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Parashat Ha’azinu

September 21, 2006

By Rabbi Malka Drucker

We wander through life searching for bridges to move us closer to each other and nearer to God. Parashat Ha’azinu shows us how to build bridges between heaven and earth while being, itself, as the last portion of the year, a bridge between the end and the beginning. Its very form, a song, opens the heart to receive its urgent message of hope and direction; as we reach the inevitable end of the
book, its passion inspires and propels us to begin the study

The portion opens with Moses declaring, ‘Listen heaven! I will speak! Earth! Hear the words of my mouth! (Deut. 32:1). Like a dying father who warns his children that he no longer will guide, scold, or defend them, Moses calls upon heaven and earth to be witnesses: Human beings are inclined to do better when we know we are being watched. If Israel does right, earth will open with fecundity, and likewise, if we sin, earth will close itself to us. Like parents, heaven and earth will watch and keep us on the path by their example. Heaven and earth not
only listen to God, they do what they are supposed to do, e.g. the sun rises and sets, seed that is sown sprouts, donkeys carry burdens. Heaven and earth do this without reward, without regard to what will happen to their children, without concern for reward and punishment. They do not change from God’s intention for them and neither should we.

At first God created the world with the upper realms for upper things, and the lower realms for the lower. But then Moses became a bridge: ‘And Moses went up to God Ex. 19:3) ‘And God came down up Mount Sinai'(v. 20) . God will redeem Israel only through bringing heaven to earth and earth to heaven: ‘Out of heaven God made you to hear the
Voice, that God might teach you, and on earth God showed you the great fire.”(Deut. 4:36)(Mid.Rab. v. 2).

Like Moses, we, who contain both heaven and earth, are a link between them. It is with the physical, with our ears, eyes, and heart that we apprehend that which is spiritual. We cannot imagine God without emblems of earth: God is a rock and God’s words are rain. And without God, we cannot understand earth.

Torah is a bridge, too. It comes from heaven yet is made of skin, ink, and human skill. ‘My lesson shall drop like rain, my saying shall flow down like the dew-like a downpour on the herb, like a shower on the
grass.'(Deut. 32:2). Just as one rain falling on many trees gives to each a special savor in keeping with its species, so these words are one, yet within them are TaNakh, Mishnah, Halakhot, and Aggadot (Sifre Deut. 306). Once again we find a bridge, this time in the word.

Moses begins the exodus out of Egypt with a word song, or musical poem Ex.15:1-18) and ends the journey with the song in Ha’azinu. The exodus song expresses gratitude for Israel’s physical salvation, i.e. not drowning in the Red Sea, while the second poem sings of that which cannot be seen, the future. The last song reveals a leader less
worried about his people’s material well-being than
with their spiritual journey, and he hopes for an Israel
that will prevail in spirit as well as body. The people
need their home, but without God, it means nothing.

If, as Marshall McLuhan suggests, the medium is the message, why does Moses sing the lesson? Maybe the words near the end of the parashah offer a clue. ‘And Moses came and spoke all the words of this song in the ears of the people, he, and Hosea the son of Nun. When Moses made an end of
speaking all these words to all Israel, he said unto them: ‘Set your heart unto all the words I bear witness with you today, so that you may charge your children to observe to do all the words of this law.” (Deut. 32: 44-46). Like a poem, all the words, concentrated, associative, and mysterious, count.

Rashi describes the words of Torah as ‘mountains suspended upon a hair,’ because each word is so
packed with meaning, connection, and direction. Heaven is in each word, and no one word is more important than another. All of Torah is a song and not always plainly spoken. It is not merely allegory but invites, indeed requires, deeper inquiry and explanation. Moses warns that this is ‘no vain teaching for you.’ If we don’t get it, it’s not because the teaching is empty, but that we are.