- Moses sings his last song, a love poem to God and a chastisement of the people, who are not worthy of Adonai. (32:1–6)
- The poem recounts the blessings that God has bestowed on the Israelites, the wicked deeds they have committed, and the punishments that God then inflicted upon them. (32:7–43)
- God tells Moses to begin his ascent of Mount Nebo, from where he will see the Land of Israel from a distance but will not be allowed to enter it. (32:45–52)
by Arthur C Greenfield
The last Parashah of the Torah cycle starts with a beautiful poem or song. It is the second song of Moses. The first song was sung at the beginning of the Israelites journey at the Sea of Reeds. This second song was near the end of the journey when the Israelites are approaching the long anticipated entry into the Promised Land. The poem is worth reading and the first part is included below as it is so beautiful.
Give ear, O heavens, let me speak;
Let the earth hear the words I utter!
May my discourse come down as the rain,
My speech distill as the dew,
Like showers on young growth,
Like droplets on the grass.
For the name of the Lord I proclaim;
Give glory to our God!...
The poem continues and the tone becomes more serious, accusatory, reproachful, and yes, even blood thirsty. It is a warning to the People of the price they will pay for not heeding His words. Sometimes it seems to be talking about the Israelites and at other times it suggests the warnings are referring to the Israelites foes.
At the end of the poem the narrative continues:
Moses came, together with Hosea, son of Nun, and recited all the words of this poem in the hearing of the people.
And when Moses finished reciting all these words to all Israel, he said to them: Take to heart all the words with which I have warned you this day. Enjoin them upon your children, that they may observe faithfully all the terms of this teaching. For this is not a trifling thing for you: it is your very life; through it you shall long endure on the land that you are to possess upon crossing the Jordan.
Scholars have differing views when it comes to interpreting the poem. Some think the passages are meant to be understood as written while others believe much of it is metaphorical and open to interpretation. Some of the passages refer to God as the protector and provider. Other passages focus on God the avenger with the sword. God is also likened to an eagle protecting his young. I will leave the interpretations to the Rabbis.
Ha'Azinu 32:48-52 That very day the Lord spoke to Moses: Ascend these heights of Abarim to Mount Nebo, which is the land of Moab facing Jericho, and view the land of Canaan, which I am giving the Israelites as their holding. You shall die on the mountain that you are about to ascend, and shall be gathered to your kin, as your brother Aaron died on mount Hor and was gathered to his kin; for you both broke faith with Me among the Israelite people, at the waters of Meribath—Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin, by failing to uphold My sanctity among the Israelite people. You may view the land from a distance, but you shall not enter it—the land that I am giving to the Israelite people.
In thinking about this whole chapter and where in the cycle it occurs I could not help but think about our life cycles such as birthdays and anniversaries and how we react when they come around. I can't speak for others but I know for me when it is the time of year when my birthday approaches, I do two things. The first is to look back and ponder the times that have past and wonder if I had made different decisions along the way how my life might be different today. I give thanks for being alive far longer than I ever expected. I then look to the future and consider what I can still do in my small way that will benefit others, and know when I do, I will be helping myself. This process is a little like Ebenezer Scrooge but without the ghosts. These are just fleeting thoughts that are my way of reflecting on my life and how to improve it. I go through a similar process for our anniversary and thank God for the lifetime my wife and I have enjoyed and pray we can be together forever.
In a way, perhaps we are all like Moses on Mount Nebo. We are all looking toward our own personal promised lands, but we don't know if we will live to dwell in them. For me, it is never-the-less, important to continue to believe that with more time I can accomplish more.
Although the story of Moses in Ha'Azinu is not unfamiliar it reminds me of the various elements that were present when my children were young: The tenderness, nurturing, loving, caring and warnings when they were stepping too close to the line.
We just observed Rosh Hashanah and are enjoying the New Year, another time of introspection, when we are reminded to look back at our lives and determine what we can do to improve ourselves. Imagine how we could Heal the World if everyone in the United States followed this process.