Thoughts on Ha’azinu

In a Huffpost blog which appeared on March 9th, 2016, psychologist Dr. Carmen Harra wrote,

Never underestimate the impact a single decision can have: one wrong move can ruin a relationship, a career, a life, etc. We must choose wisely to generate joy in our lives. But when the road forks, confusion suddenly sets in. It’s normal to feel bewildered when different options present different pros and cons. As we advance down the path of life, sudden shifts require our attention and quick thinking: Should I give this person another chance? Should I take this job opportunity? Should I invest in a new home? And under the pressure of making the correct choice, all or none of our choices may even seem right. Where, then, do we turn for guidance?

In order to help us answer Dr. Harra’s closing question, “Where, then, do we turn for guidance?” Let’s take a look at the second to last reading in this year’s Torah reading cycle, Ha’azinu, Deuteronomy 32:1-52 (TLV). 

First, here is a bit of background. Ha’azinu is a poem, Shirat Ha’azinu, attributed to Moshe that details Hashem’s relational history with Israel, past, present and future. There is no question that there are segments of the poem that are direct from Hashem, however the beginning of the piece seems to find its impetus in Moshe’s closing words from last week’s parasha, 

…I know your rebellion and your stiff neck. Indeed, while I am still alive with you today, you have been rebellious against ADONAI—how much more then after my death? Gather to me all the elders of your tribes and your officials, so that I may speak these words in their ears and call heaven and earth to witness against them. For I know that after my death you will certainly act corruptly and turn aside from the way I have commanded you. So evil will fall upon you in the latter days, because you will do what is evil in the sight of ADONAI, provoking Him to anger by the work of your hands.

Deuteronomy 31:27-29

Much of the poem deals with Israel’s straying from the dictates of the Torah and the consequences of their disobedience; at times it would seem as if Hashem completely turned His back on His chosen ahm segula (treasured people), (cf. Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2; 26:18).

As the poem ends, Hashem assures Israel that they will not suffer under the chastising hand of Hashem forever nor will the physical vessels of that chastisement (the nations) forever rule over errant Israel. Israel will ultimately be restored, and a reckoning will be required of the nations.

Make His people rejoice, O nations, for He will avenge the blood of His servants. He will return vengeance on His foes and atone for the land of His people.

Deuteronomy 32:43

This affirmation is reiterated by Hashem through the prophet Malachi, probably around the time that Ezra and Nehemiah were resettling Jerusalem. 

“…they shall be Mine,”—says ADONAI-Tzva’ot—in the day I make My own special possession (segula). So, I will spare them, as one spares his son serving him.

Malachi 3:17

Remember the purpose of the discipline of Hashem is like that of a father to his children, correction, education, and restoration of relationship. 

After ending his poem, Moshe charges all of Bnei Yisrael with these words, 

…he said to them, “Put in your hearts all the words that I call as witness against you today—that you may command your children to keep and do all the words of this Torah. For it is not an empty thing for you, because it is your life! By this word you will prolong your days on the land, which you are crossing over the Jordan to possess.”

Deuteronomy 32:46-47

This charge is somewhat redundant as Moshe already said this two parashot ago,

See, I have set before you today life and good, and death and evil. What I am commanding you today is to love Adonai your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His mitzvot, statutes and ordinances. Then you will live and multiply, and ADONAI your God will bless you in the land you are going in to possess.

Deuteronomy 30:15-16

So here, occurring twice toward the end of Moshe’s tenure as Bnei Yisrael’s leader and teacher, do we find the answer to Dr. Harra’s question, “Where, then, do we turn for guidance?” We find guidance for all of life’s situations in the Torah. It would seem that Yeshua agreed with this sentiment as he responded to the Pharisees when they questioned about the greatest commandment (cf. Matthew 22:36-40). Love Hashem and love your neighbor as yourself – for all the Torah and the Prophets hang on these. In other words, guidance and instruction on how we relate to Hashem, how we relate to others, even how we deal with our own personal issues, are found in the Torah.  

One final thought on guidance. Dr Tigay, in the JPS Commentary on Deuteronomy makes an interesting observation concerning Hammurabi, the sixth king of the First Babylonian dynasty, who reigned from c. 1792 BCE to c. 1750 BCE some 300 years before Moshe. Concerning his laws and achievements, Hammurabi is credited as stating, “My words are choice, my deeds have no equal; it is only to the fool that they are empty; to the wise they stand forth as an object of wonder.” (Jeffrey H. Tigay. The JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy. Philadelphia, JPS, 1996. p 316, fn. 47.) Dr. Tigay noted that the word רֵק or “empty” appears in both proclamations – Moshe stating that the Torah “is not an empty thing for you” while Hammurabi, “it is only to the fool that they are empty.” It would seem that both Hammurabi and Moshe felt that not to choose to follow the guidance they provided would be a vain, foolish thing. With this in mind consider these words from Proverbs:

A fool despises his father’s discipline, but one who accepts reproof is smart.

Proverbs 15:5

The fear of Adonai is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

Proverbs 1:7

A fool finds no delight in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.

Proverbs 18:2

Even as the fool walks along the way, his heart lacks sense and tells everyone what a fool he is.

Ecclesiastes 10:3

It would seem that the choice is simple. If we want true guidance and direction, we need to look to the Word of God. If, on the other hand we prefer to wander aimlessly, this way and that, we can by choice walk like a fool. King David gives us his recommendation on which choice to make, though like us he occasionally chose not to follow his own admonition,

The Torah of ADONAI is perfect, restoring the soul. The testimony of ADONAI is trustworthy, making the simple wise. The precepts of ADONAI are right, giving joy to the heart. The mitzvot of ADONAI are pure, giving light to the eyes. The fear of ADONAI is clean, enduring forever. The judgments of ADONAI are true and altogether righteous.

Psalm 19:8-10

May we all choose to walk in the ways of ADONAI as written in his Word.

This week’s readings are as follows; Torah: Ha’azinu – Deuteronomy 32:1-52,
Haftarah: II Samuel 22:1-51, and from the Apostolic Writings: Luke 17:1-4.

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