Commentary for Ha’azinu

29 Sep

The majority of this week’s parshah is a long poem by Moses, detailing the future of the Jewish People. He tells the Israelites that if they forsake God, God will punish them with famines, plagues, and oppressors, but if they return to God, God will end the punishment. As most of Prophets demonstrates, Moses’ prophecy was spot on.

Not only is this poem a prophecy, but it is also traditionally considered to be one of just ten true Songs in the history of the world. A Song such as this only occurs spontaneously, at a moment when someone has such a connection to God that things click into place and they seem to understand the workings of God’s universe. They understand why things happen the way that they do, and thus are able to praise God in such a sincere, poetic, and beautiful way. These Songs have been written by prophets and prophetesses, by the great psalmist King David and the wise King Solomon. One was even written by Adam as he lived in the paradise of the Garden of Eden. But only Moses had such a connection with God that he was able to not only praise God, as all the other Songs do, but to weave prophecy throughout a Song as well.

After forty-three verses of Song, Moses follows up with a quick warning to the people to stay true to God, reinforcing the theme of the Song. Then the parshah ends in a very strange way: Right after Moses, the greatest prophet to ever rise in Israel, the only person to ever know God face to “face,” has finished praising God and warning the people that they had better stay true to God, “The Lord spoke to Moses on that very day saying: ‘Ascend to this mount of Avarim, Mount Nevo, which is in the land of Moab, which is before Jericho, and see the land of Canaan that I give to the Children of Israel as an inheritance, and die on the mountain where you will ascend, and be gathered to your people, because you trespassed against Me among the Children of Israel at the wastes of Merivat-kadesh, in the Wilderness of Zin; because you did not sanctify Me among the Children of Israel. For from a distance shall you see the land, but you shall not enter there, into the land that I give to the Children of Israel (Deut. 32:48-52).’” Why, after Moses has achieved such a great connection with God, does God immediately remind Moses of his punishment? Additionally, punishing Moses for his sin is one thing, but to order him to go and die on a mountain from where he must see the land that he is barred from entering seems cruel.

By standing on Mount Nevo as the Israelites cross into the Promised Land, Moses is performing one final service to God before his death. While Moses must watch the Israelites cross into the Promised Lands, the Israelites will also be able to see Moses on the other side of the Jordan. And he himself will serve as a warning to the Israelites that what he has told them in his Song, and what he has been trying to tell them throughout Deuteronomy, is true: If they do not stay true to God, God will take their land away from them, just as God has done to Moses. For who among them could say “I am too pious for God to punish me for a few small misdeeds if I do not repent,” when God has done exactly that to Moses, God’s most loyal servant? This is an important lesson for the High Holiday season, for who among us can say this as well?

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