Shabbos Parashas Haazinu

1. This week’s parashah presents Moshe’s song of admonition to the Jewish People. The song begins as follows (Devarim 32:1): “Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak; and let the earth hear the words of my mouth.” Similarly, the Book of Yeshayah opens with a prophesy that begins as follows (Yeshayah 1:2): “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth.” In Moshe’s song, the phrase give ear is addressed to the heavens and the word hear is addressed to the earth, while in Yeshayah’s prophesy it is the reverse. The Midrash in Sifrei 306 explains that Moshe was closer to the heavens while Yeshayah was closer to the earth. Clearly the Midrash is speaking homiletically, for at the time that Moshe and Yeshayah delivered these respective prophesies they were both on the earth.
The Maggid explains the idea behind the Midrash as follows. There are two ways to distinguish truth from falsehood and good from bad. The first way is by means of the intellect, either through reasoning or through prophesy. The second way, which is easier, is by means of observation and experience: Seeing the righteous being rewarded and the wicked being punished enables one to tell good from bad. Now, Moshe had only a few opportunities to see the wicked being punished, and so the way he learned to tell good from bad was mainly by means of the intellect, which is more connected with the heavens. Yeshayah, on the other hand, had many opportunities to observe the wicked being punished, for in his time a substantial segment of the Jewish People had been sinning already for several generations, and Hashem was regularly meting out punishment to the wicked. Thus, the way Yeshayah learned to tell good from bad was mainly by means of seeing people being subjected to a curse, which is more connected with the earth.
When we are in a state of peace, the primary way of telling good from bad is by means of the intellect. In such times, those who have the greatest power of discernment are the Torah sages, who are filled with Torah wisdom and close to Hashem. Those in the streets have much less power of discernment, for they are distant from wisdom. In times like ours, however, it is different. Those engaged in business and other means of earning a livelihood can tell very well between good and bad. For they see what happens over the course of time, and they recognize that eventually they become the victims of the type of evildoing they committed against others, measure for measure. In this connection, Shlomo HaMelech declares (Mishlei 1:20): “Wisdom sings out in the street [with words of lament and rebuke, as seen in the subsequent verses].
The same idea is reflected in the following passage (Hoshea 4:1-3): “Hashem has a grievance with the inhabitants of the land, for there is no truth, and no kindness, and no knowledge of God in the land. [Instead,] false swearing, murder, theft, and adultery; they have breached [moral standards] and the blood of one [murder victim] runs into that of the other. Therefore the land will be destroyed and all who dwell in it will be put in misery.” The “inhabitants of the land” who are involved in earthly affairs see up close the various events that unfold in the earthly realm. They can easily take stock of their actions and see for themselves the rampant evildoing being committed and the punishment that comes in its wake. They are in a better position to recognize what is happening than those involved in Torah wisdom.
2. Moshe declares (Devarim 32:18): “You ignored the Rock who gave birth to you, and forgot the God who brought you forth.” The Maggid brings out the idea behind this verse with a famous parable. Reuven owed Shimon $1,000. Shimon was pressing Reuven heavily for payment. Reuven he sought advice from Levi to push Shimon off. Levi told Reuven that when Shimon shows up he should act like a crazy person, muttering and whistling and dancing around. Shimon showed up, Reuven put on the act, and Shimon concluded that Reuven was crazy and left him alone. Some time later, Reuven borrowed money from Levi. The time came for payment, Levi showed up to collect, and Reuven started putting on the crazy person act. Levi took his stick, gave Reuven a hard whack, and exclaimed: “Fool! I’m the one who taught you this trick. Do you think you can use it on me?”
The parallel is as follows. The Midrash teaches that Hashem granted man the trait of forgetfulness for his own benefit (Yalkut Shimoni, Torah 615 and Nach 968): “Had the Holy One Blessed Be He not hidden from man [i.e., caused people to forget] the day of death, people would not build houses or plant vineyards, for they would say, ‘Tomorrow I may die, so should I toil for others?’ Therefore He hid from man the day of death, so that people would build and plant.” Accordingly, for a person to take this trait of forgetfulness and use it to forget Hashem is the height of contemptibility.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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