Parashat Ha’azinu
October 14-15, 2016 – 13 Tishrei 5777
Annual (Deuteronomy 32:1-52): Etz Hayim p. 1185; Hertz p. 896
Triennial (Deuteronomy 32:1-52): Etz Hayim p. 1185; Hertz p. 896
Haftarah (1 Samuel 22:1-51): Etz Hayim p. 1197; Hertz p. 904


Listen, O Heavens, O Israel, and Moses, Too
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, Faculty, Conservative Yeshiva

Parashat Ha’azinu is Moses’s farewell song to the Israelites, about their status as God’s chosen people and the consequences of forgetting their dependence on God. Moses begins (Deut 32:1) by invoking the heavens as witness: “הַאֲזִינוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם -Listen, O Heavens!”

The root of the word ha’azinu means to listen; through the ozen, the ear.  The Hebrew language reflects a remarkable biological insight.  The word for balance, izun, [ma’oznayim = scales] comes from the same shoresh (“root”) א-ז-ן.  The connection between the human ear and “balance disorders” was reflected in the Hebrew language long before we had sophisticated medical knowledge about it.  For someone to maintain balance in the world – in relations between people or between nations – we must be willing and able to listen.  Even those with whom we disagree may have something to say, something we should hear.

Ha’azinu is different from sh’ma, the verb familiar from the daily Shema prayer. Where sh’ma means to hear, ha’azinu suggests a more sustained listening, something that requires effort and persistence. In modern Hebrew ma’azinim are “listeners,” as to a concert or radio program. Through Moses’ words, we are invited to tune in and listen, to become receptive.

The High Holidays began and ended with the Shofar, seriously listening. The mitsva is not to blow the Shofar, but to hear it. When we are all together, in synagogue in a staged environment, there’s not much choice or difficulty.  Jonah is the story of one who heard God’s voice but refused to listen, and ironically, was angered that the people of Nineveh did.

Shabbat Haazinu comes after the High Holidays and invites us to listen to prosaic things. To each other, to the quiet of nature, to the sounds beyond ear-shot, and, of course, to God’s voice, which, as Elijah learned, is not to be found in the wind or in the earthquake, but in kol d’m’ma daka, a still small voice (1 Kings 19:12). “Ayecha?”  God asks each of us, quietly, “Where are you?  Who are you?”  It’s hard to hear if our ears are constantly connected to earphones or smartphones.

In this parashah Moses also hears, from God, that he is now about to die, and that he will see the land but will not enter it (32:49-52), which cannot be easy for him.  Adina Roth, a Jewish activist, teacher, writer and “occasional” poet in Johannesburg, South Africa, addresses Moses at this difficult hour in Take it Like a Man (2008).

Take it like a man

You will not enter the land
your life of service
in vain now
Hashem said: Speak to the rock
you struck the rock.

Take it like a man
tantalising green promise glimpsed
this dream denied
your childhood moment mirrored:
eye to glittering jewels
hand directed to burning coals
clutching singed tongue
aral sefatayim.  [“circumcised lips” – DG]

Take it like a man
your people move on
you ascend
to the mountain top
of crossings, not arrival
to die there alone.

Moses Moses
You prayed for us
Who prays for you now?
I plead your injustice
Your yearning denied.

Our thanks to Adina Roth for her permission to include this.

A Vort for Parashat Ha’azinu
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty

Moshe, in his parting poem Ha’azinu, accuses Israel of ingratitude to God:צוּר יְלָדְךָ תֶּשִׁי, וַתִּשְׁכַּח אֵל מְחֹלְלֶךָ  -You ignored the Rock that begot you and forgot the God who gave you life (32:18).  R’ Menachem Mendele of Kotzk, the Kotzker Rebbe (1787-1859, Hasid, Poland) explained the first part positively – God built into the human character the capacity to forget (תֶּשִׁי), so that we can put behind us the troubles and setbacks we have in life and move on, an important psychological insight about an important survival instinct.  But all too often, he observes, we use that power negatively, as the verse ends, to forget the God who gave us life.

Table Talk
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty

Most of our Parasha is a poem that functions as a testimony, telling the relationship of the People of Israel with God. The Hebrew in this poem is often archaic, making it a bit difficult to understand.

1) Who/what is Moshe calling on to listen to this testimonial poem (32:1)? Why are these good “witnesses”? Challenge: Read Isaiah 1:2. Why do you think that Isaiah chose to echo Moshe’s words in that prophecy?

2) How will Moshe’s words come forward according to 32:2? Try to remember (one of) Moshe’s main objections to going to Pharaoh in Exodus (4:10). What seems to have happened to Moshe over 40 years of leadership?

3) God chose the People of Israel and gave us an abundance of sustenance (32:13-14). What did we do in return for getting so much good (32:15-18)? Why do you think that people behave in such manner (which might be termed ‘ungrateful’)?

4) What is God’s reaction to the behavior of the people of Israel (32:19-26)? In this section we are told that God will ‘hide My face from them.’ What do you think happens when God hides His face?

5) Now that Moshe has completed the task of delivering the poem, he is told to climb to the top of Mount Nebo (32:48-52). What will he do there? Why?