These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

(PCJE) Ha’azinu/Ten Days of Repentence: “When I find myself in times of trouble, Ha’azinu calls to me…”

Posted on September 29, 2014 by Binyamin Cohen

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Night Seder Chevrutas Binyamin Cohen and David Wallach
join together to reflect on this week's parshah.

Screen Shot 2014-09-12 at 9.51.44 AMדְּבָרִים לב:א

“הַאֲזִינוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם, וַאֲדַבֵּרָה;  וְתִשְׁמַע הָאָרֶץ, אִמְרֵי-פִי.”

“Listen heaven, and I will speak! Earth, hear the words of my mouth.”

Ha’azinu is an interesting parsha, both in structure and in language. The parsha is presented in the Torah as a poem, written in two columns. Not only is it presented in a poetic structure, it is also written in a difficult, poetic language.  Therefore, in order to understand Ha’azinu, we must first look back at how the previous parshah, Vayelech, introduces this song. The last verse of Vayelech reads,

 “וַיְדַבֵּר מֹשֶׁה, בְּאָזְנֵי כָּל-קְהַל יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֶת-דִּבְרֵי הַשִּׁירָה, הַזֹּאת–עַד, תֻּמָּם”

“And Moses spoke, in the ears of all the congregation of Israel, the words of this song, until its very end.”

This song is clearly very important: it is to be spoken to all of Israel, together. It is also referred to as “the song”, הַשִּׁירָה. A few questions arise: why is it so important? Why is it called the song? The importance of the song of Ha’azinu is that its message is essence of the Torah; but how?

This song begins by recounting all the good things God did for us in the wilderness. As it continues, it takes a seemingly bad turn, describing all the terrible things we will do to God, and that He will in turn do to us. So this is the essence of Torah? God does good and we can’t manage to respond in turn? This can’t be so. Luckily, this only brings us to the middle of the song. While it is hard to see past all the troubling images presented to us in the beginning of the parshah, the parshah begs its readers to hold on and look forward.

The parshah ends with God’s promise of a future redemption. The text reads:

“הַרְנִינוּ גוֹיִם עַמּוֹ, כִּי דַם-עֲבָדָיו יִקּוֹם; וְנָקָם יָשִׁיב לְצָרָיו, וְכִפֶּר אַדְמָתוֹ עַמּוֹ”

“Let the nations sing praise to His people, for He will avenge His servants’ blood; He will bring vengeance upon His foes, and He will purify His people’s land.” (Deut. 32:43)

We must stay with the song until “the very end”. After all the hardships and broken relationships that Israel has and will experience, ultimately, it will not all be for naught. The connection between Israel and God may have seemed severed or broken, but ultimately, the relationship is eternal. Not surprisingly, this message was not only true for Israel in the desert, but rather it is an eternal lesson, applicable for us as well. The entire song of Ha’azinu can be seen as an analogy for our own lives.

In our lives, the good can quickly turn to bad and we become sad, worried, and uncertain. We seem to have entered a dark tunnel, out of which it seems impossible to escape.  But what Ha’azinu reminds all of us is that we simply cannot focus only on the present, neither can we focus only on the past. If sometimes we find ourselves stuck in a rut, in a dark tunnel, then Ha’azinu comes as advice for how to get out. But it comes to serve as further advice

In one of the verses leading up to the song, God says that He will surely hide Himself from us (Deut. 31:18). This is the very reason that Moses must write the song that is Ha’azinu: Ha’azinu is the answer for us for what happens when we don’t see God, or when we don’t see the good. Ha’azinu reminds us: redemption is coming. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel. The song is a witness for us: times of trouble are only temporary, and ultimately there is light at the end of the tunnel. God will never forsake or cast us off. Life is a tunnel, and it may look like you’re not going anywhere, but there is light at the end, whether you can see it or not.

So why is this THE song? Because this is the Jewish story, and each of our own personal stories. We have too often found ourselves in that dark tunnel. We often cannot see the light at the end but it is there, at the end of the tunnel. Moreover, Someone waiting at the end to take us home. Faith in God’s promise that there’s light after the darkness is enough alone to keep us going.

It is not always easy to remember the Light. For this, we have Shabbat and Holidays: they come to give us space and time to reconnect to God, and to really feel our connection to Him. Once a week, we take time to see God in our lives, and remind ourselves of that light at the end of the tunnel. And when that isn’t enough, every so often, we get a holiday to give us that extra reminder. During the Days of Awe and Yom Kippur, this message rings even louder. Often, we seem so stuck in our ways that repentance feels useless. We are stuck in the tunnel, not moving forward. But we must remember, God is there at the end. But Ha’azinu reminds us that there is hope for repentance, hope to reach the Light.

Remember, “When I find myself in times of trouble, Ha’azinu calls to me…”


Based on teachings from Netivot Shalom, by Rabbi Sholom Noach Berezovsky