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

“The Rock! His deeds are perfect/Yea, all His ways are just/
A faithful God, never false/True and upright is He.” (Deuteronomy 32:4)

Parashat Ha-azinu is the next-to-last parasha, or portion, in the Torah and is the last one read on a regular Shabbat morning. That is because v’Zot Habracha, the last parasha, is read only on Simchat Torah.

Ha-azinu’s content is familiar: Moses, about to die, tells the Israelites one last time they will abandon the Torah and be punished. Still, God’s mercy will let them survive. But Ha-zinu’s form is different from most of the Torah: it is mostly a poem, not a prose narrative. But when Ha-azinu closes by describing how Moses came and “…spoke all the words of this shira, or song/poem, in the ears of the people…” (Deut. 32:44) most commentators understand the term shira refers not just to Ha-azinu but to the entire Torah. Why?

The Netziv (1816-1893; head of the great Volozhin Yeshiva in Lithuania) explains the Torah is like poetry because its compressed language operates through symbolism, allusion, and metaphor, and contains multiple levels of meaning. It must be read and re-read to extract its deeper significance. That is why Ha-azinu includes the phrase “all the words” four times in its closing verses (Deut. 32:44-47): no word, regardless of size, is insignificant; each word carries a world of meaning.

Ha-azinu is always read either right before or right after Yom Kippur, when we make amends by asking forgiveness from those we’ve offended. Ha-azinu is a timely (and timeless) reminder: words carry great power; what we say to one another and how we say it matters. Words are our essential tools for repairing the world, echoing God’s use of words to create that world (Gen. 1:3).

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom
G’mar Chatima Tova/A Good Signing and Sealing (in the Book of Life)

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