Parashat Ha’azinu, which consists almost entirely of the ”Song of Moses” - Shirat Ha’azinu in Hebrew - is the crescendo that has been building up in the Dvarim (Deuteronomy) account. It is a recitation that summarizes the Israelites’ history, projecting future situations, while at the same time continually revolving around a central pivot - YHVH as the Almighty and as the loving Father of His people. Shirat Ha’azinu (the Ha’azinu song or poem) was to bear testimony for future generations. Last week heaven and earth were also summoned as “witnesses”, as they are, indeed, here too: “Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth” (32:1, italics added). The imperative “ha’azinu” (“listen”) is a derivative of “ozen” – “ear”, and would therefore be best translated “give ear”. Psalm 80 also opens up with: “Give ear- ha’azina - O Shepherd of Israel, You who lead Joseph like a flock; You who dwell between the cherubim, shine forth!” Perhaps if we “give ear” to the Shepherd of Yisrael, He will also give ear to our cry.
The common Hebrew word for “scales” is “moz’na’yim” (e.g. Lev. 19:36). The ancients must have known that the ear is responsible for balance, thus connecting the two words which stem from the root a.z.n (alef, zayin, noon). With that said, the picture depicted before us is of heaven and earth acting as scales that are to weigh Israel in the balance. You will notice that many of the verses are made up of couplets, where the same point is stated once and then repeated with a slight variation. Perhaps this device highlights all the more the ‘weighing scales', as well as being a double witness. The first two verses of the poem serve as a good example of this poetic device, which is so typical of biblical poetry:
Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak;
And hear, O earth, the words of my mouth.
My speech shall drop down as the dew,
As the small rain on the tender plant,
These words find their confirmation in the following: "For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, And do not return there, But water the earth, And make it bring forth and bud, That it may give seed to the sower And bread to the eater, So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it (Isaiah 55:10-11).
YHVH’s love and care for Yisrael form the backdrop against which Yisrael’s past and future are respectively described and cast. According to the poem, the people’s relationship with and toward YHVH appears to be a primary cause of the events (past, present, and future) which befall them.
Verse 4 exclaims that YHVH is “the Rock whose work
is perfect”. The word used here for rock is “tzur”. This word is
repeated a number of times in the poem, and thus we read in verse
In verses 30 and 31 there are several more references to “tzur” ("How could one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, unless their Rock had sold them, and YHVH had surrendered them? For their rock is not like our Rock.."), while in verse 37 the “rock” is the one in whom “refuge is taken” ("He will say: 'Where are their gods, the rock in which they sought refuge?") “chasayu”, ch.s.h., chet, samech, hey – is to “take refuge”, being a more conventional usage of the rock metaphor. Because the idols of the peoples were often made of stone or carved into a rock, “tzur” is also used here in relation to the gods of the pagans (e.g., verse 31), contrasting the term with Yisrael’s Elohim, who is totally detached from the literal substance of the rock.
“I will make an end of them…” (back to verse 26) is couched here in a very unique term, which appears nowhere else in the Tanach (O.T.) - “af’ey’em”. Several possible interpretations of this term have been extrapolated. Most “have traced its meaning to the word pe’ah – “corner”, while others connect it with af (“anger”)”. Rashi breaks up the word into its three syllables and comes up with: “af ey hem”, which is a question that reads as follows: “In anger (“af” meaning YHVH’s anger), where are they?” Thus implying that YHVH’s anger has reduced them to non-existence.?Da’attMikra4offersyanother interpretation, with the same “pe’ah” – “corner, edge” in mind: “I will not leave of them as much as an edge”, or being picked up in the shemitta year by anyone who so wishes, and/or being scattered to the utmost ends (symbolized by the edges of the fields).
Another verse that requires some attention is verse 5 - which says: “They have corrupted themselves: they are not His sons; it is their blemish; they are a crooked and perverse generation”. And although the Hebrew is somewhat obscure, according to Da’at Mikra it should read, “His sons’ blemish is theirs” (literal translation), that is to say: “their perversion is of their own making. Hence it may then be said that they are “lo-banav”- “not-His-sons” (although there is yet another, alternate, though a similar, reading of this). This is also reminiscent of the name that will be given at a much later date to Ephraim - “not-My-people”0(“Lo-Ami”.oHos.1:9).R? In contradistinction, verse 6 names YHVH as “your father, the One who purchases you” – “kone’cha”. Quite often the term “koneh” (k.n.h, kof, noon, hey) – to “buy, or purchase” – is synonymous with redeeming, and lends the latter act its graphic meaning, as the role of the redeemer is primarily to pay for and buy that which is lost (such as freedom or property). In 1st Corinthians 6:20 and 7:23, Shaul (Paul) reminds the redeemed community: “You are bought with a price”. “Kone’cha”, with its similarity to “ken” (a “bird’s nest”), inspired Rashi to suggest that this is a reference to the nest that YHVH is making for Yisrael (see also verse 11). 
At this point, starting with verse 6 and through 14, the poem expounds very tenderly on the establishment of the Israelite nation, and on the care and love bestowed on it by its Maker. That Yisrael, even in its nascent state, had a major role in global affairs is made apparent from verse 8: “When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance; when He separated the sons of Adam, He set the bounds of the people according to the number of the sons of Israel” (italics added). When one takes into consideration the fact that the above separation took place after the Flood, and more particularly that YHVH scattered the people during the Tower of Ba’vel (Babel) era (see Gen. 10:25, 11:8), this statement becomes all the more significant and points to an even greater future for Yisrael.
A string of verbs, which follow one another in progressive intensity and describe YHVH’s involvement with Yisrael is introduced in verses 10 & 11. “He found him…He compassed him about … He cared for him…. Like an eagle that stirs up His nest… He hovers… He spreads his wings… He takes him… lifts him….” The “desert land”, the “waste” and the “howling wilderness” mentioned here (v. 10), bring to mind a lost entity wandering around, and thus these verbs appear as the solution and response to the people’s dire condition. These verbs are fraught with activity: “vay’vone’nehu” (root b.n.h, bet/vet, noon, hey), translated “cared”, in actual fact could relate to “bina” – “wisdom” and thus may read: “endowed him with wisdom”. Another possibility is that the above verb stems from “hitbonen”, which is to “look closely, watch”, or to “boneh”, “build, build up, or edify”. “Guarded him” is a translation of “yitz’renhu” and continues, “as the apple of His eye”. The latter is the pupil, “eeshon”, which literally is a “little man”. When one looks into someone else’s eye, one sees a miniature reflection of one’s self. “Hovers” is particularly interesting, as it is “ye’ra’chef”, of the root r.ch.f (resh, chet, pey/fey), which is found in B’resheet (Genesis) 1:2 in reference to the Spirit of Elohim. We recall the idea of being protected from above as well as being airborne in Parashat Va’era, in Shmot (Exodus) 6:7, 8 where we read YHVH’s promise: “And I will take you…. to the land concerning which I lifted up My hand…” (italics added). In Sh’mot (Exodus) 19:4 YHVH addressed Yisrael: “I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself”. Parashat Ha’azinu, therefore, echoes and captures promises of the past, transferring them to the Israelites’ present reality on the threshold of the Promised Land.
Next is the enumeration of the goodness and plenty that was conferred upon Yisrael, and with which she shall be blessed in the future ("He made him ride in the heights of the earth, that he might eat the produce of the fields; He made him draw honey from the rock, and oil from the flinty rock; curds from the cattle, and milk of the flock, with fat of lambs; and rams of the breed of Bashan, and goats, with the choicest wheat; and you drank wine, the blood of the grapes" vs. 13-14). Verse 15 witnesses a transition, and once again there is an inventory, if you will, of densely listed verbs. Unfortunately, not all of them can be translated into verb form in English: “Yeshurun grew fat… kicked… became fat… became thick… covered in layers… forsook Elohim his maker….” In Hebrew all these are in verb form and follow one another thusly: “va’yishman… va’yiv’at… shamanta, avita, kasita, va’yitosh… vay’na’bel”, almost in stampede fashion. Just as before, where YHVH’s intense activities around His people were depicted in verb form, action-laden, so too here - the Israelites’ intent on turning away from their Creator is described in a chain reaction of fast moves.
The excerpt of verses 28-35 presents a
controversy, which has been engaging the commentators for generations. Who is
the subject of verses 28-29 ("For they are a nation void of
counsel, nor is there any understanding in them. Oh, that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!")? Is it Yisrael, or is it the enemies? In verse 30 ("how
could one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight…"}, again, who is being chased, is it Yisrael, or the enemies?
Verse 36: “For YHVH will bring His people justice; and He shall have compassion
on His servants…” seems to indicate that the former section would have referred
to the enemy. However, according to verses 30 and 31 again, it would appear
that Yisrael is the subject of the section: “How shall one chase a thousand, and
two put ten thousand to flight unless their Rock had sold them and YHVH had
shut them up? For their rock is not as
our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges”. Who is it that YHVH is
“selling”? (Remember verse 6, where He was depicted as the Father and the
“buyer”?) Does He not sell that which belongs to Him? And in verse
“And Moses made an end of speaking all
these words to all
Once the recitation of the poem is over, Moshe is told by Elohim: "Go up this mountain of the Abarim, Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, across from Jericho; view the land of Canaan, which I give to the children of Israel as a possession" (Deuteronomy 32:49). "Abarim" – avarim in Hebrew pronunciation - is rooted in our familiar "over", to cross or pass over. Thus, although Moshe was not to cross over to the land of C'na'an, there is another crossing that awaits him… from this present world to the next…
Studies in Devarim, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman. Eliner Library,
Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed Books Inc.,
Da’at Mikra, A’ahron Mirski, Rav Kook Inst.,
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