13 Oct 2016 Parshas Ha’azinu: The Song of Torah, the Song of Life
In this week’s parsha, Parshas Ha’azinu, in the final hours of his life, as he prepares to take leave of the nation he has loved and led from slavery to freedom on the borders of the Promised Land, Moshe Rabbeinu waxes poetic and sings the song of Ha’azinu – recalling the past, relaying the present, and telling of the future. הַאֲזִינוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם, וַאֲדַבֵּרָה; וְתִשְׁמַע הָאָרֶץ, אִמְרֵי-פִי – Incline your ear, O heaven, and I will speak; and let the earth hear the words of my mouth (Devarim 32:1).
R’ Menachem Genack, in his Birkas Yitzchak, writes that the Song of Ha’azinu encompasses the entire Torah, including the workings of the world and the Divine system of reward and punishment, and the promise of the future redemption, which are מעיקרי הדת ויסודי האמונה – the fundamentals of our religion and the foundation of our faith.
And just as the song begins with הַאֲזִינוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם, וַאֲדַבֵּרָה; וְתִשְׁמַע הָאָרֶץ, so too the Torah begins with בְּרֵאשִׁית, בָּרָא אלקים, אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ – in the beginning Elokim created the heavens and the earth (Bereishis 1:1). As the Ramban writes (Devarim 32:1): ועל דרך האמת הם שמים וארץ הראשונים הנזכרים בבראשית – and by way of truth, the heavens and the earth that Moshe called upon are the same heavens and earth recorded in Bereishis.
For Shiras Ha’azinu encapsulates all of Torah, from beginning to end.
R’ Genack further writes that though the book of Devarim contains words of rebuke that Moshe gave the nation before his death, he finished here with words of shirah, song. In order to make it known that even though the Children of Israel passed through the desert with many trials and tribulations, and though Moshe Rabbainu himself was not worthy to enter the Land, מ״מ חיי תורה הם חיים של אושר ושמחה ולכן סיים בדברי שירה – nevertheless, a life of Torah is a life of wealth and joy, and therefore, Moshe finished the book of Devarim with song.
In response to the charge that it’s difficult to be a Jew, שווער צו זיין א איד, R’ Moshe Feinstein zt’l would say, the opposite! One is fortunate (lucky) to be a Jew, גליקלאך צו זיין א איד! (Quoted by R’ Genack in Birkas Yitzchak.)
Moshe ended the Torah with the song of Torah, and the song of life.
What is a song? It encompasses highs and lows, ups and downs, solos and choruses. Life too has ups and downs, highs and lows, and times when we feel utterly alone (the “solos”) and times when we feel ensconced by the wonderful nation that we are part of. A song expresses emotion in joyous and fortunate times; and song expresses emotion in very difficult and painful times.
Just like a song, with its melody, tune and words, so too is life: with its highs and lows, the soft and loud, laughter and tears…Life is indeed a song. And, here, as Moshe looks back, from the beginning of time, and gazes forward, to the end of time – his departing words are the song of life. For even though it may, in fact, be difficult and painful to be a Jew, when all is said and done, at the end of his 120 years, Moshe Rabbeinu reminds us, exhorts us, encourages us and sings to us – for indeed, one is fortunate to be a Jew!
Just a few hours ago, on the holiest and most exalted day of the year, the Shabbat Shabbaton of Yom ha’Kippurim, we stood in Beis Kneses, praying, crying, beseeching, pleading, singing, yearning to the Ribbono Shel Olam, the Master of the Universe, to inscribe and seal us all – the entire nation and the Holy Land – in the Book of Life, the book of Torah, the book of blessings, shalom, nachas, joy and health.
As the sun set, I momentarily turned around, looked out the high windows, and saw the darkening sky with the smear of still-pink clouds… As the fast moved into the 25th hour, as my strength waned, as the Aron Kodesh remained open for Neilah – the awe-inspiring time of the locking of the Heavenly Gates – as I felt I might have to sit down…
זְכֹר֙ יְמ֣וֹת עוֹלָ֔ם בִּ֖ינוּ שְׁנ֣וֹת דּוֹר־וָד֑וֹר שְׁאַ֤ל אָבִ֙יךָ֙ וְיַגֵּ֔דְךָ זְקֵנֶ֖יךָ וְיֹ֥אמְרוּ לָֽךְ – Remember the days of old, Understand (or build) the years of the generations; Ask your father, he will tell you, your elders, they will say to you (Devarim 32:7)…
With my remaining strength I thought of my grandfather, Yitzchak ben Moshe a’h, who came back from a day of back-breaking labor in the cursed Labor Camp of Nazi Germany y’s, and hurried to the barrack, before the sun had yet set that Yom Kippur at the Gates of Gehenom, so that the men could daven Neilah with a minyan.
And I thought, Remember the days of old, Understand the years of the generations; Ask your father, he will tell you, your elders, they will say to you, who am I to lack the strength to stand, as the Aron is now still open, as the sun is setting, as the gates are closing, as the Shechina is still right here! And with renewed strength, with memories of the past that define our nation, I stood.
The Song of Torah is the Song of Life, and the Book of Torah is the Book of Life. We must listen to her words, from the beginning to the end of days, we must hear – and heed – her tune, be moved by the melody, be roused her message – כִּ֠י לֹֽא־דָבָ֨ר רֵ֥ק הוּא֙ מִכֶּ֔ם כִּי־ה֖וּא חַיֵּיכֶ֑ם… – For it is not an empty matter to you, for it (Torah) is your very life (Devarim 32:47).
May we always merit to live by her ways, so that all of our songs will be songs of Torah, songs of joy.
בברכת שבת שלום וחג שמח,