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Parashat Ha-azinu (Deuteronomy 32:1-32:52)

“And Moses came and spoke all the words of this song in the ears of the people, he and Hoshea, son of Nun.”
(Deuteronomy 32:44)

Parashat Ha-azinu is the next-to-last parasha, or portion, in the Torah. Moses informs the people he is about to die and bids them farewell. He tells them they will abandon the Torah and be punished. Still, God’s mercy will let them survive. Nothing new there. Yet everything else about Ha-azinu is different.

First, forty years after describing himself as someone with, “uncircumcised lips,” (Ex. 6:12) Moses delivers his message in exquisite poetry and with astonishing imagery. Second, Ha-azinu is a poem, its words appear in the Torah in two separate columns. Robert Alter (1935-; Professor of Hebrew language and comparative literature at the University of California, Berkeley) notes that while each verse is read across the columns, each column also can be read as a separate poem unto itself. Jhos Singer (rabbi of Chochmat Lev in Berkeley, CA) builds a powerful message on this insight.

Moses represents the past: the generation that experienced both the slavery of and redemption from Egypt. The people represent the future: the generation that will enter the land and create Jewish life in it. Each is represented by one of Ha-azinu’s columns. The space, or disconnect, between the two columns illustrates the danger to the Jewish people.

Ha-azinu is a transitional moment for the Jewish people. Moses worries about the loss of accumulated wisdom and memory. So Moses cautions the people: “Remember the days of old/Have understanding of the years of dor v’dor, generation and generation. Ask your father, he will inform you/Your elders, they will tell you.” (Deut. 32:7) Moses deputizes the entire people to assume his function as the bridge between past and future. Finding its bridge is the challenge of every generation since.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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