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

“Remember the days of old: reflect upon the years of other generations. Ask
your father and he will tell you; your elders and they will inform you.” (Deuteronomy 32:7)

Ha-azinu opens with Moses’ final song: “Ha-azinu hashamayim…, Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak; v’tishmah ha-aretz…, and may the earth hear the words of my mouth.” (Deut. 32:1). Moses calls upon heaven and earth as eternal witnesses to his final prophecy. Moses is not the only one to make such an appeal; Isaiah also calls out, “Shim’u shamayim…, hear, O heaven and I will speak, v’ha-azini eretz…, let the earth hear my words.” (Is. 1:2) A close reading identifies a slight difference: Isaiah uses the same verbs, but in reverse order. Why?

The rabbis explain that these two great prophets choose their words to reflect their relationships. Because Moses is closer to heaven than to earth (representing his relationship with God), he uses the more intimate ha-azinu, give ear when appealing to the heavens. But Isaiah is closer to earth than to heaven (representing his relationship with the people), which is why he uses ha-azinu when appealing to the earth (Midrash Tanchuma Ha-azinu 2). Modern linguists call this code switching: learning to use different language in different social settings.

Ha-azinu is always read either right before or right after Yom Kippur, a period of reflection and introspection. It is when we make amends by asking the people around us for forgiveness. Language becomes the essential tool for repair. We rely upon words to indicate not only our feelings, but also to signal how we value the other person. Ha-azinu is a timeless (and timely) reminder: words matter and how we speak with one another both reflects and affects the relationship.

Gut Yontif, Gut Yohr/Chag Sameach, Shana Tova/Happy Holiday, Happy New Year
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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