Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Haazinu (Torah)

“Hear o Heavens and I will speak… this song shall be for you as a testimony”

This week’s Torah portion is devoted entirely to one long poem, “the Song of Moses.” The unique thing about this poem is that it is introduced as “a testimony, a witness for Me” (31:19). Moses is told to “write this song; teach it to the Israelites that they may place it in their mouths.” Moreover, the Rabbis learn from the commandment to “write this song” that each person must himself write a Torah scroll (a commandment most often fulfilled symbolically by writing one letter in the Torah at the ceremony of Siyyum Hasefer, completing a Torah scroll). The point being, that this chapter is somehow emblematic of the entire Torah.

The important question is: What is the place of this poem in the scheme of the Torah? In what sense does it embody the quintessence of the Torah? Offhand, its contents seem like a reiteration of the various admonitions we have already seen above, warning of reward and punishment. But it is more than just a warning; it is in fact a prophetic vision of what will happen. After a beautiful poetic recapitulation of God’s kindnesses during the idyllic period of the desert and thereafter, it describes how Israel will go astray; describing (in the future perfect, as if it is already an accomplished fact) how “Jeshurun waxed fat, grew thick, became sleek, and forsake the God who made him” (v. 15), turning to demons and “gods they had never known, newly come in, of late.” It is in this sense that the Song is a testimony: once disasters begin to occur, the people will begin to think that God has abandoned them—“Because God is not amongst us, these evils have come upon us” (31:17)—i.e., that He does not exist at all or has broken His covenant with them. At this point the Song may be invoked, as a sign that all this was prophesied and anticipated, that it is no more than the long foreseen consequence of their unfaithfulness; at the same time, the Song may serve as one more powerful warning that may just hold the people back from sin at the crucial moment.


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