Friday, October 10, 2008

Haazinu (Mitzvot)

For more teachings on the parashah, see the archives to this blog at September 2006.

“Write Yourselves This Song”

Today is a short Friday, sandwiched between Yom Kippur and Shabbat, followed by two intense days of preparation for Sukkot—the holiday that in an important sense celebrates the physical world, and whose physical preparations rival those of Pesah—so I will of necessity be very brief.

The mitzvah connected with this parasha doesn’t actually appear in it at all, but at the end of last week’s reading, Vayelekh. It does, however, relate to this parasha as its object. I refer to the commandment, “Write for yourselves this song, and teach the children of Israel to place it in their mouths, that this song may serve for Me as a testimony” (Deut 31:19). From this, Hazal derive the mitzvah to write a Sefer Torah (b. Sanhedrin 21b). This mitzvah is defined in terms of every Jew being obligated to “write” a Torah scroll at some point in his life—or, in practical terms, to symbolically participate in its writing by filling in even one letter. This is generally performed at a siyyum hasefer, the writing of the final lines of the scroll, often at a public ceremony coupled with its being “welcomed” into the synagogue which will be its home.

The line of thought underlying this mitzvah is that, in order to write “this song,” one must do so in its proper context—namely, as part of an entire Torah scroll. Or, by implication, that “this song” somehow embodies the message of the entire Torah. The question is: why?

This Song is the quintessence of Moses’ farewell message to his people. It contains a vision, in poetic form, of what will happen to the Jewish people in future days; its declared purpose is to serve as a kind of witness or testimony adjuring the people to maintain its loyalty to God and His Torah. Many of the ideas found in the Rebuke of Deut 28 are reiterated here: the warning that, once well settled in the land, “You will become fat, and thick… and rebel against God who made you”—a familiar and almost inevitable syndrome of self- satisfaction and complacency following in short order upon material prosperity. You will then suffer defeat at the hand of enemies from among the pagan nations, be removed from your land—but in the end they too will get their “comeup-ance,” and you will be restored.

The importance of the Song is also indicated by the fact of its use in the Temple as the “song of the day” recited over the Afternoon Offering, being divided into six portions for the six days of the week.


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