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Eternal Witnesses

Ha'azinu (Deuteronomy 32 )

by Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Haazinu Hashamayim - Give ear, O Heavens, and I will speak, and may the earth hear the words of my mouth."[1]

Moses reminds us that even when he is no longer here physically, the heavens and the earth will stand as eternal witnesses and testify that we sealed an irrevocable covenant with God. Moses calls upon heaven and earth to serve as witnesses, for even as they are constant and unchanging, so must our loyalty to Torah be constant and unchanging. Homiletically, the heavens represent our spiritual essence and the earth our physical being. Both must act in consonance to fulfill God's Will. Heaven and earth are chosen by Moses to testify that even as the covenant is eternally binding and can never be broken, similarly, heaven and earth are eternal and capable of taking punitive measures: The heavens can withhold rain and the earth can withhold its fruit, making this planet an inhospitable, dark place. And if anyone should know this, it is surely we, the Jewish people.


Our Sages ask why Moses proclaimed, "haazinu - listen," before "adabeirah - I shall speak." The answer should give us all pause. It is only if we are desirous of listening that God's Words will find a place in our hearts. If we are bent upon closing our ears and shutting our minds, then in vain is the message given. God sends us wake-up calls, but whether we hear them or not will depend strictly on us. And so, Moses called upon the nation, "Haazinu - listen!" - open your minds and hearts; only then does he say, "adabeirah - I will speak."


Moses prays that his "teaching drop like the rain."[1] Why should Moses make such a wish? What is there about rain that is so special that he should compare it to the study of Torah?

Rain in its season results in luscious fruit and vegetables. Rain makes flowers and trees bloom; rain can convert arid land into a beautiful garden, but if rain is to bring about this most wonderful growth and transformation, the earth must first be cultivated, plowed, and fertilized, and seeds have to be carefully planted. Similarly, if Torah is to take root in our hearts, if it is to transform us into a magnificent, fruitful garden in which luscious fruit, nourishing vegetables, and beautiful flowers grow, then we have to cultivate our hearts and minds and plant therein seeds of faith and love.

Rain that falls on barren land results in mud, and rain that falls on concrete forms a puddle. In the same way, if Torah is to transform and elevate us, then we must open our hearts and minds and make them ready receptacles for God's holy words. Thus, Moses prayed that we perceive the teachings of Torah as drops of rain, and properly prepare ourselves for its study and observance.

"Ki Shem Hashem ekra ... - When I call out the Name of Hashem, ascribe greatness to our God."[3]

This verse charges us with our responsibility to proclaim the praise of God in every situation. As Jews, the people who stood at Sinai, we recognize His many kindnesses as well as His corrective Hand when He disciplines us. We understand that blessings as well as that which is painful come from God, that He is just. Everything that He does is for our benefit, even if we do not perceive it as such. So it is that we, the Jewish people, whose calling is to be His witnesses here on Earth, have never abandoned our faith in Him. Even in our darkest moments, in the throes of persecution and oppression, we have proclaimed His praises and have never ceased to call out His Holy Name.

Based upon the verse, "Ki Shem Hashem ekra," our Sages have instructed us to recite a blessing before Torah study, and, when three or more men eat together, we call upon our fellow Jews to say Grace and proclaim His praises.

In the days of the Holy Temple, when the Holy Name of God was pronounced, the people would respond with "Baruch Shem ... - Blessed is the Name of His glorious kingdom forever and evermore." Today, in the absence of our Temple, we recite this verse "Ki Shem Hashem ekra ..." before we commence the Amidah service.


Parashas Haazinu is rich in teachings that keep us focused and enable us to understand the ups and downs of life, the good as well as the seemingly evil that we constantly encounter in our world. "Zechor ...," Moses admonishes us, "Remember the days of yore, understand the years of generation after generation ...."[4] This means that if we are perplexed, if we have difficulty comprehending that which befalls us and that which transpires in the world, we need only search our history. Study the lives of past generations, the legacy of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs, and all will become clear.

And if we are still perplexed, if we still have questions, Moses advises us, "Sh'al avicha ... Ask your father and he will relate it to you, your elders and they will tell you."[5] It's so simple, yet so profound. Seek the counsel of your father, your elders - your Torah Sages. Sadly, those who are questioning, those who have lost their way, search for guidance almost everywhere and consult almost everyone, but they fail to turn to their own Torah Sages, who could guide them and show them the way.


At the end of the parashah, Moses reviews his last will and testament for the Jewish people:

Vayomer aleihem ... - And he [Moses] said to them, "Apply your hearts to all the words that I testify against you today, with which you are to instruct your children, to be careful to perform all the words of this Torah, for it [the Torah] is not an empty thing for you, for it is your life, and through this matter you shall prolong your days ...."[6]

Moses' message is a threefold teaching that should guide us throughout life. If Torah is to be our life, it cannot be just a cerebral learning experience, but must saturate our entire being and guide all our thoughts and deeds. The Torah education of our children must be our top priority. We must bear in mind that the Torah is not empty. Every word, every letter, is laden with wisdom and hidden treasures that will prolong our days and give meaning to our lives.


1. Deut. 32:1.
2. Ibid. 32:2.
3. Ibid. 32:3.
4. Deuteronomy 32:7.
5. Ibid. 32:7.
6. Ibid. 32:46-47.


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