Ha'azinu: The Most Beautiful Song
What happens when we hear music? Music has the ability to inspire us, uplift us, and bring us joy. Some songs like “What’s Going On?” by Marvin Gaye or “Ball of Confusion” by The Temptations. Both songs attempted to make sense of the chaos and disorder going on throughout the ’60s and ’70s. Moshe’s song in Ha’azinu is different. This is his farewell song to B’nai Yisrael. He knows that he will die and Joshua (Yehoshua) will take over. Throughout Ha’azinu, there are reflections of the past and predictions of the future. It begins:
הַֽאֲזִ֥ינוּ הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וַֽאֲדַבֵּ֑רָה וְתִשְׁמַ֥ע הָאָ֖רֶץ אִמְרֵי־פִֽי
יַֽעֲרֹ֤ף כַּמָּטָר֙ לִקְחִ֔י תִּזַּ֥ל כַּטַּ֖ל אִמְרָתִ֑י כִּשְׂעִירִ֣ם עֲלֵי־דֶ֔שֶׁא וְכִרְבִיבִ֖ים עֲלֵי־עֵֽשֶׂב
כִּ֛י שֵׁ֥ם יְהֹוָה֖ אֶקְרָ֑א הָב֥וּ גֹ֖דֶל לֵֽאלֹהֵֽינוּ
הַצּוּר֙ תָּמִ֣ים פָּֽעֳל֔וֹ כִּ֥י כָל־דְּרָכָ֖יו מִשְׁפָּ֑ט אֵ֤ל אֱמוּנָה֙ וְאֵ֣ין עָ֔וֶל צַדִּ֥יק וְיָשָׁ֖ר הֽוּא
שִׁחֵ֥ת ל֛וֹ לֹּ֖א בָּנָ֣יו מוּמָ֑ם דּ֥וֹר עִקֵּ֖שׁ וּפְתַלְתֹּֽל
הַ לְיהֹוָה֙ תִּגְמְלוּ־זֹ֔את עַ֥ם נָבָ֖ל וְלֹ֣א חָכָ֑ם הֲלוֹא־הוּא֙ אָבִ֣יךָ קָּנֶ֔ךָ ה֥וּא עָֽשְׂךָ֖ וַֽיְכֹֽנְנֶֽךָ
Give ear, O heavens, that I may speak,
Earth, hear the sayings of my mouth…
The Rock, His acts are perfect,
For all His ways are just.
A faithful God without wrong,
Right and straight is He.
He is not corrupt; the defect is in His children,
A warped and twisted generation.
Is this the way you repay God,
Ungrateful, unwise people?
Is He not your Father, your Master?
He made you and established you (Devarim 32:1-6).
Moshe is reminding B’nai Yisrael throughout Devarim of the past and future. He begs B’nai Yisrael not to forget his words. Their (our) ancestors were slaves and G-d brought them to freedom. Rabbi Sacks says that negative freedom, chofesh, meant that there was no-one to order them about. Chofesh alone cannot sustain a free society. Anarchy results when people are free to do what they want. Instead cherut, positive freedom will be required for an ultimately free society. In this society, people look inwards and exercise self-restraint so that one person’s freedom isn’t bought at the expense of someone else.
G-d gave us freedom, the most precious thing in the world! However, with freedom comes responsibility. We must learn the lessons of the past and take them into the future. We know that history repeats itself. This is why we review our past and teach it to our children. Moshe reminds B’nai Yisrael that no matter what trials and tribulations they will face, their deep connection with G-d is an unbreakable and unshakable bond.
The Torah describes the kindness and mercy of the Almighty by likening it to how an eagle treats its young; “Like an eagle arousing its nest, hovering over its young, it spreads its wings and takes them to flight by carrying them on its pinions”(Devarim 32:11).
Rashi explains “an eagle is merciful toward his children in that he doesn’t enter the nest suddenly and startle his sleeping young; rather he flaps his wings and goes around them from branch to branch to gently rouse his young and not overwhelm them. In addition, he gently touches them and then withdraws and touches them again, without ever putting the full force of his weight on them.
Rashi goes on to explain the second attribute: An eagle carries its young on its wings because it is unafraid of winged predators for it flies higher than any other birds. The only danger that it fears is man’s arrows, and so the eagle carries its young on its wing. The eagle’s rationale is, “Better that the arrow should pierce me and not strike my children.”
So too, Rashi explains, when the Jewish nation left Egypt they were being pursued by the Egyptian army who caught up to them and proceeded to shoot arrows and catapult stones at them. However, the Almighty sent an angel who acted as a shield between the Egyptians and the Jews, and absorbed the full force of the assault, just as an eagle would for its children.
Rashi continues, just as an eagle gently hovers not to startle its young, so too when it came time for God to appear on Mount Sinai to deliver the Torah He was careful not to overwhelm them (Sifrei Devarim 314:1).
Rabbi Yaakov Wolbe says that even though B’nai Yisrael will be punished for their mistakes, G-d punishes slowly. We are given punishment to change our behavior or to take revenge. G-d wants us to change our behavior. Moshe’s passion throughout Ha’azinu is meant to inspire us to do the work necessary to make this world better.
We are all called to be leaders in some capacity in our lives. We will be leaders of our families, jobs, businesses, or communities. John Maxwell talks about Five Levels of Leadership that culminates with leaders developing other leaders. In order to do that, we must work our way through each level of leadership.
In order to reach the highest level of leadership, we must be intentional and have the willingness to invest our lives into the lives of others. Moshe was truly a leader; he influenced B’nai Yisrael and passed the torch onto Joshua. He always led by example, he never told B’nai Yisrael things that he wasn’t also doing himself. Contrast that with many of our government officials and other elites in leadership positions. They tell us to do things, yet, they do the exact opposite. Just like a song can inspire us, true leadership inspires others to change for the better.
As we continue this high from Yom Kippur and into Shabbat and Sukkot, may G-d allow us to re-enter the normal world with the appreciation of the Mitzvot and may we be inspired by Moshe’s song Ha’azinu.