Posted by: Subway Conductor | September 25, 2020

A derasha on Parshat Ha’azinu

This week’s Torah portion, Ha’azinu, is a very special portion. First of all, it is short. Second, it is almost entirely a poem. It is called the Shirat Moshe – the song or poem of Moses. Also, there is a halachic implication to this portion. Most authorities hold that the last mitzvah in the Torah is to write a sefer Torah. This mitzvah is based on a statement in last week’s Torah portion. There, Moses was commanded “write for yourselves this poem.” The Rambam states that the mitzvah is really to write this poem. However, we do not write a scroll with portions of the Torah and therefore we must wtite the entire Torah. But, at least according to the Rambam, the essence of the mitzvah is this week’s portion.

The statement goes on to say, “write for yourselves this poem and teach it to the children of Israel and put it in their mouths that it may serve as a witness for me against the children of Israel.” What is this about?

Before his death, Moses reminds the people that they have been a rebellious and defiant people even while he is with them. How much more will they go astray after he is gone. This poem is meant as a warning. The people of Israel are about to cross over into a “land flowing with milk and honey.” G-d tells them that He knows that they will prosper there, But, they “will grow fat” and will worship other gods. They will betray G-d and not keep His covenant. As a consequence, G-d will bring a nation to destroy them. This poem, then, should be in their mouths as an explanation of how did they get into this catastrophic situation. The poem begins by reminding them that G-d took them through the wilderness and protected them, yet they rebelled. G-d has been faithful and true, they have betrayed the covenant with G-d. Therefore, they need to look to their own deeds for the explanation for their plight.

The poem contains a passage which we use at a funeral service. “The Rock – His deeds are perfect. All His ways are just. A faithful G-d, never false. True and upright is He.” These words come at the beginning of the tziduk ha-din – the justification of the (divine) judgement. The idea is that at a time when we have suffered the loss of a loved one, we might question G-d’s justice. We might think that G-d is unfair. Therefore, we acknowledge that G-d is just. Similarly, when we tear keriah, we make a beracha which concludes “dayan haemet –blessed are You O Lord our G-d, true judge.”   The same idea applies that we acknowledge that G-d is a true judge even when we are in distress. That is the purpose of this poem. When the Jewish People are in distress, they are to remember this poem which should be in their mouth. The poem reminds them that G-d is just. They need to look to their own actions for an explanation of their hardships. The poem was revealed to them before they entered the promised land. It forecast that they would go astray and bring catastrophe upon themselves.

Yet the poem ends by declaring, “He will bring retribution upon His foes, and He will appease His Land and His people.” G-d will eventually punish those who have brought destruction on Israel and His relationship with the Jewish People is everlasting. This final thought affirms that we should never despair. G-d will never abandon the Jewish People. Despite the vagaries of Jewish History, the many periods of tragedy, we know that G-d has remained faithful. We are still here.

This portion is usually read on the Sabbath between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur which is Shabbas Shuvah. It should remind us that during this period, we need to look into our deeds and commit to improving our lives. We need to make confession and do teshuvah. This poem affirms that no matter what we have done, G-d remains faithful. He will not reject us or abandon us.

Good Shabbos!


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