This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein in Z’chus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-Miriam Liba Bas Devora
-Aharon Ben Fruma
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamah of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L 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
* שובה שבת ~ Shabbos Shuvah *
“A Force-Fed Song”
|[32:15-47] “Yeshurun [Israel; lit., the upright one] became fat and kicked. You became fat, you became thick, you became corpulent—and it deserted G-d its Maker, and was contemptuous of the Rock of its salvation…And Hashem saw and was provoked by the anger of His sons and daughters, and He will say, ‘I shall hide My face from them and see what their end will be—for they are a generation of reversals, children whose upbringing is not in them.’… And he [Moshe] said to them, ‘Place it to your hearts, for all the words that I am testifying of you today, that you are to command your children to observe to do all the matters of this Torah; for it is not an empty matter from you, for it is your lives and in this matter your days will be lengthened…’”||וַיִּשְׁמַן יְשֻׁרוּן וַיִּבְעָט שָׁמַנְתָּ עָבִיתָ כָּשִׂיתָ וַיִּטֹּשׁ אֱלוֹ-ק עָשָׂהוּ וַיְנַבֵּל צוּר יְשֻׁעָתוֹ
וַיַּרְא ה׳ וַיִּנְאָץ מִכַּעַס בָּנָיו וּבְנֹתָיו
וַיֹּאמֶר אַסְתִּירָה פָנַי מֵהֶם אֶרְאֶה מָה אַחֲרִיתָם כִּי דוֹר תַּהְפֻּכֹת הֵמָּה בָּנִים לֹא אֵמֻן בָּם
At the end of Parshas Vayeilech, Hashem warns Moshe Rabbeinu and his designated successor Yehoshua Bin Nun about the negative turn which the B’nei Yisrael will ultimately take. Despite the warnings threats Divine judgment, curses, and suffering, the B’nei Yisrael will not only violate the Torah and covenant which they made with Hashem, but they will go as low as serving idols.
With this foreknowledge, Hashem commanded Moshe and Yehoshua to take what appears to be, at least at first glance, one last measure that might somehow restore hope for the B’nei Yisrael. That measure was for them to teach a “Shirah,” or a “song,” to the B’nei Yisrael [Devarim 31:16-21].
Now, Moshe and Yehoshua were not just instructed to teach the people the song, but if one looks at the entire command, they were told to “place” this song in the peoples’ mouths, so that it be with them forever. The idea would seem to be that no matter what happens, no matter how far away the B’nei Yisrael would veer, they would always have this safety net, the song of “Ha’azinu” [32:1-43].
“It really is heartwarming,” one might think, right? With such an introduction, it sounds that way. But, when one looks at the actual contents of the song, one cannot help but be confused and perhaps disturbed by the glaring lack of any optimism this song has for the B’nei Yisrael’s ultimate fate.
The song describes the B’nei Yisrael’s history and presumed future as an idolatrous and ungrateful people who rejected and will reject its Creator. It describes the harsh justice that will befall the people including their harsh periods of exile, with the only apparent “saving grace” being that after the nations have taken so many of their lives, Hashem would eventually avenge their blood. Overall, Ha’azinu does not seem to be anything other than a poetic version of the Tochachah (passage of Admonition) and Hashem’s prediction in Vayeilech that the B’nei Yisrael would stray towards idols.
So, what was the point of this song? It does not do anything directly to prevent us from sinning, and from Hashem’s foresight, it appears that it was never intended to do that. It is just discouraging. So, what good does this song actually do anyone who studies it? Just when we thought that Hashem would reassure Moshe, Yehoshua, and the B’nei Yisrael, that at the end of the day, there would still be some hope, we’re force-fed this poisonous condemnation. Just when we’re ready to hear our Father’s voice tell us with overwhelming mercy that everything would be okay, we’re not allowed that relief. Why does G-d want this distasteful message in our mouths for generations?
The reason for placing any words or messages into one’s “mouth” is to create a fluency in the content of that message. Songs are a particularly useful way to generate that fluency as they allow one to associate the words of the message with the melody and rhythm of that song. That is why, for example, many children learn to memorize information through songs. The ironic part of this learning process though, is that often, although the simple content is easily recalled with the associated tune, the meaning of that content is often sidelined and never given deeper thought, and without being revisited later in the person’s life, the meaning of the content will never be processed.
This effect can be explained by a phenomenon Rabbi David Fohrman refers to as the “lullaby effect” which basically suggests that although, from a young age, a child may learn the words and tune to a song, for example, “Rockabye Baby,” because he was too young and intellectually premature, he never meditated on the song’s possibly disturbing message. The befit though is that later, as long as this fluency is still there, the content will be readily available for further analysis when the child matures. And once he meditates on the content, he will appreciate it for what it’s worth later.
So, what is our song worth? What do we make of Shiras Ha’azinu? What is the benefit of saving such a disheartening song for posterity?
What’s particularly disturbing about Ha’azinu is that seems to give us only the negative side of everything without any positive alternative. Sure, we’re bound to mess up, but we can also grow and learn from our mistakes. We can mature. We can do Teshuvah! We believe in the concept of full repentance, don’t we? We can unlock Hashem’s mercy, can’t we? So, what happened to all of that in Ha’azinu?
It could be that Ha’azinu, in a certain respect, is Hashem’s way of relating to us as His intellectually premature children who cannot completely appreciate the fuller message that He wants to convey to them.
At first glance, all Ha’azinu conveys to us is the concept of Divine retribution and consequences. Why would G-d just give us this full dosage of “Din,” harsh judgment? Doesn’t Hashem want to give us “Rachamim,” mercy?
To this question, we might suggest that yes, of course, Hashem wants nothing more than to give us mercy, make us happy, and tell us that everything will be okay. However, here, He prefaces that as a rule, if we just sit around, do our own thing, sideline Hashem’s Will, and sin against Him, everything will not be okay! It simply won’t.
Does that mean that G-d is going to be completely unwilling to accept our Teshuvah? Of course not! However, Teshuvah is the exception to the rule of Divine Justice! Because, indeed, Divine Justice—the concept of consequences, is the unadulterated rule of life, where, if we have sinned, we deserve to be judged accordingly. Without this rule, we would not appreciate the opportunity to grow from our mistakes and do Teshuvah. Like a child who is not trained to eat healthy or not to run into the street, we would be doomed to fail in our spiritual lives.
Parshas Ha’azinu represents the rule of judgment, without which, we could not appreciate and yearn for Hashem’s mercy. It is the rule without which, we would not put an ounce of effort into our spiritual mission and Avodas Hashem.
When we’re “young,” we do not appreciate this concept for the ultimate good it is truly worth. And if we go through life with just the tune and words of Ha’azinu, we will remain “young” and never appreciate the larger message. We will just see the harsh reality of Divine retribution and nothing more. But, now, we can begin to understand that there is more to seemingly negative and painful “tune” of Ha’azinu.
But, in the meantime, the song is there in our mouths as to be recalled later so that even if its message might not be meaningful now, later, we will still have it so that we can understand the song’s deeper meaning and higher goal. But, how to we learn to appreciate the meaning of the seemingly harsh Ha’azinu?
The answer to this question might lie in a fascinating Halachah cited by the Rambam in Hilchos Kesivas Sefer Torah [7:1]. There, the Rambam describes the positive Mitzvah referenced in Parshas Vayeilech for every single Jew to write his own Sefer Torah [Devarim 31:19; See also Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvos, Positive Mitzvah #18]. However, if one looks at the Rambam’s formulation of this command there, the actual Mitzvah is not specifically to write a Sefer Torah; rather, when Hashem commands us to write down “Shirah HaZos”-“this song,” He is referring to Shiras Ha’azinu! However, due to the Halachic technicality that one is forbidden to simply write a scroll containing only part of the Torah, one must write the entire Sefer Torah, and thereby write down Shiras Ha’azinu. Thus, because of the command to write down Ha’azinu, we ultimately write down the Torah.
But, that’s strange. Why does Hashem have us write a Torah, indirectly, through His command that we write Ha’azinu? Why is Ha’azinu the reason why we must write a full Torah? Is there not enough merit in the writing of a full Torah, in and of itself?
However, it could be that the idea is that, really, Ha’azinu represents the first step of the Torah, perhaps a prerequisite for the entire Torah and Torah life at large. How so? Ha’azinu is the harsh rule of Divine Justice that we’re force-fed and made to stomach from our youth. But, again, what is the goal? Well, if Ha’azinu represents the rule of Divine Justice, what is the Torah at large? The Torah at large is the most pristine, most beautiful, and most fulfilling way a person can live life! The Torah at large is the greater goal behind the Divine Justice of Ha’azinu! Ha’azinu is not meant to be a goal in and of itself! G-d is not trying to “get” us, but He is trying to train us! He created Divine Justice to motivate us to work on our spiritual growth to the very best of our abilities—for the sake of the Torah at large! That includes the concept of Teshuvah and tapping into Hashem’s mercy. Thus, the command starts with the writing of Shiras Ha’azinu, but it ultimately becomes an opening to the entire Torah.
And of course, when we’re sitting in the high chair, we do not understand that the vegetables G-d is trying to feed us is not poison, but it is the reason we will be healthy later. Of course, when G-d smacks us after we run in the street, we don’t immediately realize that it is because He cares about us. That’s the nature of Divine Justice. It’s the absolutely necessary measure of tough love that we need to be successful in life. In this way, Ha’azinu is just meant to introduce us to the Torah.
And if one looks at what the Torah says right before and right after Shiras Ha’azinu, it is quite incredible how clearly, in fact, this higher goal of Ha’azinu, was intended.
Before Shiras Ha’azinu, we already mentioned, that Hashem commanded Moshe and Yehoshua, “Simah Bifneihem”-“place it in their mouths” [31:19] At that point, they were being “force-fed,” as it were, the harsh tune of Shiras Ha’azinu. But, then, immediately following the song, Moshe urges the B’nei Yisrael something different; “Simu Levavchem”-“place them on your hearts” [32:46]—in other words, “Once you’ve become fluent in song, meditate on the meaning of the words and understand their deeper meaning!” Why was Shiras Ha’azinu necessary? Explains Moshe, “…Ki Lo Davar Reik Mikem Ki Hu Chayeichem U’VaDavar HaZeh Ta’arichu Yomim…”-“for it is not an empty matter from you, for it is your lives and in this matter your days will be lengthened…”
That’s the reason for all of this! Because Hashem wants us to live in the truest sense, to thrive, to be spiritually successful! It’s not just to remove all hope, but on the contrary, it is to create the basis for hope. It is because through our appreciation of Divine Justice, we will appreciation Divine mercy. It is because through appreciation of Ha’azinu, we will push ourselves to unlock the single greatest and most fulfilling way of living life that is the Torah at large!
May we all be Zocheh to appreciate and not lose hope over the concept of Divine Justice, yearn for and earn Hashem’s Divine Mercy through genuine efforts to keep his Torah, tap into the greatest way to live life, and Hashem should grant us the greatest measure of that life with coming of the Geulah, in the days of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! K’sivah V’Chasimah Tovah (A Good Writing and Sealing [to you])! Have a Great Shabbos Shuvah!
-Josh, Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂