rashihed.jpg (16002 bytes)

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)


by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


Back to This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues

Parashas Ha'azinu (66)

Introduction to the Song Ha'azinu

The major portion of this sedra is devoted to the poem Ha'azinu. It is instructive to note that this poem or song is different in significant ways from other Songs in the Tanach. There are four other famous Songs, two in the Torah - the Song of The Sea (Exodus 15:1ff) and the Song of the Well (Numbers 21:17ff). There is also the Song of Deborah in the Book of Judges, Ch. 5) and, of course, the Song of Songs of King Solomon. All these Songs are attributed to specific people. The Song of the Sea begins "Then sang Moses and the Children of Israel." The Song of the Well begins "Then sang Israel." The Song of Deborah begins "And Deborah and Barak sang." The Song off Songs begins "The Song of Songs that were Solomon's." But Ha'azinu begins without any appellation. It is as if the Song itself sings, as it says (Deut. 31:21) "And it will be when these many evils and vicissitudes befall him then this Song will testify before him as a witness..."

Another difference between Ha'azinu and other Biblical songs is that the other songs are praises of G-d for miracles that He wrought for Israel, ( or a paean of G-d's love of His people, as in Solomon's Song). In contrast, Ha'azinu is a look into the future and a pessimistic look at that. It is a not a Song of praise, nor a Song of jubilation, it is rather a Song of warning and chastisement.

In spite of these differences, Ha'azinu is a poem like the other Songs and it has the characteristics of a poem, it speaks in allusions, alliteration and parallelisms. This leaves much room for commentary.

The Ramban on Ha'azinu

The Ramban has these significant words to say about the Ha'azinu Song:

This Song is an assured guarantee of the future redemption, in spite of the nonbelievers. And so is stated in the Sifrei. 'This Song is great in that it contains the present, the past and the future; it contains issues of this world and of the World to Come. And this is what is alluded to when the Scriptures say 'And Moses came and he spoke all the words of this Song in the ears of the people. " It says "all" to intimate that it contains [a prophecy for] all matters regarding their future. And while it (the Song) is small in size, never the less it explains many things. And were this Song one of the writings of the astrologers which predicted future events, it would justifiably command our belief, because all of its predictions have been fulfilled up until the present. Nothing has gone unfulfilled. We therefore should also believe and anticipate, (the future fulfillment of this Song) with all our heart, for these are the words of G-d, as conveyed by His prophet ( Moses) 'the faithful one of his house.'

A Deeper Look

The Mesiach Illmim, one of the early commentaries on Rashi, offers a cogent insight here. He points out that the Ha'azinu Song is divided into four sections.

G-d's kindness to Israel (verses 3-14)
Israel's rebellion (verse 15- 20)
G-d's vengeance against Israel(verses 21-35)
G-d's vengeance against Israel's enemies (verses 36-43)
Our verse, with its mention of Israel's ungrateful behavior and foolish disregard for their own fate, summarizes the first three sections of the Song. The verse stands at the entrance of the Song and, in a sense, foretells its major message.

Now let us look at one Rashi comment.

Deuteronomy 32:10

"He found them in the Wilderness country, in arid shrieking desolation He encircled them, He granted them understanding He sheltered them like the pupil of his eye."


He found them in a Wilderness country: Rashi: Them, He found faithful to Him in Wilderness country as they obligated themselves to His Torah, His sovereignty and His yoke of bondage.


Rashi seems to change the simple meaning of the verse. The verse says "He found them in the wilderness" Rashi interprets this as "He found them faithful in the wilderness..."


The Ramban differs with Rashi, saying "This [interpretation] is not consistent with the thrust of the section. Because the scripture is criticizing Israel, telling all the favors that G-d did for them and they repaid [Him] evil for all His good.

Though the Ramban does not say his understanding of these words explicitly, we can conjecture. He probably takes "He found them in the wilderness" simply as , Hashem found them - cared for them - in the wilderness. This expresses G-d's kindness to Israel, with no mention of Israel's faithfulness to G-d (as Rashi does).

Can you defend Rashi's interpretation?

Your Answer:


An Answer: I would suggest that Rashi is bothered by the word "found". Hashem did not "find" the people in the wilderness. He took them out of Egypt and knew exactly where they were! So Rashi adds what G-d did find - He found that they were faithful.

The Ramban is more concerned with the consistency of the section than of the precise meaning of the word "found."

This, I would say, is a typical difference between these two classic commentators. Rashi looks at the "small picture" with a microscope; while the Ramban looks at "the larger picture" with a telescope viewing the verse in its larger context.

Shabbat Shalom
and Chag Somayach
Avigdor Bonchek

"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi."

Back to This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues

This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.

For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael
Classes, send mail to parsha@shemayisrael.co.il

Jerusalem, Israel