Parashat Haazinu
September 18, 2021, 12 Tishrei 5782
Torah: Deuteronomy 32:1-32:52; Triennial 32:1-32:52
Haftarah: II Samuel 22:1-51
In this week's Torah Sparks, you'll find a D'var Torah on the Parashah by Ilana Kurshan called "You Don’t Love Me!", Vered Hollander-Goldfarb poses questions titled "We Won’t Let Him Go!" and Bex Stern Rosenblatt writes about "Curtain Calls" in the Haftarah.
You Don’t Love Me!
Ilana Kurshan

Parashat Haazinu consists of a lengthy poem that God instructs Moshe to teach to the children of Israel. In the opening verse—which is also the first line of the poem—Moshe invokes heaven and earth: “Give ear, O heavens, let me speak; let the earth hear the words I utter!” (32:1). The midrash (Sifrei Deuteronomy 306:15) explains that Moshe is summoning heaven and earth as witnesses to the covenant between God and Israel because he knows that he will die soon, and so he will be unable to perform this role himself. But the poem itself is also supposed to function as a witness, as God tells Moshe: “Write down this poem and teach it to the people of Israel, put it in their mouths, in order that this poem may be My witness before the children of Israel” (31:19). What is so special about Shirat Haazinu, as this poem is known, and how does it bear witness?

I began to arrive at an answer to this question thanks to one of my daughters, who had frequent tantrums when she was three and four years old. She has always been very sensitive, to the extent that it was difficult for her to accept any criticism or rebuke. Whenever we reprimanded her, she immediately jumped to the conclusion that we didn’t love her anymore. At times she was set off by even the most innocuous comments. “Shhh, lower your voice, your brother is trying to sleep,” I would tell her, and straightaway her face would fall, her eyes would scrunch up, and she would lie on the floor, kick her legs, and scream, “You don’t love me! I know you don’t love me! No one loves me.” I would reassure her that I loved her, and try to hug her, but she would just push me away and insist, repeatedly, that no one loved her. It seemed there was nothing I could do or say to convince her otherwise.

And then one day, in the midst of a tantrum, I sat down quietly beside her and began reading her a picture book called I Hate Everyone by Naomi Danis. The book is about a girl who throws a tantrum at her own birthday party, insisting that she hates everyone around her and doesn’t want them to look at her. But she doesn’t want them to look away, either, and finally she realizes that even though she keeps telling everyone that she hates them, she loves them all the while, deep down inside. My daughter was captivated by the scowling girl on the cover with her arms crossed in fury – the same girl who manages, by the end of the book, to turn her lips up in a smile. Just after we turned that last page, my daughter looked into my eyes and told me that deep down she knows I love her, and she loves me. Since then we have read this book countless times. I learned to reach for it every time she fell apart, and soon I didn’t have to read it anymore – the mere sight of the book would calm her down, and she’d pull herself up into a sitting position and begin “reading” it to herself, turning the pages intently until she reached the last page and her scowl, too, had turned into a smile. I realized the book was more than just a story; it bore witness to my love for her, and to our special connection. It was, in this sense, her Shirat Haazinu.

As God explains to Moshe, the purpose of Shirat Haazinu was to remind the people of their everlasting covenant even at times when the people had gone astray and were convinced that “surely God is not in our midst” (31:17). Like a parent who knows his or her child all too well and can predict that child’s behaviors, God tells Moshe that this is bound to happen: “When I bring them into a land flowing with milk and honey and they eat their fill and grow fat and turn to other gods and serve them, spurning Me and breaking My covenant, and the many evils and troubles befall them – then this poem shall confront them as a witness” (31:20-21). The poem refers to a time when Israel, referred to as Jeshurun, would throw a temper tantrum of sorts: “So Jeshurun grew fat and kicked—you grew fat and gross and coarse. He forsook the god who made him” (31:15). At such times, God would punish the people, and the people might mistakenly think that God had abandoned them. “You don’t love us, You don’t love us,” the people might be tempted to cry out to God. Shirat Haazinu is intended to convince them otherwise.

The midrashic rabbis read God’s words of rebuke to the people in Shirat Haazinu as evidence of God’s abiding and unconditional love for the people of Israel. The poem refers to the people’s blemishes and failings: “Is corruption His? No, His children’s is the blemish, a generation crooked and perverse” (32:5). Rabbi Meir regards this verse as evidence that even though the people are full of blemishes, they are still called God’s children. In a related passage in the Talmud (Kiddushin 36a), Rabbi Meir cites several additional biblical verses in which the people are rebuked but nonetheless referred to as God’s children, including another verse from our parashah: “I will hide my countenance from them, and see how they fare in the end, for they are a treacherous breed, children with no faithfulness in them” (32:20). Here too, Rabbi Meir argues that “either way you are still called children,” bound to God in a covenant of love no matter how distant and hidden God seems.

God instructs Moshe to teach the people Shirat Haazinu so that when Moshe is no longer around to remind the people of God’s devotion, the song will bear witness in his stead. Even when the people have spurned God, they are still God’s children. The relationship between God and Israel endures; the covenant is everlasting, and so is God’s love.
We Won’t Let Him Go!
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb
Text: Devarim 32:48-52
48And the Lord spoke to Moshe on this very day, saying: 49“Ascend this mountain of the Abarim, Mount Nebo, …and view the land of Canaan… 50and die on the mountain which you ascend… 52For you shall see the land before you, though you shall not go there, into the land which I am giving to the children of Israel.”
  • Why do you think that the Torah states the time of God’s instruction to Moshe regarding his death? Looking back at last week’s parashah, what day was it?

  • Moshe greatly wanted to enter the land. Why do you think that God lets him see it although he will not enter?
Commentary: Midrash Sifre Devarim 32:48
And the Lord spoke to Moshe on this very day: In three places it is written "on this very day": Noah — (Bereshit 7:13) "On this very day, Noah … entered the ark." Because the people of his generation said: If we see him, we won't let him (go). …The Lord said: I shall bring him into the ark in the middle of the day, and anyone who has the power to stop Me, let him come and do so! Egypt — (Shemot 12:17) "For on this very day, I have taken your hosts out of the land of Egypt." Because the Egyptians said: If we see them, we won't let them (go)… The Lord said: I shall take them out in the middle of the day, and anyone who has the power to stop Me, let him come and do so! And here - Because Israel said: If we see him, we will not allow (Moshe to go to his death) — The man who took us out of Egypt, and split the sea for us, and brought down the Torah for us, and brought down the manna for us… — we will not allow him (to go) — whereupon the Lord said: I will bring him into the cave in the middle of the day, and anyone who has the power to stop Me, let him come and do so!

  • Whose voice, missing in the Torah text, does the midrash provide?

  • According to this midrash, when does God specifically carry out an action in broad daylight?

  • The midrash gives three imaginary statements of people who intend to prevent something from happening. Compare them and consider their similarities, but mainly – how do they differ?

  • In the midrash, the people of Israel list events in which Moshe was instrumental. What emotions do you think motivated the people to fight against Moshe being taken away? Whose interests do they have in mind? Are there modern situations that might have similar motives? How can such situations be dealt with?
Curtain Calls 
Bex Stern Rosenblatt

There are two people in the Tanakh whose stories stretch over multiple books - Moses and David. As we read the grand narrative of the story of our people, we find it inextricably tied up with the story of these two men. At times, it seems that the story of our people is the story of Moses or the story of David - we tell the specifics of the nitty-gritty specifics of their lives in a way that suggests larger meaning. We read about their sibling dynamics and about how they met their wives. We read about their moments of self-doubt and despair as well as their moments of achievement and success. It’s not surprising that their stories are often compared to each other. This week, our haftarah lines them up together.

In both the parashah and the haftarah, these men have reached the end of their lives. Their stories have been told. All they have left to do is gracefully leave the stage. And yet, they stay for one final curtain call, one song they leave for the nation.

Moses recites Haazinu, a warning to the nation about who they have been and what they might be. It is full of verses such as (as translated by Robert Alter): “The Rock, your bearer, you neglected, you forgot the God who gave you birth.” Moses recites the failures of the Israelites back to them and warns them of the consequences. David too recites a final song, 2 Samuel 22. But his is a psalm of thanksgiving, composed of verses such as: “The LORD lives and blessed is my Rock, exalted the God, Rock of my rescue!” Nearly identical to Psalm 18, this song describes the many ways in which God has given David the ability to be successful.

Common to both Moses and David’s songs is the repeated description of God as Rock. Both men, as they prepare to depart this world and return to dust, choose to describe God as something totally solid and fundamental, undergirding everything. The God of Moses’s warning and David’s praise will continue even after they have departed.

We read these at this time of the year, when we too are caught between endings and beginnings. The past year has ended but the hagim have not concluded. We’ve got until Hoshana Rabbah to atone for that which we may have missed. The story of our past year has ended but we too can make one final curtain call. As you recite your song of the past year for the final time, will it be a song of warning for the year to come or thanksgiving for all that you have? And in what do you find your Rock, your continuity that holds something larger than yourself from year to year?
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