This week's Torah portion is one of the last in the Torah. Here Moses takes a different course of action when compared to the other parts of his farewell speech which makes up the Book of Deuteronomy.
Until now Moses either taught, or re-taught, the commandments, or rebuked the people for their misdeeds. In Ha'azinu, Moses breaks out in song.
It is not the first time that Moses sings, but here he sings by himself.
It is not the first time that Moses sings. The song at the miraculous splitting of the Red Sea is surely the most famous. But that song was the response to an unparalleled Divine action. Moses led, and the entire people followed. Here, Moses sings by himself.
The generation that left Egypt is dead, and soon Moses will follow them to the grave. In this context it seems like a strange time for song, but herein lies the greatness of Moses.
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In order to understand this idea, let us look at a passage in the Talmud, which describes, how someone else wished to sing but was not allowed:
Our rabbis taught: "When the wicked Nebuchadnezzar threw Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah into the fiery furnace, the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Ezekiel: 'Go and resurrect the dead in the plain of Dura.' This being done, the bones came and smote the wicked man upon his face. 'What kind of bones are these!' he exclaimed. They [his courtiers] answered him, 'Their companion is resurrecting the dead in the plain of Dura.' Thereupon he broke into utterance, 'How great are His signs, and how mighty are His wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and His dominion is from generation to generation!'" Rabbi Isaac said: "May molten gold be poured into the mouth of that wicked man [Nebuchadnezzar]! Had not an angel come and struck him upon his mouth he would have eclipsed all the songs and praises uttered by David in the Book of Psalms." (Sanhedrin 92b)
The conclusion of the passage is that Nebuchadnezzar wished to sing but was not allowed, and had he sung, his songs of praise would have been comparable with those of King David, the sweet singer of Psalms. The passage is difficult, why would God display the miracle to a heathen, if not to make him realize the greatness of God? And why would Nebuchadnezzar be struck dumb, when the idea of a God more powerful than he, finally dawned on him? The Kotzker Rebbe addresses these issues in a short comment:
You wish to sing praise while the crown is on your head, I would like to hear how you sing after being slapped in the face. (Emet miKotzk Tizmach pg. 37)
Many people after being inspired by a wondrous sight, have the ability to sing praise. The greatness of King David was his ability to sing despite personal tragedy which would have broken the spirits of a lesser man. In order to be compared to David, the angel came to hit Nebuchadnezzar. Had he now sung he would have indicated spiritual greatness, and true humility. But in the aftermath of the blow Nebuchadnezzar no longer felt inspired, the moment was gone.
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THE GREATNESS OF MOSES
Now we can appreciate the sublime greatness of Moses, surely the song sung after the splitting of the sea was a moment of religious ecstasy. But Moses, like David sings even when things are not going his way.
David sings when escaping from his own son who is attempting to usurp his power. Moses sings the moment before death.
When we contemplate the words which Moses uses we are all the more amazed:
Give ear, O you heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth. My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distill as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass. Because I will proclaim the name of the Lord; ascribe greatness to our God. He is the Rock, his work is perfect; for all his ways are justice; a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he. (Deut 32:1-4)
Of all the ways of describing God, Moses refers to God as a "Rock." The Term, of course, signifies the power of God. But when we recall that the down fall of Moses took place when attempting to extract water from a rock it is all the more surprising that this particular appellation is used. This understanding may be found in the Zohar:
Rabbi Simeon said: "Moses in his Song, first said The rock, perfect is his work, referring to the occasion when water issued from the rock..." (Zohar S'hmot 64b)
In his song, which is sung immediately preceding his death Moses completely accepts Divine justice: He is the Rock, his work is perfect; for all his ways are justice; a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.
In his song, which is sung immediately preceding his death, Moses completely accepts Divine justice.
Instead of avoiding this painful topic, Moses addresses it head-on, displaying absolute acceptance of God and His will. This is yet another indication of the spiritual level which Moses achieves.
As we saw from the beginning, the Book of Deuteronomy can be broken into three parts:
- Rebuke, wherein Moses hopes to bring the people to a higher spiritual level.
- A review of the commandments based on the Oral Torah.
- This last section of song.
Moses goes to his death, with dignity, praising God and his people, as we will see in next week's final Torah portion.