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The Rock! (G-d). Perfect is His work, for all His ways are justice. A G-d of faith and without iniquity, righteous and upright is He. (32:4).
Moses brings his final address to the Israel towards its crescendo with the song that forms most of the content of this Parasha. The main content of that song is a warning to the Israelites of the consequences of their future 'straying from the path that I have commanded them' (31:29). This is put into the context of the Israelites' exalted mission to all nations - 'G-d's portion is His People' (32:9), and the assurance that despite all the punishments for their wrong-doings, the Israelites will survive as a people and their oppressors will ultimately be avenged in the Final Judgement.
The heading quotation forms part of Moses' introduction to the Song - where he impresses on the Israelites that G-d has the exclusive role in determining the fate of the Israelites, and He does so with fairness and justice.
This verse raises the following points of interest:
1. What type of impression was Moses making on the Israelites, when he described G-d in the negative - as being 'without iniquity'? Rashi explains this expression to mean the following:
Although He is strong (like a rock), yet when He brings punishment on those who transgress His will, He does not bring it in a flood of anger, but in deliberate judgement, because His work is perfect.
According to this explanation, the words 'without iniquity' would hardly be a recommendation - they would be too tepid for introducing the Creator to His People. A young lady would not be impressed if she were offered a match and the young man was described as being 'without iniquity' - that he would not harm someone unreasonably. How much more does it seem strange to use such an expression as praise to the Almighty.
2. This verse forms the opening of the Tziduk Hadin - the Burial Service. It is recited as the dead person is being brought towards his final resting-place: the mourners and participants acknowledge G-d's justice in having carried out His death sentence, however painful it is. What special quality has this verse that it was selected from all other sources to serve in that capacity?
The following discussion in the Talmud may be used to help to resolve these difficulties.
The Mishna (Rosh Hashanah 1:2) states that on Rosh Hashanah 'all worldly beings pass before Him like B'nei Marom'. There is a dispute in the Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 18a) over the meaning of this expression. Resh Lakish interprets it as 'like the steps leading to Beth Maron'. R. Yehuda brought the tradition of Amora Samuel that it means 'like the soldiers in the legion of the House of David'.
Both of these renderings indicate that each person is judged as an individual. As Rabbi M. Miller in Shabbat Shiurim (2) (p.336) writes, each sheep passes separately before the shepherd, and only one person at a time can ascend the narrow steps to Beth Meron.
However the Amora, Rabba bar Bar Chana added the following in his reference to the judgment on Rosh Hashanah:
All are scanned at one glance (ibid. ad loc.).
This seems to indicate that all people are judged alike. But this would hardly be a likely explanation: apart from offending the most basic principles of fairness to the individual, it seems to contradict the above personal and individual nature of G-d's justice on Rosh Hashanah.
A key to resolving this problem, and the two earlier ones, may be found in a comment made by Rashi in the narrative of G-d's promising to Abraham that his descendants would eventually take possession of the Holy Land:
The fourth generation shall return here, because the sin of the Amorite is not yet complete (Gen. 15:16).
Rashi, quoting Isaiah 27:8, explains the meaning of the above non sequitur as follows:
For the iniquity of the Amorite has not reached the level that would justify his expulsion from his land, because G-d does not punish any nation until its measure of guilt is full (Rashi ad loc.).
The Israelites may well have been worthy of receiving the Promised Land long before they did get it. However the judgement - in this case the promise of Canaan to the Israelites - was given in 'one glance'. Namely, when G-d said he would give the Land to Abraham's descendants, He took the world situation in that glance. The Israelites would only be allowed to occupy the Land when it would be just in the world situation - in this case, only when the Canaanites had reached such a level of spiritual and moral degeneration that they indeed deserved to lose the Land.
This idea is contained in the Talmud (Bava Bathra 15a), where it elaborates Moses' instructions to the Spies before their departure. The Torah narrates that Spies were to find out 'if there is a tree or not' (Num. 13:20). The Talmud explains that expression to mean: to find out if there was some worthy Canaanite whose personal merit would invoke Divine protection for them from the Israelites. If so, the 'scanning of all at one glance' would not allow the Israelites to successfully conquer the Promised Land at that time.
Thus the 'one glance' means that when G-d decrees punishment on Rosh Hashanah, He does not only look at the individual (B'nei Marom), but also at the distress that those who are close to him would endure as a result ('all in one glance'). Should any his family and friends not deserve to suffer, G-d would not punish the individual in that way. Every reward and punishment is Divinely calculated to justly affect not only the person himself, but his family and friends as well. Thus if the head of the household was suddenly extremely successful in business, he, his family, and all his beneficiaries would have been judged as being worthy of being rewarded in this way.
This helps to answer the original two questions. In G-d being 'without iniquity', He - the Creator who knows the thoughts of Man - rewards and punishes people in such a way that those affected benefit justly and suffer justly: something which is impossible for a human court to do - how ever fair the legal system wishes to be. And when opening the burial ceremony with that verse, we are acknowledging that we - whether we are the mourners or friends of the deceased - were judged fairly by G-d to be deemed to our respective degree of suffering as a result of the death.
Much of the content was inspired and based on Shabbat Shiurim (2) by Rabbi M. Miller pp. 335-340
QUESTIONS ON THE TEXT AND COMMENTARIES ON PARASHAT HA'AZINU
1. Moses declares (32:2) that he wishes his words to be as 'rain' and 'storm winds' on one hand, and like 'dew' and 'raindrops' on the other. What may be learnt by that contrast, according the S'forno?
2. How does the S'forno understand the phrase: 'When I call out the name of G-d, ascribe greatness to G-d'? (32:3)
3. According to the S'forno, what are the five main themes of the body of the long poem of Parashat Ha-azinu?
4. What is the force of the Israelites being, for the first time in tne Torah, referred to as 'Yeshurun' (32:15) - according to Hirsch?
5. Moses prophesized that G-d would 'see and be provoked in the anger caused by His sons and daughters' (32:19). Why, according to the Ramban, does the Torah include 'benotav' (His daughters), instead on relying on the more generic 'banav' (His sons) to include daughters as a matter of course?
6. Why, following 32:41 and Rashi's comment thereon, does G-d vow to turn His anger towards those who persecute Israel, when they are only acting as His agents for retribution to the Israelites for their having failed to live up to His expectations?
7. What, according to Rashi, is the meaning of Moses' declaration that the Torah 'is not an empty thing for you'? (32:47)
ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS ON THE TEXT AND COMMENTARIES ON PARASHAT HA'AZINU
1. According to the S'forno, this implies that Torah teachings at large have messages for all. Those who are learned can benefit from it in more intense forms and at greater depth - as 'rain' and as 'storm winds', and those of lesser ;earning potential may still enjoy and gain from it at a simpler level - as 'dew' and as 'raindrops'.
2. According to the S'forno, the phrase: 'When I call out the name of G-d, ascribe greatness to G-d' is an expression of actual prayer. Addressing future generations, Moses asks the people to ascribe greatness to G-d by turning to Him in prayer in even the darkest hours of exile with the faith that He will eventually redeem them against all odds.
3. According to the S'forno, the five main themes of the body of the long poem of Parashat Ha-azinu are - (i) G-d created the world so that all the nations would join in achieving His goal; when they failed to do so, He chose Israel for that mission (ii) He gave the Holy Land to the Israelites, which they later implicitly rejected by failing to keep to His code (iii) Though they deserved to be destroyed they only suffered exile, so that His name would not be desecrated (iv) the Israelites would be redeemed at the End of Days (v) The redemption would be fully realized and Israel's enemies would be duly punished.
4. Hirsch understands the name 'Yeshurun' to derive from the word 'yashar' - meaning upright, straight, just. That is the way G-d expects His people to behave in the Holy Land, and in 'becoming fat' - succumbing to its physical desires - it deviates from the ideals expressed by the name 'Yeshurun'.
5. The reference to daughters, according to the Ramban, alludes to the period just before the Destruction of the First Temple, when the ladies of the time are recorded to have been most fanatical in their pursuit of idolatry - as per Jeremiah 44.
6. This is because they were to persecute Israel beyond the 'call of duty' - unleashing their full measure of hatred without justification - in the spirit of Zachariah 1:15.
7. Rashi brings two explanations. Firstly, G-d will always amply reward those who study Torah, and secondly, there is nothing that Torah contains that is not of great value if one takes the trouble to give the words due study, thought, and consideration.
ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS ON PARASHAT HA-AZINU
1. The other Songs in the Bible - the Songs of Moses (Ex. 15), Deborah (Jud. 5), and David (Sam. II 22 / Psalms 18) are songs of praise and joy. This 'Song' (so called in 31:30) reveals prolonged suffering before the Final Reckoning. How can the same word - 'shira' (song), apply here?
2. Ha-azinu is written in the Sifrei Hakodesh as two separate columns - as two pillars, one opposite the other. The Songs of Moses, Deborah, and David are written differently: on alternate lines - ariach u-leveina - rather like alternate bonding in bricklaying. Why is this song written differently from the other three?
3. Moses was about to die - would this be an occasion for song?
My attempt to write on this issue may be found in Shema Yisrael for Ha'azinu in 5760
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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