Parshat Haazinu 5781

In the penultimate parshah of the Torah, Moses’ last words take the form of a song. It is one of the few sections of the Torah that are formally structured as Hebrew poetry. The theme of remembrance and forgetting is central to its message. The Israelites, despite the great good bestowed on them by God will forget and seek new gods. They will suffer because of that, however God will remember the covenant and the people can and will return. The parshah emphasizes that God is good and that evil comes from human perversity. Suffering is a consequence of justice.

Biblical scholarship identifies the text as particularly ancient, likely dating from the time of the Judges.

Ha’Azinu literally means “give me your ear” — listen.

There are several passages we’ll take a closer look at.

Devarim 32: 1-2 (Robert Alter, trans.)

“Give ear, O heavens, that I may speak, and let the earth hear my mouth’s utterances. Let my teaching drop like rain, my saying flow like dew, like showers on the green and like cloudbursts on the grass.”

Note that there are similarities to Ugaritic texts we previously discussed. What is a striking difference between these lines and praise of Baal?

Can God speak if no one is listening?

There is a linkage here between Torah and Creation. What are the different ways of understanding that linkage?

Devarim 32:3-5

The Rock, His acts are perfect, for all His ways are justice. A steadfast God without wrong, true and right is He. Did He act ruinously? No, his sons’ the fault — A perverse and twisted brood.

Here is a major theological statement. God is good. What we experience as suffering is the result of God acting justly in response to human error.

Devarim 32:17-

They sacrificed to the demons, the ungods, gods they had not known, new ones just come lately, whom their fathers had not feared … And He said, “Let Me hide My face from them … They vexed Me with their empty things. And I, I will provoke them with an unpeople …”

Commentators back to the Midrash find these lines intriguing. These aren’t the old gods, the sundry gods mentioned earlier, they aren’t the Sun or the Moon — which would be understandable — but new gods created by humans. What kind of god is this new god? Can you think of examples? Why would God be even more angered by these new gods (according to Midrash Tanchuma)?

What does it mean for God’s face to be hidden? What does it mean to forget God?