The Song of Life
Parashat Ha’azinu is the song in which Moshe says goodbye to the people of Israel after having led them through the desert and is now approaching his death. This song describes the history of our people and their relationship with the Creator in a nutshell. Here Moshe speaks mostly about the future, without forgetting the present and the past. He warns the people, guides, and counsels them, in the moments before leaving his mission as the leader of the people. In this story Moshe takes a different course of action, in comparison with other portions of his farewell speech in Deuteronomy. Until now, Moshe taught or repeated the Commandments for the people, or rebuked them when they disobeyed while here in Parashat Ha’azinu, Moshe sings. This was not the first time that he sang. We remember the song at the miraculous parting of the Red Sea, where all the people sang for that Divine unprecedented action when He delivered them from the hands of Pharaoh. But here Moshe is singing alone. The generation that left Egypt had died and soon Moshe would follow. It seems a bit strange for him to be singing a song at such a time, yet that is what Moshe did. Here one step away from death, Moshe Rabenu accepted divine justice and rather than avoid this painful topic, Moshe addressed it, thus showing his acceptance of God’s will.
Ha’azinu means “listen.” Here’s what Moshe Rabenu asked the people of Israel to do: “listen to everything I have spoken with you these past forty years”. He begins his poetic story by comparing the eternal wisdom of the Torah with refreshing drops of life-giving water, wishing that the Words of the Torah would nourish our neshama (our soul) as the dew and the rain give life and sustenance to the crops in the field. In Rabbinic literature, the Torah is often described as water since it brings life to humanity. Moshe presents four different images where water descends from the sky: rain, drizzle, drops and dew. Each one has a different intensity but always with the ability to penetrate the earth at various levels. We know that without rain nothing can grow. The Torah in our lives is like the rain that gives us life and growth. From her we learn her values and follow her rules. It is a fundamental pillar to our personal development. The Words of the Torah are like the rain that does not seem to leave an impression upon the plants when it falls, and only later, when the sun rises out of the clouds, and shines upon the earth, can we appreciate the results of the rain. Such are the Words of the Torah. Although at the time we hear them, we cannot always detect their influence, nevertheless, in due course, their effect becomes evident.
In another part of his song, Moshe calls Heaven and Earth as his witnesses to exhort the people to: “Remember the days of old. Consider the years of many generations; ask your father and he will tell you; to your elders and they will tell you “, and he reminds them how God found them in “a desert land”, chose them for Himself, formed of them a people and bequeathed them a beautiful land. In this way, Moshe Rabenu affirms His words and that it is so true that he has two firm witnesses: Heaven and Earth. Witnesses who do not die but are always present.
In his song, Moshe continues to warn the people about the calamities that will occur when God “hides His face from them.” Verse 20 says: “He said (referring to the Eternal): I am going to hide My face from them, and I will have to see what their end will be; since they are a perverse generation, children in whom there is no faith”. What does God mean by this? How often during difficult moments do we ask ourselves, “Where is God?” This dilemma has been widely discussed. The “concealment” of God is mentioned in this verse, but what happens in man? Bereshit 3: 8 tells us what happened after the first human beings ate the forbidden fruit among the trees in the garden in the presence of Adonai. What happened? They made a “chet” (a sin in Hebrew), a mistake, and they hid from God. They heard the divine voice in the garden, and they hid. Perhaps the direct consequence of a transgression is the very “separation” from God; our behavior is what drives us away. When we turn toward evil, we are so convinced that our attitude is the right one that it is difficult for us to see and “to be close to God” at that moment.
Another example is that of Cain, which we read in Bereshit 4:14, when he learns of his punishment: “Behold, you have expelled me, this day, from the face of the earth. I will hide from your presence, and I will be a wanderer traveling the earth.” After the murder he committed, he can only hide from God. We could say that God did not turn away from Cain of His own free will, but that Cain was expelled from before Him. God is not a hidden God, but He hides. His hiding is a function, not His essence; it is an action, not a permanent state. Only when we abandon Him, breaking the covenant that God has made with us as His people, does God then hide His face, and the consequence of His concealment is that man hears, but does not understand, he sees but does not recognize.
This theme is well illustrated in the following Hasidic tale: a boy was playing hide and seek with a friend. He hid and waited for his friend to find him. A long time passed, but his friend did not find him. Finally, he left his hiding place, looked around, and saw that his friend was gone. Then, crying, he went to see his grandfather. “Why are you crying?” he asked. “I was hiding,” said the boy between sobs, “but no one came looking for me.” This is what sometimes happens with God. He hides and nobody looks for Him even though the will of God is to be here, close, and manifest.
During these difficult days, when our souls are more spiritually sensitive because we have just commemorated Yom Kippur, days during which we are more open to reflecting. It is time to examine our attitudes towards the Creator. How often do we blame God for the evils of society? Don’t we realize that it is man himself who causes ruin and destruction? How often do we believe that it is God who is hiding from us without realizing that we are the ones who are hiding and distancing ourselves from Him?
Perhaps from time-to-time God may hide, but it is so that we will seek Him and find Him. Jeremiah 29:13 says: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Even in moments of anguish and hopelessness, it is possible to find God because He is always within reach. In Psalm 27, we read: “In the day of affliction, He will shelter me in his Tabernacle, He will hide me in his dwelling-place, He will raise me up on a rock… Do not hide from me, O God, do not reject your servant with your anger; You have been my help, do not abandon me or forsake me, O God, my Savior…Have hope in God, be encouraged and your heart strengthened and trust in God”.
The parashah concludes with God’s instruction to Moshe to climb to the top of Mount Nevo, from where he only could see the Promised Land before dying there. “You will see the land in front of you; but you will not enter there, to the land that I give to the children of Israel”.
May the Eternal’s desire for us is that we be like Moshe in this…may we be able to sing even when things are not going our way and may we not forget what God has done in our lives. As He was with us in the past, as He is with us today so will He always be in order that we can recognize His greatness and His justice. God has given us a new opportunity this year. It is up to us to realize our past mistakes and to accept to follow His path.