of us is called to judgment because it is on that date that Hashem reasonably “recalls” the origin of His agenda for creation and the role of man in fulfilling that agenda. And although we want to live on this world another year following Yom Kippur, in the interim, Hashem is forced to ask, “At what cost?” Indeed, why should Hashem protect a person throughout the year and secure the individual on His “wings”? If the person merely wants Hashem to take arrow shots for him just so that he can live on and yet continue to fall short in G-d’s intended mission for him, has he truly justified his existence? Is his empty appeal to Hashem on Yom Kippur not just an exploitation of the system? Is that not too much to ask for? Can there be anything more brazen? If his goal though is to understand G-d’s granting him life as a statement of his calling, the obligation to deliver G-d’s message to the world, then Hashem is happy to protect him.
Earning Our Eagle’s Wings
Bearing the burden of life’s responsibilities can be complicated, especially when that burden includes the weight of history, Creation and the entire heavens and earth. Hashem’s expectations of the B’nei Yisrael are high, and indeed, their task is certainly a daunting and demanding one, but that is precisely why they must take their mission to heart and recognize their calling.
The question now is if we will choose to take Moshe’s message to heart and heed the calling that is presented to us in Shiras Ha’azinu. Will the centerpiece of Creation serve its role properly? Will we deliver Hashem’s message to the world? Hopefully, we on Earth will recognize that mission and put an end to a history of arrow shots at our Father in Heaven, thrive in Hashem’s assigned mission, fulfill the role as the bright center of Creation and earn the blessing of Hashem’s “eagle’s wings.”
May we all be Zocheh to fulfill our individual and collective missions as Hashem’s unique nation and light unto the world, be protected by the Kanfei HaShechinah (Wings of Hashem’s Presence), ride them towards the final Geulah with the coming of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos and a Gut Yor!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂
- Devarim 32:1
- Citing Sifrei 32:1
- Devarim 32:2
- Shemos 19:4
- Devarim 32:11
- Mechilta 19:4
- Shemos 14:19-20
- Devarim 32:6
- Bereishis 1:1
- Devarim 32:6
- Bereishis 1:2
- Bereishis 32:10
- Devarim 32:11
- Devarim 32:8
- Bereishis 1:26, 2:7
- Devarim 26:18; See also Rashi citing Shemos 19:5 and Mechilta to Shemos 12:78.
- Pirkei Avos, “Perek Kinyan Torah” 6:11
- Devarim 22:6-7
- See R’ Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld on the Parsha, Parshas Ki Seitzei
- Yoma 8:9; 85B