Parshat Ha’azinu: What is Moses trying to tell us?

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By Rabbah Arlene Berger | Special to JT

Parshat Ha’azinu is the second to last chapter in the Torah. We’ve been schlepping across the desert for 40 years and endured innumerable experiences enumerated time and again in the Torah. It’s time to enter the Holy Land.

(Provided)

But there’s a catch. Moses doesn’t get to go. The last line of the parshah reads: “Yet you shall see the land before you; but you shall not go there to the land which I give the people of Israel.”

It makes you want to weep. Moses has been with us since the beginning; We owe him our lives, and now he is to leave. He has chosen to write a poem as his final message, though we’re not sure why. He doesn’t appear to have written poetry before, but he has now. What message does Moses have for us?

There are only five songs, or “shirim,” in the Tanach, all written in a certain pattern both syntactically and, occasionally, even graphically on the page. Each marks a critical event.
If you have the opportunity, take a look at the page of Shirat Ha’azinu. It is written in two narrow columns with the first part of each verse written on the right side, a big space in the middle and the second part of the verse written on the left side.

The image is reminiscent of two stacks of bricks. There are 43 rows of “bricks” in this poem that are divided into six aliyahs for Torah readings. The 10 remaining verses comprise the seventh aliyah and make for a full Shabbat reading. In the Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 31a), we learn that Shirat Ha’azinu (the “bricks”) was read in six parts by the Levites as the Shabbat Musaf offerings were made. It was also read that way in the synagogue with the rest of the parshah making up the seventh reading.

Commentators connect this combination of the six readings of Shirat Ha’azinu and the seventh reading of remainder of the parshah with the Shir Shel Yom, the six special daily psalms that were said by the Levites in the Mikdash/Tabernacle and that we now recite in morning prayers. They also connect these six and seven parts to the days of Creation (Likkutei Sichos Section 24, Tur).

Does the appearance of Shirat Ha’azinu seem a stable and solid arrangement or a shaky and unstable pattern? Rabbenu Nissim (commentary to Megillah 16a) explains that because Ha’azinu speaks of the downfall of evil, it appears in the Torah like flimsy stacks of bricks, symbolic of evil’s inability to stand for long.

Looking at the end of Shirat Ha’azinu, we see that the Torah returns to its regular, wide-column format, thus appearing to give Ha’azinu solid footing to stand on, alluding that will happen to us, too.

Was that Moses’s message? Trust, and we’ll be OK? Maybe.

All we can do is read his words and learn what we can. Perhaps that’s why he wrote a song or poem whose very structure ensures that its words will linger; its messages will seep into our minds and hearts.

Rabbah Arlene Berger is rabbi of Hevrat Shalom in Rockville, Md.

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