A short summary of Haazinu

You can also read our other studies on this site.

We wish all God's children a New Year of peace and inner light and insight, of health and prosperity, and of sharing and stressing their common Divine denominators, advancing that great day when "God will be One and His Name One" (Zecharia 14:9).

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Besides praying for peace and unity among us, and acting accordingly, a lot of folks work in organizations dedicated to systematic organized realization of this great goal-- Common Denominator (36 Keren Hayesod St., Jer., tel. 566-0048, e-mail:, website: brings together extreme right and left Jewish factions, both political and religious; Meretz folks spend shabbat in Meah Shearim-- v.v. is being planned. Gesher (10 King David St., Jer., Tel. 624-1015 and 421 7th Ave., NYC 10011, Tel. 212-564-033; web site: www., e-mail:, besides such contacts, also offers courses and seminars and prepares curricula; Grassroots non-profit "Du-Siach" does similar work with observant and secular Jews thruout Israel, in Hebrew; they encourage the cathartic open, but polite and (hopefully) peaceful, confrontation of Jews with violently opposed views and bring secular and religious Jews together in social welfare projects: tel. 02-571-3357 write POB 71133, Jerusalem 91079. All three are Jewish groups, trying to unify the Jews of Israel. Some Jews also explore those beliefs and values which we share with those of other faiths, and try to establish good relations with them, in shared interfaith groups-- e.g. The Israel Interfaith Association, who work with the Adenauer Foundation (POB 7739, Jer., tel. 6203251); it, together with several Jewish groups, is a member body of ICCI, The Interreligious Coordinating Council of Israel, an umbrella group of organizations dedicated to interfaith relations (POB 7855, Jerusalem 91078, tel. 6726430, e-mail, www., directed by Ron Cornish). Be prepared to deal with strong anti-religious bias among the Jewish groups, and anti-Israel and anti-Judaism beliefs in the interfaith groups, where you can make important contributions.

Orthodox Rav David Rosen, formerly Chief Rabbi of Ireland, heads Bnai Brit (5 Keren Hayasod St., tel. 6251743, e-mail:; www:; this Jewish group, active in both intrafaith and interfaith activities, includes the ADL. Similar Jewish organizations are the American Jewish Committee, headed by Yossi Alfer (Mesilat Yesharim 11, tel. 625-5281,, which fights for Israeli religious pluralism and cosponsers interfaith events, and The American and World Jewish Congress organizations, which defend Jewish interests around the world and also sponsor intrafaith and interfaith activities (Jabotinsky 21, 5635261, e-mail:; web: Orthodox Root & Branch, headed by Arye Gallin, holds lectures at the Israel Center and publishes newsletters on Jewish and interfaith matters, stressing the Noachide movement (Tel: 972-2-673-9013; Fax: 972-2-673-9012; E-mail: Web Site: The (non-denominational) Shalom Hartman Institute (Gedalyahu 12, tel. 567-532O), directed by ordained Orthodox Rav Dovid Hartman, is active in both interfaith and intrafaith studies and comparative theology, on an academic level; it hosts an annual summer intrafaith rabbinic seminar and has occasional public seminars. Reform and refined academic HUC, Hebrew Union College (Dovid Hamelech 13, 62O-3333), now trying to become a non-halachic (= non-authentic?) spiritual center, has an excellent and friendly library and hosts many interfaith events.



Moshe's work is done. He's charged his folk, bid them farewell, and installed his successor-- all on this last day of his life (Rashi). Unfettered, his soul so close to God, he now delivers his epic poetic swan song, Haazinu. Moshe foresees a day when Israel will redeem mankind and restore the universe to its ideal state-- but he doesn't ignore the many pitfalls on the so long way. He expands Yaakov's visions, warnings, and blessings of his sons, applying them to each of the 12 tribes and to the nation of Israel. So Yaakov's dream of his Divine mission, to be the Israeli ladder connecting heaven and earth, is tempered by his second vision-- a battle to survive thruout the long night of history, struggling with those who fight Israel, God's agent for redemption. Only at far-off Messianic dawn will Esav's powerful spiritual descendants bend their knee and acknowledge that Yaakov and his folk are their sole source of God-connection, bringing blessing. Thousands of Christians come up to Jerusalem at Succot to identify with the Chosen People and the beginning of their gradual Biblical redemption-- but quite a few of them are missionaries, whose aim is to sever Jews from their commitment to Torah and the One invisible God, of Whom we may make no image, be it a Golden Calf or a 5'10" Jew, who died 2000 years ago. Isaiah 2 is clear-- they are to come here to learn from us and our Torah tradition, not to teach us and take us away from it.

In a last great consciousness raising effort, Moshe connects all generations of Jews with their past origins and future destiny; his poetic summary of the entire Torah, like the Torah itself, is called "song". It warns and reminds Israel of their mission throughout the ages. After he delivers the poem, God calls him to view Israel-- he's about to die, never to enter it. Perhaps one must first sing his soul's song and bless Israel's mission, before she can truly understand and appreciate the holy land.

DAYS OF DREADFUL JOY: We read Haazinu, Moshe's grand overview of God, Man, Torah, and the Universe, during the season of our own similar annual attempt, as we stand-- BEFORE GOD, AS HE COMES TO JUDGE THE EARTH... (Ps. 98:9). We're to feast with holiday joy on awesome Rosh Hashana, and even just before frightening Yom Kippur (cf. Ps. 98:4-8). Rav Shmuel Jakobovits asks: "How can we rejoice as we stand before God's judgement?"--

Rambam closes his Laws of Lulav: "That joy, rejoicing over doing a mitzva, in love of The Lord Who commanded it, is great Divine Service; he who holds back this rejoicing deserves punishment: `... because you didn't worship God your Lord with joy and a good heart'-- Deut. 28:47. One who's haughty and honors himself, guarding his honor in this situation-- is a sinner and fool! So Shlomo warned: `glorify yourself not, in the presence of The King'-- Prov. 28:10. Anyone who lowers himself and treats his bodily dignity lightly, on such occasions, is a truly great and honorable person, who serves (God) from love. So said David, King of Israel: `Would that I be even lighter (less "heavy") than this, and may I be humble in my own eyes'-- 2S6:22ff. To rejoice before God is the only true greatness and honor: `And King David danced and leaped before God...' (v. 16; M. T. 8:15).

So Carlebachian "happy minyanim" are springing up everywhere, e.g. Givat Shmuel and Har Nof; but Dr. Reuven ben Dov (651-8836, 642-6592 or 050-962085) prefers to call his new flourishing minyan simply a Reb Shlomo Minyan, stressing Shlomo's dvakus, cleaving to God, which is the end of everything, even of happiness. Minyanim have been held monthly the last 6 months in the Ezra shul, in the Mercaz Hapayis building of Har Nof-- friday nights on shabbat mvarchin, 10 min after candlelighting; thus the 200 attendees do not finish their service more than 1/2 hour after other minyanim, similar to Dr. Baruch Kaplan's "happy minyan" in Givet Shmuel. Many who would otherwise attend "Shlomo Minyanim" do not do so-- their families and guests would have to wait too long for their Shabbat meals, impairing their Oneg Shabbat.

Jakobovits applies this principle to the Days of Awe-- true, God's coming to judge me-- a cause of tension and apprehension; BUT the very fact that God's coming, making Himself more accessible to man, is cause for great universal joy! I forget my personal interest and honor, to join in. Rav David Aaron warns that religious stirrings, arising amidst personal difficulties, are likely to be distorted; get in touch with God while all's still well.

How can a Jewish mother scream, yell, and whine when her cake falls or her children fight just before shabbat? Forget it-- God's on His way! If Dad doesn't get his expected aliya on shabbat, so what! Just groove with God in your synagogue-- lively communal singing helps, e.g. the Yedidya Minyan. Sadness and anger reflect lack of connection to God, of awareness of His Imminent benevolent Presence (cf. the prayer: "Our Father, our King, we've sinned BEFORE YOU", and Deut. 29:9: "ALL OF YOU STAND THIS DAY BEFORE GOD...").

ABARBANEL divides Moshe's swan song into 6 parts, each with its own motif: 1) The first 5 verses, 32:1-5, are Lord Moshe's introduction to the poem. 2) The next 9 verses, 32:6-14, relate God's kind acts and benefits to Israel. 3) 4 verses, 32:15-18, then describe Israel's sins against Him. 4) 32:19-25 describes God's punishments when they'll sin, in 7 verses. 5) 8 verses, 32:26-33, reveal God's plan to destroy Israel, and why He did not do so. 6) The comforting of Israel and revenge upon their enemies is the subject of the last 10 verses of the song, 32:34-43. Shirat Haazinu was sung in the Temple, in 6 week cycles, during the Shabbat Musaf Service (better than a sermon?). Moshe taught this song thrice: 1) to those in his immediate vicinity, when he received and transcribed this prophetic message (31:22). 2) to the tribal elders and the police! (31:28f). 3) when he gathered all Israel to hear it (32:44). Some consider Moshe's song as the essence of the entire Torah, each verse of vast significance. We'll explore a few verses in this study, only a first glance, no matter how much I'm able to squeeze in.

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Rav Avraham Cohen (Sabbath Sermons-- Soncino) sees Moshe as a model Jewish leader-- he sacrifices his personal life for his people until his last moment, tho they rebel and lack appreciation. But at the brink of fulfilling his dream-- to see Israel safely settled in the Holy Land-- God retires him. His disappointment must have been intense, but no murmur of complaint passed his lips. One may even suppose he died happy-- he hadn't lived in vain; the work he commenced would be brought to fruition. Moshe's immortal greatness rests upon what he attempted, not what he achieved.

Only those who aim low accomplish all they desire. One man's unfinished work may be infinitely greater, more beneficial, than another's completed task. So David "failed" to carry out his heartfelt wish-- to erect the Temple; Elijah failed to reform Israel; Ezra and Nechemiah died when their life's work seemed to be falling to pieces; Judah Maccabee died with the foe in full strength, etc. The bigger the undertaking, the less likelihood we'll finish it, but the greater our credit in making the venture-- "It's not your duty to finish the work, but you're not free to ignore it" (Avot 2:21). All respect is due the early Zionists, who attempted the impossible-- to bring the Jews, their language and their land back to themselves after 1900 years. Without deep religious faith (tho subconscious or repressed), no sane person would devote his life to such a mad venture. So the late Lubavitcher Rebbe "played it big"-- he wasn't content to just learn, pray and teach Chabad hassidim, but was determined to bring Moshiach, to redeem Mankind and the universe; kol hachavod for the effort, which yielded so many fruits (plus some "fruitcakes"!)-- Rav Dovid Hartman.

An analogous BBB work (for bedroom, bathroom and bathtub reading), Providentially came my way as I was writing this-- Grace Lichtenstein's Machisma, Women and Daring portrays and extols those self-reliant, independent, risk-taking, and adventuresome women-folk who aim for the stars, who wish and strive to conquer every obstacle and limit to human power, to transcend life itself; however, like Moshe, tho they excel and overcome a lot, they reveal in the process, like these studies, infinitely more to know and conquer than they can ever know and conquer; like Moshe and everyone else, they too get sick and die, often at the peak of their grand effort of the moment; unlike Moshe, who seeks the loftiest goals, e.g. knowledge of, and union with, God, and bringing mankind and the world back to God's perfect world of Eden, many of these women pursue trivial, tho thrilling, conquests, e.g. sports competition, climbing high mountains and gliding, just to show their own stength, pride and power.

Lichtenstein analyzes genetic, psychological, cultural and feminist factors which make these women tick, trying so much harder to be masculine conquerors than feminine nurturers. "Amazon" may have come from "A-Mazo" (from amastos), meaning "without breast", as some tribes seared one breast of young women, while others bound one side to restrict its growth, in the interest of improved archery. It may be derived from "amazosas", "opposed to man"; "Amazons deny the man, destroy the male progeny, concede no separate existence to the active principle, reabsorb it and develop it themselves in androgynous fashion... to unite the 2 fundamental forms of life in paradisical harmony (Helen Diner)." While searching for the great Web bookstore, Amazon, I asked for rather than and got connected to a perverse lesbian site.

Cohen's concept reflects our poetic portion-- each Jew's a cog, a link, in God's slowly unfolding plan for humanity's return to Eden, via Israel; she carries the torch a bit further in its long journey from Avraham to King Messiah. Each generation can at most only hope for a glimpse of the end-- so Shabbat's a taste of the world to come, Sukkot of the Messianic Age, a Divine UN. "But if we end our life with our face turned towards the Land of Promise, as Moshe did, the sight which meets our gaze will be full reward for all our labor". Each of us reviews his life as we stand in review before God on Yom Kippur-- both as individuals and as members of society (Rav M. Miller); we must redirect our efforts, tho success is far off, maybe not in our lifetimes. So many of our forefathers never lost hope of our return, despite 1900 years of seeming failure. Many immigrants will never feel completely at home in Israeli society; but they hope and pray that their kids will, for unlimited generations, in an Israel truly reflecting our dream of almost 2000 years-- to be an inspired and inspiring holy people in our land of Zion and Jerusalem: "That your days AND THE DAYS OF YOUR PROGENY multiply on the land which God swore to give to your fathers, as days of heaven upon earth" (Deut. 11:21). Elsewhere, one's long term chances of having only Jewish descendants aren't so good-- Marx comes from Rashi, Rosa Luxemburg from Pnai Y'hoshua, etc.

So Zionism is a model for man's successful sacrificial realization of a seemingly impossible great dream-- the return of a people scattered thousands of years to its land, which lay desolate for thousands of years, waiting for them. No one knows how the present peace agreements will work out-- especially when we don't know the details; we can easily imagine plausible scenerios of both utopia and disaster. But even if it's utopia, we mourn having to deal with and honor a heartless murderer. Things would be much better in a truly religious Zionist state-- every cheap show on Israel TV, every vulgar disco, may cost us another kilometer of our land. Mafdal's David Bergman claims that there would have been no intifada had we treated our Arabs better. But we're assured that, at some point in the redemptive process, after God gives His people strength (to endure its harsh history, and to form the State and Tzahal), he'll also give them true blessing-- peace (Psalm 29:11). After the Messiah comes, the Temple's built (with everyone's agreement-- Ramban on Gen. 26:20), and the world returns to itself and God via Zion, God's to bring the "world to come", the eschatalogical age, including revival of the dead.

PHIL'S PHILOSOPHY or "MORE THAN A TIDBIT": I thought of Rabbi Cohen's words when I read Torah Tidbits on Nitzavim-Vayelech last year (#228; you can get some back issues at NCSY, 10 Straus, 5384-206,; complete sets are not yet available); Phil Chernofsky gave an A-1 all-encompassing exposition of a poignant, but mysterious, verse: "The secret things are for God, our Lord, and the revealed matters are for us AND FOR OUR CHILDREN (cf. Deut. 11:21) forever, to perform all the words of this Torah", most appropriate at this soul-searching stock-taking season.

Phil writes: "If someone is trying to understand one of life's difficult ?? -- How could the Holocaust happen? Why does a baby die? Why do bad things happen to good people?-- there must be a recognition that we might not be able to know everything. We can be smart, perceptive, insightful, and we will be able to figure out many things. But we might not. We do not always understand God. There are things that belong in the catagory of NISTAROT, hidden mysteries. This won't deter us from searching for answers. But it can comfort us if we are disappointed with the results... (see Job 38-9).

"In the realm of science and nature, we have another application of this verse. Look at what scientists know and what they don't. Go back 10 or 20 years, 50 or 100 years, and ask the same ??. And imagine what the answers might be 10 or 20 years into the future (YF: may we all be inscribed to hear them!). That which we know and understand in this world belongs to the NIGLOT, that revealed to us. There is a constant change in the dynamics of this verse, from this perspective. Yesterday's NISTOROT are today's revelations. That hidden from us today might be revealed somewhere down the line. As mysteries of this world become revealed `to us and our children', we are able to put this new knowledge to work for the betterment of mankind. But sometimes we have used new knowledge for destructive purposes. This is obviously negative, in violation of the end of the verse: `... to do all the things of this Torah' (YF: imagine a Jerusalem w/o internal combustion vehicles, a world w/o nuclear and biological weapons).

"And we must also keep in mind that what we think has been revealed to us might in fact be more mysterious than we ever previously thought. Now that we know more, we can see how truly amazing, wondrous, and mysterious some things actually are. There are many examples of scientific "facts" and `certainties' which needed to be reexamined in light of new discoveries. This often leads to the admission that `we really don't know anything at all about...' (YF: e.g. Prof. A. Twerski's response, at Nachat Ruach, to the failure of the haredi world to prevent alcohol and drug addiction among its youth). All of the above should be extremely humbling; and, perhaps, that is exactly the whole point!"

MY RESPONSE, or FORD EVALUATES CHEVROLET or LINCOLN EVALUATES CADILLAC: Tidbits is the only other Torah study sheet with a complete synopsis of the Parsha; it does it aliya-by-aliya, with statistics on the number of letters, words, verses, etc. in each parsha, things that we do not do. The only small thing lacking in Phil's great and inspiring article was the source of the verse-- Deut. 29:28; a great improvement in both Torah Tidbits and the Jerusalem Report's parsha articles would be to cite the exact verse, book and page for everything quoted, and present alternative sources; I try not to quote "the Rabbis", "our Sages", Chazal, the Talmud, "the Midrash" (there is no such thing), or "the kabala" (t.i.n.s.t); such vague references do not enable the reader to do further research; also there are usually other sources which disagree with the alleged idea or fact. "Some rabbis", "A rabbi", "a midrash" or "one school of kabala" is at least more correct. The Report can simply require exact citations of their various guest authors; but this very time-consuming task-- it often takes 15-30 minutes to find 1 source-- may be too much for one person, Phil, to do, besides running NCSY so well and writing his study (he does an all-nighter on Wednesdays); everything is a trade-off-- I put lots of extra time into this sheet-- finding sources, arranging a Hebrew translation, and putting out loose-leaf and spiral bound collections of our studies; but, as a result, directing the operation of our Jerusalem Jewish Information Center and other realms of my life and organization suffer.

I'd urge potential scholarly NCSY volunteers (i.e. those who don't want to come to the old city and volunteer for TOP!), e.g. retired RCA rabbis, to check out and insert the sources for Tidbits; other volunteers might translate it into Hebrew and Russian (we'd like someone to do ours in Russian), and make sets, just as other NCSY volunteers collate, fold and distribute TT (we could use some more of those too!). This was the last year (for now) of our widespread distribution of our parsha studies as such, in hard copy, due to problems of money, help and time; they are still available at our center and in books, disks, via e-mail; all are on the web. Our new 4 page general studies sheets, Let's Learn!, are 60% shorter and will feature a page on Prophets, one on Pirke Avot, a third on Jewish history, and a fourth on today's Jewish world; 4 issues have already been published and they will, God willing, appear both in hard copy and electronically; your feedback and aid are greatly appreciated.

Combining the TT article with Rav Cohen's, we might conclude that God, in 29:28, is already consoling Moshe, whose death is imminent, tho his task has just begun; He's telling him that revelation of God and His secrets, a major aim of Israel's mission, is a multi-generational task-- Moshe's children and students will indeed carry on his work, generation after generation, until its Messianic completion.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, DEATH (and tiredness, a mini-death) lurks behind every human dream and joy, even Moshe's. Freud concluded that a man is not a man until he has confronted death openly, in his heart and soul. We even stress in our daily prayers that God both kills and revives the dead; King Solomon assures us that we can achieve a state beyond death, enter eternity while still in this world, by absorption in Torah-- "it's a tree of life to those who cleave to it" (Prov. 3:18). But some inspired and/or unrealistic souls feel that we can end even physical death now, erase all limits on our physical condition, if we only make a grand slam effort (despite the failure of our far greater forebearers to do so); of course, in so doing, in reaching for the stars, we may miss the opportunity to make really tangible, tho limited, improvements in the human condition, physically, intellectually and spiritually. While Moshe does pursue his ultimate goals, unattainable in his lifetime (see Cohen above), he also deals with the day-to-day problems of food, water and warfare. Some. e.g. Phillip Berg, believe that kabbala is the route to eternity, attributing great power, antiquity and authority to it; but Kabbala is a field of widely differing schools-- some, e.g. Zohar and Ari, preach reincarnation and divide the One God into 10 Sferot, others, e.g. Sefer Hayitzira re gilgul, have no such teachings.

Others believe in a grand spiritual development of mind and science-- then man will solve even his ultimate problems. T. Kun (citing Berg) writes in his ti-kun, PROJECT MIND ($20 from TOP): "I could see that the impediment of physical matter, with its myriad impositions upon all aspects of our existence, weighs too heavily on our spirits for us to fly very high for very long. If we're to realize our full potential, we must tap a source of motivation and a wellspring of energy commensurate with forces that disperse, deflect and dilute us in our purpose... that convince us of the eternal inevitability of death... The solution to this predicament, I believe, lies in reconciliation and integration of science and religion (in the spiritual sense of seeking unity in man). Only in meeting the challenge that physical matter poses to our spirit will we generate forces equal to the struggle of liberating the full potential of that spirit. To wake up to our predicament is one thing; to find ourselves transformed is another.

"In marked contrast to the growth of our technical capacities, the quality of mankind's general acuity, presence of mind, moral and psychological vigor and general level of understanding gradually decline over the centuries. This happens according to little known laws of spiritual entropy, as the superficiality and mechanicality of a more and more materialistic and automated world take us in its grip. We become encrusted with indifference, and increasingly resigned to the inevitability of limitation and human suffering... the anesthetizing influence of matter in all its forms is just too strong. Only our highest faculty, Accelerated Thought, has the potency to pierce the veil of distraction blinding us to reality... Until now, the only massive mobilization of human resources, energies and intentions has been in the process of war... with the fragility of the planet's ecosystem staring us in the face, we're now becoming aware of just how mutually dependent we are. We must realize that the tyrant making fools of us all from time immemorial is the mortality-bestowing matter of our bodies... Man, thru his intelligence, was meant to evolve into an immortal species" (cf. Adam in Eden, The 3rd Wave by the Toefflers). Kun, before setting out his plan of action, quotes his father: "Never be deterred in the goals you seek by the extent of the means that are required... if you're true to your aim, the necessary means will appear at the proper moment (cf. the Jews jumping into the Red Sea BEFORE God split it, Moshe's Mission, and TOP's Projects).


Moshe now calls upon heaven and earth to witness his epic message to Israel; he begins:

GIVE EAR, HEAVEN, AND I'LL SPEAK AND LET EARTH HEAR THE WORDS OF MY MOUTH. MY LESSON WILL SHOWER LIKE RAIN. MY MAXIM WILL DRIP AS DEW, AS SHOWERS ON HERBS AND AS DROPLETS ON GRASS. WHEN I CALL HASHEM'S NAME, LET'S BRING MAJESTY TO GOD. THE ROCK, HIS WORK'S PERFECT, FOR ALL HIS WAYS ARE JUSTICE. A GOD OF STEADFASTNESS, W/O BLEMISH. HE'S JUST AND STRAIGHTFORWARD... Our reading is Deut. 32; 32, lamed (30) + bet (2), = lev, heart-- this poetic portion flows from Moshe's heart to Jewish hearts, eternalized by God; words from the heart enter other hearts (Moshe Ibn Ezra, Shirat Yisroel, 156; cf. Ber. 6b); so just reading about Rav Arye Levine (A Tzadik In Our Time) is to experience him. But non-Jewish printers, perhaps often mistaken, made our Bible's current chapter divisions!-- Ch. 32 is Jewish Masoretic Ch. 26 (26 = God's Name). Perhaps, as Jews would in fact use the non-Jewish division, God implanted messages in it anyway. But Rav S. Z. Kahana doesn't believe that Jews would have adopted non-Jewish Bible division; he assumes that Jewish experts were consulted, who had such alternative chapter divisions within Jewish tradition itself.

OHR HACHAYIM: "Heaven, far away, has to GIVE EAR (pay attention) to listen to Moshe; Earth, close by, must just LISTEN! THO THE TALMUD SAYS THE OPPOSITE, IT'S ONLY AUTHORITATIVE, claims Ohr Hachayim, IN THE FIXED FINITE REALM OF LAW (HALACHA); IN THE INFINITE REALM OF INTERPRETATION, MAN'S PERSONAL RESPONSE TO GOD'S WORD, CREATIVITY AND IMAGINATION CAN SOAR" (tho the Talmud may refer to Moshe's spirit, rather than his voice-- in that realm, he's closer to heaven than earth!); so Ibn Ezra feels free to disagree with Talmudic opinions as to Yitzchak's age at the Akada, if they don't claim to originate at Sinai. Ramban and Talmud criticize our revered ancestor Avraham's decisions; Kahati labels attempts of Tosefot Yom Tov, Mishna Lamelech and Tiferet Yisroel to explain Peah 6:3 "extremely far-fetched"! If Agada and Tanach, which spur creativity and sensitivity, are ignored in Jewish learning, its vitality and life are gone; but one so obsessed with his creativity that he doesn't study (and submit to) fixed halacha (Jewish Law) is cut off from the community, its past and objective reality. He becomes his own God and Torah.

Sifre: Heaven and earth, present in all generations, are enduring witnesses to this covenant. In Jewish Law, witnesses are the first to punish a criminal; thus natural disaster precedes foreign conquest, when Israel abandons Torah (Rashi). In 30:19, Moshe said that he'll make heaven and earth witnesses to his blessings and curses, contingent upon Israel's free choice of good and evil. Rashi there explains Sifre-- heaven and earth, by their precise automatic functioning, according to God's laws of Nature, w/o reward or punishment, WITNESS that man too must obey God's commands. Per Hirsch (The 19 Letters of Ben Uziel), man, contemplating the universe, sees everything functioning by laws, interfacing with the rest of Creation. But he's different-- he thinks and chooses, not being automatically programed. So he needs a guide, a factory authorized instruction manual, written by the Creator, to make his choices; if we had no unique Torah, we'd search for one. Man, even Aharon, must be constantly nagged, reminded of his duties-- unlike heaven and earth, which need no words of admonition (Ps. 19, per Lev. Raba 26:5; see our Emor study).

Ramban, following Kabala, relates "heaven and earth" here to the first IDEAL heaven and earth, mentioned BEFORE the detailed Creation Story-- IN THE BEGINNING, GOD CREATED HEAVEN AND EARTH (GEN. 1:1). Israel can transform our present heaven and earth into their potential higher reality by its conduct. Baal Haturim states that "heaven and earth" refer, IN THEIR SIMPLE MEANING (!), to high-falutin city dwellers and down-to-earth country bumpkins! Moshe and every great communal teacher after him share God's unique ability-- to simultaneously teach simple and sophisticated folks-- both face the same moral challenges. What appears as a charming Aggadic tale to Jewish Archie Bunkers is a metaphor for sophisticated concepts to scholars. Some apply the "trickle down" theory, used by Teddy Roosevelt to justify free capitalism-- if the leaders, "heaven", are swayed by Moshe's command, "the earth", plain folks, follow suit. The anti-establishment Besht claimed that some country bumpkins were far greater saints than some sophisticated urban gaonim.

Dvarim Rabba, CH. 10, stresses the need for both heaven AND earth-- per R. Tanchuma, God will redeem Israel only thru both (as religious Zionism, building Israel via the Torah, rather than just building Israel or just studying Torah); Torah was only given thru both (cf. Avot 2:2-- BEAUTIFUL IS STUDY OF TORAH WITH THE WAY OF THE EARTH... AND ANY TORAH UNACCOMPANIED BY WORK WILL IN THE END COME TO NOTHING AND CAUSE SIN). The 20th century's 2 great UNIVERSAL Torah leaders, Rav J. Soloveichik and the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Ztz"l, both had higher secular training and knowledge; other great, but insular, scholars only led the yeshiva world and Orthodoxy. Israel's compared to both stars of heaven and dust of earth, implying that it needs both-- indeed we recite daily: THAT YOUR DAYS AND YOUR DESCENDANTS' DAYS BE GREAT ON THE LAND WHICH GOD PROMISED YOUR FATHERS-- AS DAYS OF HEAVEN UPON EARTH (Deut. 11:21). Moshe tells heaven and earth what to do-- great saints possess Godlike powers, yet remain mortal beings, bound by God's Torah. When attempts to crown Habad's Rebbe Meshiach fizzed out, some followers tried to make him at least P.M. of Israel! Moshe brings man up to Heaven and God down to earth; he silences heaven and earth, as they interrupt their praise of God to hear His Torah-- a reward for his earlier role-- listening to the words of Torah (a great teacher must first be a great student).

The ear, hearing God's word, sustains the whole body-- INCLINE YOUR EAR AND COME TO ME; HEAR, AND YOUR SOUL SHALL LIVE (Is. 55:3). R. Eliezer b. Azariah (Hag. 3a, Jer. Sot. 3:3) expounds Deut. 31:11-12: ....READ THIS TORAH BEFORE ALL ISRAEL, IN THEIR EARS... MEN, WOMEN AND CHILDREN... THAT THEY HEAR (first) AND (then) LEARN...-- men come to learn, women to hear (if so, why does "hear" precede "learn"?-- Ramban says that both men and women both "learn" and "hear"). Perhaps most males are to master abstract principles and technical details of Torah Law, "LEARNING"; most intuitive females may better "HEAR" its inner soul messages. Ben Azzai disagrees-- he urges one to teach his daughter abstract theoretical Talmud too, so she'll learn that her merits can suspend negative results of her test for adultery, and not think that the test doesn't work!-- see Tos. Sota 21b (cf. women's yeshivot, e.g. Nishmat and Matan)-- but, per R. Eliezer, to hear is only to learn the letter of the Law, to observe it properly (cf. Bet Yaakov, where women learn their talmud thru Rashi on the Chumash). Define "hear" in: "Hear Israel, God is our Lord, God's One" (Deut 6:4), "You speak to us and we'll hear" (Ex. 20:16) and "All that God's spoken, we'll do and hear" (Ex. 24:7).

Tho Torah also cures earaches, we violate Shabat to medicate a dangerous earache! The ideal's not always achievable at the moment, and it's sinful to ignore reality. Moshe, at home in both worlds, had to invite both heaven and earth to witness his epic summary; he also wasn't sure to which he was going after death and wanted to be on good terms with both! (Rav Chanina, Deut. Raba 10:4, per Ecc. 3:21; cf. Rav Yochanan b. Zakai, crying as he lay dying, afraid that he might wind up in hell-- Ber. 28b; see our Rosh Hashana study). Thru heaven and earth, their witnesses, Israel sinned in idolizing heaven (Jer. 7:18) and building idolatrous altars on earth (Hosea 12:12); thru them they were first punished (Jer. 4:23) and thru them they'll be comforted: FOR AS THE NEW HEAVENS AND THE NEW EARTH WHICH I'LL MAKE SHALL REMAIN BEFORE ME, SAYS THE LORD, SO SHALL YOUR SEED AND YOUR NAME REMAIN (Is. 66:22-- natural productivity shall be greatly increased, thereby bringing blessing; cf. Agreco). Per Sifre, a new heaven and earth will be created to spare Jews embarrassment-- the old ones witnessed their sins!-- cf. shocking M. T. Isurei Biah 12:10, not accepted Jewish law; see Avot 3:18.

Rav Shmuel Bornstein quotes Sifre: R. MEIR OFTEN SAID-- "WHEN ISRAEL WERE WORTHY, THEY TESTIFIED ABOUT THEMSELVES... THEY DETERIORATED... (then) THE TRIBES OF YEHUDAH AND BENJAMIN TESTIFED AGAINST THEM... THEY TOO DETERIORATED... THE PROPHETS TESTIFIED AGAINST THEM"... and so forth, until "THE ANT TESTIFIES AGAINST THEM". Bornstein cites Ecc. 8-- A MAN'S WISDOM MAKES HIS FACE RADIATE. Adam was far brighter than the sun, radiating divinity itself; after his sin, he retained enough translucence for it to shine thru-- any sin was visible in his change of countenance (cf. Moshe's rays of light). Gradually, the light in Adam was covered by insensitivity; it reappeared, but only in Israel; when they too were tainted, 2 tribes remained radiant enough to bear witness to wrongdoing in their very appearance; gradually they too were obscured, and only the prophets were left; they too lost their light, influenced by their flock; Moshe, foreseeing this, set heaven and earth as witnesses-- they would act in harmony with man, as their proper nature dictates, only in proportion to Israel's realization of its higher human nature. When even this indicator failed, all Solomon could do was to urge the Jews to learn from the lowest animal form, the ant, who now surpassed man!

BE A MAN! This is similar to Rav J. Soloveichik's interpretation of the awesome appearance of the high priest after the Yom Kippur sacrifices: THE APPEARANCE OF HIS FACE WAS LIKE THE BRILLIANCE OF A SUNRISE... AS THE BRIGHT STAR SHINING IN THE EAST... AS A ROSE GARDEN BETWEEN THE THORNS...-- only he looked like a person really should look! In seeing him, Jews were in awe; they realized what they could be. Humans appeared less Divine, more monkey-like (devolution--devilution), as man abandoned intimate contact with God, substituting the impersonal Lord of Nature (Gen. Raba 23, Eruv. 18a-- cf. academic theology, a substitute for intense religious experience). ON THE HOLIEST DAY OF THE YEAR IN THE HOLIEST PLACE IN THE WORLD, THE HOLIEST MAN BRIEFLY REGAINED HIS NORMAL DIVINE IMAGE-- when the Jews saw true human potential, they were "shame-struck" at their wasted lives; Abraham's pupils are always "ashamed" of their unrealized potential, whereas Bilaam's are proud of the bit they've done (see Avot 5:19, Yevamot 79a, Jer. San. 6:7; in Numbers Raba 8:4, Israel's mercy, kindness and shame are called gifts of God).

Moshe now compares Torah to 4 types of dew and rains, varying in nature and intensity according to the needs of varied vegetation (so varied personality types and circumstances need different stresses in Torah, e.g. learning and prayer, halacha and agada, Bible and Talmud). The 4 sons reflect this message-- man resembles trees; some need strong, even harsh, words, raging storms; others need patience and dew-like gentleness. As dew and rain give life to the world, so does Torah (Sifre). As rain and dew, Torah's effect isn't seen instantly, but in the fruit and flowers which come much later (compare children raised in holy Torah environments with those raised in cheap TV environments). Isaiah 55:10-11, read on fast days, stresses that rain and snow, without which nothing can grow, penetrate hard rock-like ground, not giving up until their mission's done. So God's Word (including our own holy words to others), despite stubborn human resistance, "won't return empty to Me unless it has done what I wish and succeeded in its mission", bringing life to a redeemed world; when nature and man will be reconciled-- then "the mountains and hills will joyfully break out before you" (M. Hirsch).

Moshe continues: WHEN I PROCLAIM THE NAME OF GOD (of infinity), ASCRIBE GREATNESS TO OUR LORD (of Nature-- 32:3; so most of us have a stronger and more profound prayer experience when we're so stimulated by our prayer leaders and fellow-congregants, especially on the high holidays). Thus we read on Yom Kippur how the people and priests fell upon their faces and proclaimed: "BLESSED IS THE NAME OF HIS GLORIOUS KINGDOM FOREVER", when they heard the high priest pronounce God's name (Yoma 37a). Even now, when we don't pronounce it in its true form, we can sense God's name or identity by studying Torah; from this verse, we also learn to make a blessing before learning Torah (Ber. 21a, R. Yehudah; hear Rav J. Soloveichik's Yiddish exposition of this theme, in our audio library). Perhaps Moshe tells heaven and earth that his proclamation of the infinite Name of God will make them rectify Nature's imperfections, bring out its original, still latent, perfectibility. So Jews proclaim after Yom Kippur 7 times-- GOD, HE IS THE LORD! Lurking behind the seemingly dispassionate impersonal Lord of the pluralistic realms and laws of nature (elokim, the Lord, = 86 = hateva, nature) is infinite God (hashem = 26 = Love, ahava-- 13 + One, echad-- 13) of mercy and love, Who's One.

Moshe first proclaims that God, the only Creator, is perfect in all His works and absolutely just-- otherwise, there is no basis for belief in a rational and moral world; but Judaism asserts that people SHOULD think and question (tho not mock and deliberately debunk, like many university Bible scholars), even regarding God's own goodness and justice-- from Avraham's questions about The Creation, which led him to God, and Moshe's curiosity about his Jewish origins, to both of them questioning God's justice, from the skeptical Talmud to the Four Sons' ??; our problem today is that religion is identified with Tshuva, The Answer, rather than the ever-seeking ? (Rav M. Gafni-- but see Phil's Philosophy above). So Moshe himself now raises the obvious ? of theodicy, a ? which should occur to every thinking person-- if God is both all-powerful and all-good, where does all that is obviously rotten in Denmark and the rest of the world come from? As we inoculate with a bit of a disease, so we must teach the ?? and answers of (our own inner?) heretics (Avot 2:19) too, if we truly believe that God and Torah can take it. One only finds God if he searches for Him with all his heart, tho he lives a completely pious life (Rav J. Soloveichik on Deut. 4:29f, cf. Lev. 26:38f, Deut. 31f).

Moshe's ? & answer, a primary Torah source in dealing with theodicy, as I read it, per Onkelos and Rashi, is: "Is destruction His? No!-- it is His kids', their blemish, a perverse and crooked generation. Will you attribute this to God, a people who are corrupt, and not wise (wholesome morality, awesome God-awareness, is the basis or beginning of wisdom)? Behold, He is your Father, your Owner; He made you (fetal formation?) and set you up (fetal development?-- 32:5-6)"; Moshe goes on to encourage the study of Jewish history, as a means to grasp the Divine Providence guiding Israel and its special mission. Thus he teaches us that all destruction in this world, whose existence he doesn't deny , comes from the lack of human beings' free will response as "good children" to God, their Father and Maker, who created a world supplying every human need. While he addresses himself to the origin of evil, he doesn't take up here the question of why God doesn't always intervene to save the victims of evil, tho caused by other humans or by natural forces, corrupted by other humans. Job (some say that it too was authored by Moshe) is another prime textual source on theodicy. God seemingly agrees that Job's woes are not of his own making, but He also proclaims that Job can't understand how God's world works, including the effects of evil folks (Job 38-39). Even Moshe never gets to see God's "face", to predict His ways; but we can, tho only sometimes, like Moshe, see God's "back", understand somewhat what happens to us in retrospect.

Modern man too, perhaps more than ever, must delve into theodicy and Divine Providence, tho God's existence, Deism, is more and more a matter of common sense today-- we confront a holistic world, founded upon broad abstract laws of science, leading to beautifully intricate interrelated tiny details of reality. When an observant believing (Orthodox) Jew explores theodicy, he's likely to have a more balanced approach than others, in that his consciousness of God's constant good is constantly being raised by reciting blessings, thanking God for each Nestle's bar and each time he's able to use the lavoratory, the culmination of the miraculous process of digestion; he also draws upon a great resource, the tradition of his ancestors-- they too suffered their own personal and communal Shoas, e.g. the Crusades in the name of the faith of the alleged "Prince of Peace" ("Judge them by their works"); yet they retained their faith in eventual Messianic perfection, tho long after their lifetimes, a grand conclusion toward which all history, tho so often inexplicably, leads-- many Hassidim marched with joy into the gas chambers-- could academic professors of Bible do so?

But, while Job indeed had an even better life after his suffering, and the State of Israel emerged from the Shoa, was it worth it? Is something really bad really good, just because it eventually brings great good? So two leading modern Orthodox rabbis who explored the holocaust, Eliezer Berkovitz and David Hartman, concluded (the former explicitly so, the latter implicitly, per Edward Feld), perhaps as did Moshe, that God, The Creator's power is beyond ?, but that He sometimes, unlike His intervention at Exodus, hands over the realm of history to humanity, whatever the consequence. Any Divine Intervention will then only occur much later or in the next world.

I relish those top-flight scholars, who ask all the natural, but difficult, ?? on Judaism, yet remain faithful to God and true Jewish (Orthodox) tradition. Just as I was writing this study, with God's help, I discovered David Birnbaum's God and Evil-- A Jewish Perspective, written by a Yeshiva scholar who is also academic, whose work is praised by great leaders of both worlds, e.g. Rav Dr. Norman Lamm and Prof. Joseph Dan, Rav Nachum Rabinovitch and Prof. Paul Mendes-Flohr. Anchored both biblically and philosophically, Birnbaum's proposed solution to the ancient problem of evil is perhaps the most elegant to appear in modern times, according to Ktav, his publisher. He proposes that 2 paths lie before humankind: first the path of dependence on God, which, while leading to ultimate bliss, is humanly unsatisfying and unfulfilling. And the second path, that of maximum potential, in which the individual achieves fuller freedom and responsibility, a path frought with peril, altho ultimately more fulfilling. The Divine, Whose very core is "Holy Potential" in Birnbaum's thesis, is not uncaring; rather, thru an exercise of Divine contraction, He allows Mankind to continue along the second path, so that ultimately man may emerge with greater spiritual maturity and, together with the Divine, attain the fullest possible potentiality.

My immediate reaction, without having read the book yet, is that I'd gladly waive millions of other people's highest potential to save one little baby, tortured and killed by the German scientific butchers of evil; so Moshe refused to be consoled by God's redemption, per some Midrashim, mourning the many Jewish babies already immured in Egyptian mortar. If I find something more compelling, I'll try to present it in a future study.

But secular or non-truly-traditional Jewish explorations of theodicy, unlike those of our ancestors, tend to conclude by giving up faith in our traditional beliefs in a God of infinite love and power, and in messianic this-world redemption; they yield to both the emotional pressure of our contemporary woes and the academic desire to show that they understand everything and are capable of guiding themselves, without Divine Directives. Some people are so open-minded that their brains fall out-- Lionel Trilling. Some examples may be Leonard Bernstein's Candide, Elie Weisel's Cantata, Ani Maamin, and David Blumenthal's Facing the Abusing God-- A Theology of Protest; Blumenthal claims that no matter how much life hurts, we have no choice but to relate to God, tho He appears abusive, just as the child of an abusive parent has no other parent; but, as a Conservative Rabbi, who denies the Divine Dictation of the Torah and its tradition, he simply follows his eyes and his heart, as they encounter terrible suffering, and rejects Moshe's testimony that God is both all-powerful and all-good, despite our cruel world.

Former Shalom Hartman Institute fellow, Rav Edward Feld, a Conservative Rabbi and a pupil of Orthodox Rav Norman Frimer, z"l, deals with Crisis and Response in Jewish Life in The Spirit of Renewal. He concludes that the Holocaust causes us to revise our religious beliefs, to adopt a conception of God who does not exercise power in history (but what about Exodus, '48 and '67?), and to reject a religious life that sees its primary drama as occurring in this world. He too tends to deny basic beliefs such as the world to come and the coming of the Messiah; in order to find some meaning, nevertheless, in this life upon earth, he stresses the God in Man, the Divine human soul, which is able to assert spiritual power and love in even the worst environment, tho it may not be able to change that environment in the slightest. Compare his views with those of Mea Shearim.

Feld quotes Eli Weisel, from Legends of Our Time (p. 36): "Suffering, true suffering, eludes memory and words. Suffering, true suffering, is watching death-- dark cunning death-- drawing close to children too weak to cry. Children you love. Your own. With a piece of bread, a spoonful of soup, a bit of warmth, you could chase it away, but your hands are empty, you have nothing left to offer. And you want to howl, to shout at the top of your lungs, to tear out your hair and your eyes. But you do nothing. You don't even feel guilty. Just sad. Terribly sad. And stupidly useless. You feel idle and empty-- empty of faith. Forlorn. Abandoned even by imagination. A dull, heavy animal. Deaf and blind. And alone. Terribly alone".

Rashi applies Moshe's affirmation of God's goodness especially to the Jews, who are given all they need for their Divine mission-- priests, prophets & kings. In forgetting God, they display ingratitude for all God's done for them in the past (they're thus called "naval"-- Ramban; cf. Avigayil's worse 1/2, Naval, who scorns Dovid, whose followers had helped his shepherds); they also show stupidity, when they "forget" that their future is in His hands, whether they like it or not.

Only due to future Israel, did God establish 70 nations after Babel, corresponding to the 70 Jews going into Egypt, descendants of Shem. Israel's prophets and scholars have so taught them. Yaakov and his descendants are God's unique portion in this world, THE ROPE OF HIS INHERITANCE (32:9), i.e. a "rope" of 3 strands-- the patriarchs-- which can't be torn (Rashi; Ecc. 4:12). The Tanya compares this rope to Yaakov's ladder, connecting heaven and earth (Igeret Hatshuvah 5,6): "The analogy is a cord with one end high up and the other down below. When one end's pulled, the other also moves and follows it-- at least to the extent that it can be pulled".

"HE FOUND HIM IN A DESERT..." (32:10). Moshe recounts how the Jews followed God into the wilderness, when others refused His Torah (Rashi; cf. Jer. 2:2-- "I remembered for you the kindness of your youth... going after Me into the wilderness"; cf. enthusiastic returnees to Judaism and their later difficulties). Ramban rejects this pleasant interpretation-- the song contrasts the Jews' BAD conduct with God's kindness. But Rav J. Soloveichik says (re `confession of tithes'-- see our Ki Tavo study) that one must also remember his good deeds in reproof or confession; then he can retain a positive self-image and confidence that he can do good. God Alone protected the Jews, with sensitivity and gentleness, as a Griffin Vulture (Feliks, The Animal World of the Bible, Sinai) handles its young (Rashi). Have you ever met one?

God's gifts of exceptional prosperity LED to rebellion against Him, idolatry, and corruption (the past tense used in this prophecy suggests that it will surely happen, or that the seeds of future corruption have already been sown). Israel worshipped silly non-entities with no power; God "went along with them" and hid His face, so they'd be destroyed by a people (Chaldeans), who themselves are a non-entity (cf. Palestinians); this is followed by all sorts of horrors, e.g. demonic Catholic Crusades and the Lutherian Holocaust; the Jews would be destroyed, but their enemies are worse, attributing their success to themselves, not God. God will return to His people, when they finally realize that His presence (not Albright's, not even Clinton's) is their only salvation (vs. the wandering Jew taunt of the mountain of Esau). "With regard to the wicked... such individuals are empty and desolate... I WILL HIDE MY FACE FROM THEM (meaning that they lack luster, won't radiate normal human Divinity?-- cf. jaded teeny-boppers; Tikuney Zohar 26-71b)".

Then God will devastate the enemies of the Jews and comfort His Land, Israel, by bringing back His People, Israel. Their close connection to Him is their link with each other-- both people and land remain desolate 1900 years, until God brings them together once more, to finally create a model priestly nation. Moshe finished the song, warning the Jews that Torah observance was the key to their remaining in an unprofaned Israel. The Torah can't be treated casually; all of it bears meaning. THIS EPIC SONG IS A CLEAR PROMISE OF THE FUTURE REDEMPTION (Ramban). Moshe, about to be retired and die for his "sin", may only view Israel. The Zohar, written down in 1278, (see Zohar Vayalech 284) says that Moshe's retirement is to make room for Yeshoshua; so the sun sets that the moon can shine with its reflected light; this implies that Moshe's sins, per se, weren't so terrible as to bar him from Israel; only his "burnout", his demonstrated unfitness for future leadership, necessitates his immediate retirement-death (see our Vayelach study-- D).


Yehoshua of Siknin teaches that the heavens have structures, similar to ours mouths, hearts, and ears. His proof texts are Ps. 19:2-- THE HEAVENS DECLARE THE GLORY OF GOD, and Deut. 4:11-- AND THE MOUNTAIN BURNED WITH FIRE UNTO THE HEART OF HEAVEN (Mid. Raba Deut. 10:4). Maimonides, as the Greeks, attributes superhuman intelligence, soul, and life to astral bodies (Yesode Hatorah 10:9, as Shabbat's AM prayer "E-l Adon"). But 19th Century Rav David Luria interprets this Midrash as metaphor-- winds, emerging from heaven, are AS human speech; they proclaim the glory and power of God; there's a place from which the heavens are stretched forth, live and exist, via God's word, SIMILAR TO the function of the human heart, origin and life-giver to the body; the heavens respond to moral "vibrations" emitted by human conduct, giving or withholding dew and rain, as ears respond to sound vibration-- similar structures & gestalts comprise both the microcosm of the human body (perhaps an image of the Lord of nature) and the macrocosm of the universe (THE LIGHT BEYOND, Kaplan, 1:31); so Israel is called the heart of the nations (Kuzari II). R. Yehoshua also predicted that Jerusalem would be expanded many times; either 3X its ancient area, w/30 story buildings, or 30X, w/triple deckers (cf. today; B.B. 75b, Ezek. 41:6).

E. THE HAFTARA is 2 SAMUEL 22:1-51

This Haftara is David's joyous epic song to God, when he finally survived persecution by all his enemies, especially Saul; like Moshe's Song, it stresses trust in Providence, loyalty to God, and gratitude for His infinite mercies (Hertz, who notes that this song, where David ascribes God's kindness to his own righteousness, must have been written before his great sin). THEREFORE, I'LL GIVE THANKS TO YOU, GOD, AMONG THE NATIONS (Christians read Psalms too! They might dampen Islamic warlike ardor) AND SING TO YOUR NAME; A TOWER OF SALVATION IS HE TO HIS KING AND HE RENDERS KINDNESS TO HIS ANOINTED-- TO DAVID AND HIS SEED FOREVER!

When Haazinu is read on Shabbat Shuvah, between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, we read Haftorat Vayalech, Hoshea 14:2-10-- see our study of Nitzavim-Vayalech.


Q. Why did Moshe write Haazinu in poetry? A. Did he write it?-- God did. Q. But we read: "Heavens, listen and I will speak"-- 1st person-- isn't Moshe speaking? A. Look at 31:19-22-- God said to Moshe: "Now, write this song down for yourselves and teach it to the children of Israel; familiarize them with it, so this song shall be My witness to the children of Israel... When many and troubling evils befall them, this song will answer as a witness before them... And Moshe wrote down this song that day". "This song" refers to the song of Haazinu, as is evident at the end of the chapter (31:30). God dictated it. He said, as it were: "Moshe! Write down: `Heavens, listen and I'll speak'" and Moshe wrote "Heavens, listen and I'll speak".

Yes, Moshe's taught to say, in his own name, that which he actually heard from God. We discussed this in Vayelech-- sometimes people listen to their rabbi quicker than to Torah or God! (YF: per Abarbanel, the words of Deuteronomy originate with Moshe and God grants His imprimatur, to include them in the Torah; cf. Bilaam). So we analyze every jot and tittle of the Torah-- its slightest nuance can determine how to perform a commandment. God's the author of the Torah, and, within the limits of language, every inference is intentional-- God doesn't accidentally imply something. This is understandable, if a commandment begins: "God spoke to Moshe, saying...". But there are many seemingly formulated by Moshe, especially in Dvarim. Should his language be as authoritative as God's?

The words may indeed have been God's. That certain commandments were spoken by Moshe doesn't mean that the language was his own. We learn this from the song of Haazinu. Why was Haazinu composed as a song, a poem? We read, "This song will answer as a witness before them, for it won't be forgotten by their descendants" (31:21). The meaning, I think, is even if Israel ignores the rest of the Torah, they'll always value a superior poem. Haazinu won't be forgotten; the Torah acknowledges here the power of aesthetics. YF: so Israel's academics often study the Torah, tho only as our literature; my alternative explanation: this poem embodies the messianic dream of a better world, which always moves the Jew, tho alienated from his faith; he'll eventually be disappointed by the failure or corruption of his dream in alien cultures; finally, he or his descendants will return to Torah and Israel as the only, howbeit slow and detailed, way of reaching Eden.

YH: Ideally, we harness aesthetics for service of God. In Shemot (15:2), "this is my God and I'll adorn him" implies that commandments should be performed attractively. The Temple was full of visual and auditory splendor. But aesthetics per se can become a dangerous value. Do synagogues resound to melodies which often violate the meaning and majesty of the prayers? I've heard "netaneh tokef" on Rosh Hashana sung to sweet, nostalgic airs, more suitable for the third meal of Sabbath. These tunes are the musical equivalent of singing: "who will live and who will die", tra la la (YF: cf. the cheerful ditty used for Shabat sacrifices in musaf; see our video on kibbutz Beit Hashita's "return" via their new tune for Netaneh Tokef). Or take the prayer for rain in the additional service of Shemini Atzeret. There is a lilting, soft melody in use today which ought to stick in the throat when sung to the last stanza: "Remember twelve tribes, which You passed thru the decree of water... The blood of their descendants has been spilled like water for Your sake". Some sing of Jewish blood spilled like water, yet notice only the music.

The answer is not to forgo singing, the legacy of thousands of years of prayer. But guard against form masking emptiness in a vocal equivalent of the golden calf; against aesthetics overshadowing devotion to God; against, in sum, the song of Haazinu being studied as literature, and the Torah being forgotten. (YF: The beauty of Yefes is to serve the truth of Shem, not v.v. Good chazanut, e.g. Shlomo Carlebach's (I'm listening to tapes of his Rosh Hashana services as I write this), enhances the effect of the words, rather than using them as an excuse for artistic performance)


"Remember the days of the world (or "days of eternity"), have insight into the years of a generation and a (following, ensuing) generation-- ask your father and he'll recite to you, your elders, and they'll tell you. When God gave nations inheritence, when he separated the sons of man-- he fixed the bounaries of peoples, according to the number of the children of Israel" (32:7-8). These verses suggest that relating to God includes studying Him in history, and that all that happens somehow relates to the world's ultimate destiny, linked to the Jewish people and the State of Israel (cf. the Butterfly Effect). While Rav Hirsch gives this seemingly obvious interpretation, medieval commentaries do not, possibly because the scientific study of history is a modern phenomenon, not developed in their times of limited manuscripts and resources.

Rav A. Y. Kook indeed included Jewish History in the curriculum for his new Central Yeshiva; it should draw on both classical and modern sources , but avoid the errors committed by "scholars who have not mastered the traditional sources" (see below; cf. theodicy books above). The Rav considered the current "materialism" as transient. The diminished attraction of the medieval classics, somewhat obsolete, based on philosophical foundations no longer relevant, called for a wider insight into Judaism's abundant treasures of Philosophy, Kabbala and Ethics, augumented by the "seminal lessons of historical research" (Igrot Ha'Ra'ayah 1, pp. 192-3). The Rav acclaimed the merits of Isaac HaLevy's Dorot Rishonim and Yavetz's Toledot Yisrael, without ignoring their shortcomings or the positive contributions of others (ibid 2, p.8-- from Ch. 9 of Zvi Yaron's The Philosophy of Rav Kook). Nigel Wallis continually bemoans ignorance of history among Yeshiva students, and its absence from their studies, even in relatively broad Hesder yeshivot; I was privileged to study it with stimulating Prof. Irving Agus at Yeshiva College, a vibrant creative intellectual who also enjoyed his sharp 1949 Cadillac..

EDWARD ZIPPERSTEIN, who blends Torah and worldly learning, describes Jewish Historians and Their View of Jewish History, in Essays in Jewish Thought. Given the long diaspora exile, one must know the history and culture of the host nations to know Jewish history (Beryl Weins criticizes pious Jewish historians who are ignorant of the non-Jewish settings of the jewels of Jewish history). Thus world history is a PART of Jewish history. Zipperstein examines the life, writings and views of 7 famous Jewish historians. Their analysis, interpretation and evaluation of events depends upon their background, religious conviction, philosophy, attitudes and the era in which they lived. Josephus is the only ancient post-Biblical Jewish comprehensive historian of renown, but is suspect by many Jews due to his surrender to Rome and his writing for them, tho he was a devout apologist for Judaism and the Jewish people. He saw the moral message in history, especially in God's treatment of Israel.

Azariah de' Rossi, the next major Jewish historian, appears only in the 16th century, an alleged descendant of Titus' captives, in Rome. He mastered both Jewish and non-Jewish studies, believed in the rotundity of the earth, and was a physician and poet, composing some liturgical poems. Rav Yosef Karo was inclined to ban and burn his major philosophical and historic work, Meor Enayim, but died prior to doing so (Divine intervention?). A Rabbinic decree forbade those under 25 from reading it! He questioned Philo's orthodoxy and considered the 1571 earthquake in Ferrara the work of God. His is the first attempt at critical history, using scientific methods of inquiry, rather than just relying on tales and legends-- a forerunner of 19th century scholarship. Tho a traditional pious Jew, he reconciled Judaism with science and philosophy, as did Rambam; he stressed Israel's eternal universal mission, its central role in humanity, and that its fate was determined by its faithfulness to God and Torah. He held that only the Hebrew language is created by God.

Yet De' Rossi considered the study of history a waste of time, of no practical benefit, for Jews, who have Torah to guide them, tho it's a good guide for non-Jews, to learn how to live in truth. He didn't value contemporary history, but thought ancient history might materialize understanding of the ancient sources of tradition. He admired Josephus, a fellow defender of Jewish tradition in a non-Jewish world.

Unfortunately, most of the 18th and 19th century Jewish historians who followed in De' Rossi's footsteps were either ignorant of, or antagonistic to, traditional Judaism. Zipperstein does not discuss HaLevy and Yavetz--

Isaac Marcus Jost, a pioneer in the field of scientific Jewish history and the father of modern historiography, was the first person to undertake the writing of Jewish history on a large scale. His setting, early 19th Century Germany, was a climate of revolt, reformation and restoration. He also established public educational and charitable institutions. His style was objective and unemotional, but his liberal Reform beliefs are prevelant thruout his work. As a pioneer, his works contain many errors and omissions. He lacked imagination and analytical penetration of the subject matter, to coordinate facts into a unity. He had no appreciation for Jewish nationalism or Jewish religious feeling, tho a theist, and was only concerned with universal "rational" ethical ideals. Also an apologist for Judaism, he stressed the Jewish contribution to humanity.

Leopold (Yom Tov Lipman) Zunz was Jost's friend and fellow student, the assimilationist founder of the modern alleged "science" of Judaism, who considered conversion. He received a broad Jewish and general education and, as Rav Yisroel Salanter, advocated the introduction of Jewish studies in German universities. With Heinrich Heine and others, he tried to bring Jews into the general culture. He was non-Orthodox and opposed traditional Jewish learning, but was equally suspicious of the new Reform establishment and ignorant Christian teachers of Judaism. The antiquarian, collector of notes, is essential to, and precedes, the historian, in Zunz's view. The Jewish external history of suffering led to their extensive creation of ideas and literary works, per Zunz; his Hegalian notion was that Judaism was a sublime religion overtaken by history, whose remaining task was to depart from the world with honor!

Moritz Steinschneider, the 3rd malevolent Muskateer in 19th Century Jewish historiography, was reared in a period of the German Jewish rationalists, followers of Mendelssohn, who deemed Jewish history a trivial pursuit. He rejected them and became both a great scholar, especially in historic bibliography, and a dropout from traditional Judaism.

Heinrich Graetz became the all-encompassing Jewish Historian of the late 19th century; he started out Orthodox, a learned and enthusiastic pupil of S. R. Hirsch, but left Hirsch to join the German conservative JTS. Due to bias, he ignored Eastern Europe, hassidism and kabbala; Simon Dubnow become their historian, as well as and an ardent advocate of Jewish nationalism. Salo Barron and others consolidated 18th-19th century Jewish historiography in his 20th century works.

The Orthodox camp was primarily concerned with preserving God's Torah and traditional Jewish life in a harsh and antagonistic modern world; but it has, especially after WWII, increasingly integrated these goals with all permissible realms of modernity, including science (e.g. Profs. Branover and Domb), the arts (e.g. Andre Heidu), Hebrew language and Jewish literature (e.g. Herman Wouk); Orthodox Jewish historians proliferate, e.g. the late academic Nat Kaganoff of the American Jewish Historical Society and Rabbi Beryl Wein, whose popular tapes, lectures and books attract thousands of modern Orthodox Jews and Yeshiva students into the study of Jewish history. He gives the Divine perspective and messianic overview so lacking in secular scholars. May this healthy merger of the Torah of Israel and the History of Israel, so vital for understanding both, continue; may we all experience God not only as the Lord of Israel and Nature, but also as the Lord of History-- the dream of Rav Kook.

I've recently read several works which try to capture the fate and experiences of Diaspora communities from WWI thru WWII, while cogent survivors are still alive. Their objective, sensitive and highly analytic insights show the great recent advances in Jewish historiography. I've recently expanded this article on the history page, Should Auld acquaintance Be Forgot?, of our new Let's Learn! general study sheets.

The last portion of Dvarim, V'zos Habracha, is read on Shmini Atzeret-Simchas Torah; it's included in our study sheet for that holiday. We recently did a new Purim study, on our web site, featuring an article by Dr. Susan Handelman on themes of women, kabala, and Purim. That study completes our new expanded series of parsha and holiday studies. It will be sent to our e-mail list, God willing, at Purim.

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