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Parsha Ha'Azinu

09/20/2018 09:16:05 PM

Sep20

Written in poetic form, Parshas Ha'azinu is referred to as a "song" that discusses the future destiny of the Jewish people with specific elaboration upon the various pitfalls and tragedies that await them.  Although the song does end with a happy tone of God redeeming the Jews, the theme of Ha'azinu is downright frightening with its cautionary tones and threatening words. ("A fire will blaze in you to the lowest depths..I will heap misfortunes upon them and use up my arrows on them...I will scatter them...!")  Although this may have been a very necessary forewarning from God, it seems so incongruous for this message to take on the form of a "song."  The Ramban even explains that the unique spaces between the phrases in Ha'azinu are meant to be the personal "harmonies" that accompany and enhance the great song.  "Harmony" conjures up pleasant and sweet sounds; hardly the tones of Ha'azinu!  Moreover, the context of Ha'azinu is rooted in Parshas Vayeilech, where the Torah says that when the Jews sin and God punishes them with many misfortunes, it is Ha'azinu that will stand as testimony for the Jews.  What meaning can Ha'azinu lend in times of distress?  "You were warned!  Told you so!"  These common quips hardly seem like the Torah's point in this Parsha.

The Torah is quite explicit in depicting the psychological trauma that the punishments of Jewish History leave.  Beyond the physical suffering and literal affliction, there is something much deeper and more painful that disturbs the damaged Jew- "On that day many misfortunes will happen to them...they will say "It is surely because our God is no longer among us that these evils have befallen us." (Parshas Vayeilech)  Feeling discarded or abandoned poses great danger to the wandering and suffering Jew who seeks meaning in his experiences.  More than suffering itself, it is the conclusions and implications of suffering that leave the Jew feeling betrayed and uncertain of what life can further provide for him.  Parshas Ha'azinu imparts the message that the cause of suffering is not abandonment- it is the "I" of God "hiding" his face to leave us with only a "He" whose evasiveness warrants that we improve our methods of searching for him.  In the truly ideal concept, we should view punishment as God's message that I am among you and the change in how you perceive me is the greatest proof to this axiom.  By recalling the teachings of Ha'azinu, the bitter Jew can find tremendous solace in recognizing that his experiences truly only confirm God's relevance to us and counter any thoughts or feelings of abandonment.  At this point, a Jew can find the capacity to somehow accept that there obviously must have been some purpose and good in what happened, and that only the future can explain its meaning.  In this sense, Ha'azinu is what saves the Jew from losing faith and what can turn the most horrific of tragedies into the greatest confirmation of belief in the Divine providence.  More than just a sharp warning, Ha'azinu is the song that challenges us to question our gut and instinctive reactions, a song that gives us the ability and courage to see "bad" as "good." 

With each public sacrifice brought in the Beis Hamikdash, there was a special accompanying "song" sang by the choir of Leviim.  The Gemara in Rosh Hashana says that the Karban Mussaf on Shabbos was accompanied with the singing of Parshas Ha'azinu.  The classical song of Shabbos, Tehillim 92, which was sung with the morning Tamid on Shabbos, discusses how we should view good and bad in life by realizing that there is an ultimate good that is the underlying theme of how God treats the righteous.  "It is good to praise God" prefaces the chapter that continues to discuss the questions of the great prosperity of the wicked and the suffering of the righteous.  The Mussaf song of Ha'azinu echoes that message in perfect parallel theme by creating a "song" out of the sufferings of the Jewish people.  Even if it may take a "Shabbos perspective" to think in these terms, the Torah places it in an attainable state for us.  Interestingly, the Rambam in Hilchos Teffila discusses the law that one may not break up the Torah reading by ending on a sad or bad note to leave that as the lasting impression.  However, writes the Rambam, Ha'azinu is the lone example when we disregard this rule completely by stopping right in the middle of horrific descriptions.  Perhaps the significance of this exception is the utter simplicity of understanding that as sad as Ha'azinu is, a "Shabbos perspective" can change it to good!

Fri, January 18 2019 12 Shevat 5779