Parshas Haazinu - Moshe's Last Song
This Dvar Torah has been anonymously sponsored in the zchus for a refuah shlaimah for Rochel Bina Bat Yehudis Yetta, Mazal Bat Amalia Maly, Avraham Ben Chana, Aharon Halevi Ben Basya Kaylah, Tzvi Chaim ben Malka, Yisrael Yaakov Ben Yehudis Chaya Goldah, Leora Rachel Bas Chaya Raizel
הַֽאֲזִ֥ינוּ הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וַֽאֲדַבֵּ֑רָה וְתִשְׁמַ֥ע הָאָ֖רֶץ אִמְרֵי־פִֽי:
"Listen, O heavens, and I will speak! And let the earth hear the words of my mouth!" (Devarim 32:1)
If you were a leader, tasked by God with delivering one final message, what would you say and how would you say it?
Shiras Haazinu is Moshe Rabbeinu's last address to Klal Yisrael. He sang it as a duet with his protégé and successor, Yehoshua Bin Nun as the passuk (32:44) says, "And Moses came and spoke all the words of this song into the ears of the people he and Hoshea the son of Nun." The Torah is many things but until that day it had never been a song. The Torah records songs that had been sung before but never had the Torah itself been sung.
Why did Moshe compose Shiras Haazinu on his dying day?
In truth, it was God's command to Moshe that he sing to Klal Yisrael. The passuk in last week's parsha Parshas Vayelech (31:19) says:
וְעַתָּ֗ה כִּתְב֤וּ לָכֶם֙ אֶת־הַשִּׁירָ֣ה הַזֹּ֔את וְלַמְּדָ֥הּ אֶת־בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל שִׂימָ֣הּ בְּפִיהֶ֑ם לְמַ֨עַן תִּֽהְיֶה־לִּ֜י הַשִּׁירָ֥ה הַזֹּ֛את לְעֵ֖ד בִּבְנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל
"And now, write for yourselves this song, and teach it to the Children of Israel. Place it into their mouths, in order that this song will be for Me as a witness for the children of Israel."
However, when we take a closer look, a couple of questions immediately arise.
Why was God instructing Moshe to write this song to begin with? Let's get some context.
וַיֵּרָ֧א יְהֹוָ֛ה בָּאֹ֖הֶל בְּעַמּ֣וּד עָנָ֑ן וַיַּֽעֲמֹ֛ד עַמּ֥וּד הֶֽעָנָ֖ן עַל־פֶּ֥תַח הָאֹֽהֶל: וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהֹוָה֙ אֶל־משֶׁ֔ה הִנְּךָ֥ שֹׁכֵ֖ב עִם־אֲבֹתֶ֑יךָ וְקָם֩ הָעָ֨ם הַזֶּ֜ה וְזָנָ֣ה | אַֽחֲרֵ֣י | אֱלֹהֵ֣י נֵֽכַר־הָאָ֗רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֨ר ה֤וּא בָא־שָׁ֨מָּה֙ בְּקִרְבּ֔וֹ וַֽעֲזָבַ֕נִי וְהֵפֵר֙ אֶת־בְּרִיתִ֔י אֲשֶׁ֥ר כָּרַ֖תִּי אִתּֽוֹ
וְחָרָ֣ה אַפִּ֣י ב֣וֹ בַיּֽוֹם־הַ֠ה֠וּא וַֽעֲזַבְתִּ֞ים וְהִסְתַּרְתִּ֨י פָנַ֤י מֵהֶם֙ וְהָיָ֣ה לֶֽאֱכֹ֔ל וּמְצָאֻ֛הוּ רָע֥וֹת רַבּ֖וֹת וְצָר֑וֹת וְאָמַר֙ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֔וּא הֲלֹ֗א עַ֣ל כִּי־אֵ֤ין אֱלֹהַי֙ בְּקִרְבִּ֔י מְצָא֖וּנִי הָֽרָע֥וֹת הָאֵֽלֶּה: וְאָֽנֹכִ֗י הַסְתֵּ֨ר אַסְתִּ֤יר פָּנַי֙ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֔וּא עַ֥ל כָּל־הָֽרָעָ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר עָשָׂ֑ה כִּ֣י פָנָ֔ה אֶל־אֱלֹהִ֖ים אֲחֵרִֽים
"And the Lord appeared in the Tent, in a pillar of cloud. The pillar of cloud stood at the entrance to the Tent. And the Lord said to Moses: Behold, you are [about to] lie with your forefathers, and this nation will rise up and stray after the deities of the nations of the land, into which they are coming. And they will forsake Me and violate My covenant which I made with them. And My fury will rage against them on that day, and I will abandon them and hide My face from them, and they will be consumed, and many evils and troubles will befall them, and they will say on that day, 'Is it not because our God is no longer in my midst, that these evils have befallen me?' And I will hide My face on that day, because of all the evil they have committed, when they turned to other deities." (Devarim 31:15-18)
In his final moments on earth God tells Moshe and Yehoshua about the impending downfall of Klal Yisrael. They will forsake God. Violate their bris and worship other Gods. Terrible calamities will befall them. God will hide his face from Klal Yisrael.
It is in this context that Moshe and Yehoshua are to sing Shiras Haazinu to Klal Yisrael.
Clearly, the song is meant to be an antidote to the bleak future that awaits Klal Yisrael.
Somehow, by singing this song, there is an opportunity for Klal Yisrael to avoid the terrible tragedies that will befall them if they break their covenant with God. The question is how does this work? What is it about this Shira that it has such an amazing power?
Furthermore, when we look at the text of the song it does not seem particularly inspiring.
Haazinu is broken up into two parts: a recounting of Jewish history and a glimpse into the future. The forecast for the Jewish future is a bleak one.
"Yeshurun [Israel] became fat and kicked.... You forgot G‑d who made you. You began to serve idols that are new; your fathers never imagined them... I will hide my face from them I will see what will be their end for they are a generation of changes; they are not [recognizable] as My children whom I have reared… I will link evils upon them. I will use up My arrows on them. They will sprout hair from famine, attacked by demons, excised by Meriri. I will incite the teeth of livestock upon them, with the venom of creatures that slither in the dust. From outside, the sword will bereave, and terror from within; young men and maidens, suckling babes with venerable elders." (Devarim 32:15-25)
Shiras Haazinu seems downright depressing and yet it is meant to inspire. "And Moses finished speaking all these words to all Israel. And he said to them, "Set your hearts to all of the words which I bear witness for you this day, so that you may command your children to observe to do all the words of this Torah. For it is not an empty thing for you, for it is your life, and through this thing, you will lengthen your days upon the land to which you are crossing over the Jordan, to possess it." (Devarim 32:45_47)
How does singing such a sad song to Klal Yisrael inspire them to change their ways?
Interestingly, the Rambam in Hilchos Teffilin, Mezuzah and Sefer Torah (7:1) writes
מצות עשה על כל איש ואיש מישראל לכתוב ספר תורה לעצמו שנאמר ועתה כתבו לכם את השירה כלומר כתבו לכם תורה שיש בה שירה זו
It is a positive commandment for each and every Jewish man to write a Torah scroll for himself, as [implied by the commandment (Deuteronomy 31:19)]: "And now, write down this song for yourselves," i.e., write down the [entire] Torah which contains this song…
Why, of all the pesukim in the Torah, is this the source for the Mitzvah to write a Sefer Torah? Klal Yisrael is on the brink of disaster. The song is a last ditch effort to save them from their impending doom. Is this the best source for the obligation to write a Sefer Torah? Does this song encapsulate the entirety of the Torah?
The Gemara in Rosh Hashana (13a) tells us that a portion of Shiras Haazinu was sung every single Shabbos in the Beis HaMikdash when the Korban Mussaf was brought. Again, we have to ask ourselves, why? It does not seem like a particularly inspiring song. Why mar the serenity of Shabbos with such terrible predictions for the future?
The Seven Sefiros of Creation
In order to understand the nature of Shiras Haazinu we must first understand the nature of music in general and in order to understand the nature of music in general we need to go all the way back to the beginning of creation. From a spiritual perspective creation is a challenging concept. How does a finite world exist in the face of the infinite? How could a finite world have an independent identity when the infinite light will nullify its very existence? Think of a ray of the sun while still in the sun itself. The ray is indistinguishable from the sun. To explain how creation came about the Arizal says that when Hashem created the world he was metzamtzem (concealed) the ohr ein sof (infinite light) in order to make the finite world possible. Of course it goes without saying that God Himself was not limited in any way but the ohr ein sof was concealed to allow us to exist. Thus, tzimtzum allowed for a Seder Hishtalshelus (a series of intermediary stages) that bring the finite world into being.
Of course there is no place that is devoid of God and He is immanent in our world. God expresses Himself in this world through the ten sefiros. The word "sefirah" shares the same root as the word lesaper, to communicate. It is also related to the word "sapir" which means a sapphire, the gemstone that illuminates. The sefiros are not God but they are how He manifests Himself in this world. Through the sefiros we can talk about what God does without talking about who He is. In other words, we can speak about God's manifestation without limiting Him. God loves but He is not limited to love. The ten sefiros are broken down into two categories. The three upper sefiros are the intellectual sefiros (Chochmah - wisdom, binah - understanding and daas - knowledge) while the seven lower sefiros are the emotional sefiros (Chessed - kindness, Gevurah - strength, Tiferet - beauty, Netzach - victory, Hod - splendor, Yesod - foundation, Malchut – kingship).
The sefiros are also reflected in Man’s spiritual make-up, with each faculty in Man derived from the supernal sefiros. In other words, the sefiros are the infrastructure of all the worlds and are reflected with the microcosm of man. When we utilize the sefiros inside of ourselves properly we affect their source, the sefiros in the higher worlds. Just as above, our soul has within it a combination of intellect and emotions. Just as the sefiros are the way in which we can speak about God's manifestation in the world so too the sefiros are how we manifest our soul in this world. For example, Chesed, love, becomes kindness when translated into action.
While it is true that God created the world using all ten sefiros, the first three upper sefiros can be said to be the principles of creation while the seven lower sefiros are what actually brought the world into creation.
It is these seven lower sefiros that will help us understand the power of music.
The Power of Music
Corresponding to the seven emotional sefiros that brought creation into being we have seven musical notes (C,D,E,F,G,A,B). Each note is connected to one of the sefiros of creation. When we listen to music we are connecting to the most essential aspects of our soul. (In Parshas Reah the Torah lists seven kosher animals – the seventh is the Zamer, which literally means the song.) In fact, music is said to be the language of the soul.
Rav Yaakov Skili, a student of the Rashba, writes, "When the soul sounds hears the sounds of music it remembers its first dwelling place and how, while it was before its Creator, it heard these sounds. It becomes aroused to joy and rejoicing. This is why musical instruments arouse people to a state of prophecy." (Toras Haminchah, Parshas Behaalsocha, drasha 56) In other words, well before the soul developed language, it was accustomed to listening to music. No wonder that it brings a person to a state of nevua. Music touches the deepest recesses of our soul.
Rebbe Nachman writes that music even has the capacity to allow us to hold on to our humanity. "Music is of benefit to the shepherd himself. Since the shepherd is always among animals, it is possible that their company would reduce his human spirit to an animalistic one – to the point that the shepherd would end up having to shepherd himself! Through music he is spared from this fate, because music is the clarification of the spirit which separates the spirit of man from the spirit of animal. This is the essence of music – to amass and select the good spirit. For this reason, through music, he is spared from the animalistic spirit." (Likutei Maharan Tinyana 63)
It is now clear why music has such a powerful impact on our emotions. Each note is literally connected to the very fiber of our emotional makeup.
The Alter Rebbe famously said, “If words are the pen of the heart then song is the pen of the soul for through it, the feelings of the soul are transmitted.” (Chabad Heichal Haneginah p.31)
Rabbeinu Bechaya in his introduction to Parshas Nasso writes, "It is known that rejoicing while performing a mitzvah is a mitzvah in and of itself. Just as the mitzvah is “service” of Hashem, so, too, is the joy in doing mitzvos called “service.” This is underscored by that which is written, “Since you did not serve Hashem, your God, with joy.” (Devarim 28:47) This is the intention of the passuk, “Serve Hashem with joy.” (Tehhilim 100:2) that the “joy” is “service” in its perfect form. There was therefore song in the Beis HaMikdash as well as the Mishkan; song that was both vocal and instrumental, so that it could bring a personal’s soul to the path of joy. Thus, the Torah writes that the Leviim are to “serve the service of service. (Bamidbar 4:47) Chazal (Arachin 11a) expound by clarifying “Which is the service of the service?” Song. For the Leviim were instructed and commanded to sing and thereby arouse the joyfulness of the mitzvah of offering a korban, so that the Mitzvah would be performed with joy.
Beautiful music has the capacity to lift us from dark places.
The Rambam in Shemoneh Perakim (5) says, "Also one who is overtaken by depression can remove it by listening to songs from various types of music."
Regarding Shaul HaMelech the Navi tells us, "And the spirit of the Lord departed from Shaul, and an evil spirit from the Lord frightened him. And Shaul's servants said to him, "Behold now, an evil spirit of God is frightening you. Let our lord say (your servants are before you), 'Let them seek a man who knows how to play on the harp'; and it will be, that when the evil spirit of God is upon you, he will play with his hand, and it will be good for you." (Shmuel I 16:14-16)
The Malbim (ibid.) explains, "Once the spirit of Hashem departed from Shaul, he did not remain as other people. Rather, he was constantly worrying, contemplating his punishment and the loss of his kingdom, which resulted from his sin… until he became consumed with an ailment of melancholy… Thus it can be healed, either through external methods (medications and the like) or through internal methods, by adjusting his imagination and thoughts towards happiness and serenity. His servant chose music since it can shift the soul from one character trait to another, and is able to release the depression by moving to other, happier thoughts."
But just as music can have a positive impact it can also have a negative impact. When dealing with such a powerful tool one must exercise extreme caution.
The Mishna in Sotah (48a) says, "From the time when the Sanhedrin ceased song was also nullified from the places of feasts, i.e., it was no longer permitted to sing at a feast where wine was served, as it is stated: “With song they shall not drink wine” (Isaiah 24:9). The Yerushalmi in Sotah (45a) explains, "Rav Chisda said, “At first, the fear of Sanhedrin was upon them and they did not use words of vulgarity in their song. Now that the fear of the Sanhedrin is no longer upon them they do use vulgar words in their song."
Vulgar music has a deleterious impact on the soul. The Aish Kodesh, Rebbe Kalonimus Kalmish Shapira zt"l HY"D the saintly Rebbe from Piacezne wrote in Hachsharas Ha'avreichim (9) regarding the niggunim we listen to:
"Behold, we see great singers and musicians whose hearts are distant from HaShem, without belief and heart, Heaven spare us; and even among idol-worshippers there are musicians. For music is nothing but a form of exposing of the soul and its feelings. Yet, there is no determining what a person will do at the time that he brings out this feeling, and what he will accomplish with the part of his soul that has now become exposed. Just as there can be two joyous people, one channeling his joy to increase his service of HaShem, while the other just becomes wild, so, too, when it comes to music - one of the keys to the soul, to arouse it and its feelings. It is possible for a person to open his soul and to have some of it come out, yet not only does he not do anything with it, he instead sullies this portion of his soul, whether it is with joy-filled wildness or with the broken-heartedness of depression and despair. This could lead him to fall from his former trust and belief and to do things that may not be done, Heaven spare us."
To sum up, the seven notes correspond to the seven sefiros of creation. Music is therefore found at the essence of our humanity and has the capacity to have a tremendous emotional impact on a person. We ought to be careful about the music we ingest so that the impact will be a positive one.
Is it any wonder that Shiras Haazinu is found in Perek Lamed Beis of Devarim? After all, as we will see it is the song that pulls at our heart strings for generations to come.
The Whole World is Waiting to Sing the Song of Shabbos
Music has a profound connection to Shabbos Kodesh. In fact, Shabbos itself sings as we say in Shabbos davening, וְיום הַשְּׁבִיעִי מְשַׁבֵּחַ וְאומֵר. מִזְמור שִׁיר לְיום הַשַּׁבָּת, the seventh day praises God and says "a song with musical accompaniment for the Sabbath day". Every day we say the Shir shel Yom. On Yom Rishon we only have one note. On Yom Sheini we add a second note. Only on Shabbos have we accrued all seven notes are now capable of fully praising God through song.
The Sefer Yetzirah explains that our face has seven gateways to the soul. Two eyes, two ears and two nostrils represent the first six. The seventh gateway to the soul is the mouth.
The Chida (Pnei Dovid Bereishis 23) quotes the Rabbeinu Ephraim as saying, "'And Hashem completed on the seventh day' (Bereishis 2:1) refers to the final work (in the creation of man), which is his mouth. For after the fetus exits the womb, he does not have the ability to speak, nor does he have any teeth. 'And Hashem blessed the seventh day' – for he chose the mouth from among all the other limbs to learn Torah with it and to praise Hashem and unify His singular name. Indeed the Gematria of hashvii is equaivalent to that of shevach bipeh – praise with the mouth. Based on the notion that the mouth is the seventh and is similar to Shabbos, which Hashem selected and chose, it is understood that one is required to praise and sing zemiros on Shabbos, to learn Torah, as well as to sanctify one’s mouth by not speaking mundane matters or idle chatter. Let the seventh come and delight on the seventh with Torah, song and praise."
On the seventh day we use our seventh portal, singing all seven notes in our praise of Hashem.
Even the angels are not given the opportunity to sing on Shabbos. That privilege is reserved for us. Tosafos in Sanhedrin (37b - miyom) quotes a Teshuvos HaGeonim that says that those who lived in Eretz Yisrael only said Kedusha on Shabbos because the passul in Yeshaya (6:2) says that each angel has six wings. Every day the angels sing with the kanaf designated for that day. On Shabbos the angels asked Hashem for a seventh wing so that they could sing to Hashem on Shabbos. Hashem answered them, “I have a kanaf (wing) on Earth, who sings before me today, “As it states, “From the Kanaf on Earth we heard songs, endearment to the righteous One. (Yeshaya 24:16)”
Again, is it any wonder that Haazinu is the last parsha we read on Shabbos (Vizos HaBracha is read on Simchas Torah). The Shira that will accompany us for generations to come is sung at the conclusion of the Shabbos Torah reading cycle.
Learning Torah or Singing Torah?
Both the written Torah and the oral Torah are deeply connected to music.
The Torah itself is meant to be read with the trup which Rav Yitzchak Ginsburgh explains represents the rectified controlled motions of the nachash. We know that the punishment of the Nachash for tricking Adam and Chava into eating from the Eitz HaDaas was that it would henceforth slither to and fro on the ground. The crooked, haphazard motions of the Nachash represent the chaos he brought into this world through his sin. When reading from the Torah with the appropriate, controlled notes of the trup we rectify the chaos of the nachash.
The Oral Torah is also meant to be read with a niggun. The Gemara in Megillah (32a) says, "And Rabbi Shefatya said that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: Concerning anyone who reads from the Torah without a melody or studies the Mishna without a song, the verse states: “So too I gave them statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live” (Yechezkel 20:25). Tosafos explains that before the Mishnayos were written down they would memorize Mishnayos by singing them to a particular tune. (The Meiri (Beis HaBechirah Tehilllim 47) explains that the words Zamru maskil, composed with wisdom, "this is to say, not a commonplace song, but rather a song that arouses the heart and lends intelligence to those who listen." So music can actually increase the intelligence in the listener.) The Tiferes Yisrael (Arachin 4:1) suggests that perhaps the language of a particular Mishna is a function of the tune that it was sung to. This may explain why a particular Mishna may be terse or expansive in its language.
Rav Yisrael of Shklov the student of the Vilna Gaon said in the name of the Gra (introduction to Peas HaShulchan), "He praised the wisdom of music greatly. He used to say that most explanations of the Torah, secrets of the songs of the Leviim and secrets of the Tikkunei Zohar, cannot be comprehended without it. One can revive the dead with its secrets that are concealed in the Torah. He used to say that the numerous songs and numerous measures were brought down from Har Sinai by Moshe Rabbeinu. The remainder are mere hybrids."
Aside from rectifying the sin of Adam HaRishon and increasing our capacity to memorize the Torah shebaal peh, there is another benefit to learning Torah with music as well.
When Yehoshua was encamped at Yericho he suddenly saw a man with drawn sword standing opposite him. “And it came to pass when Joshua was by Jericho that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man stood over against him with his sword drawn in his hand. And Joshua went over to him and said to him: Are you for us, or for our adversaries? And he said, No, but I am captain of the host of the Lord, I have come now. And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down” (Joshua 5:13–14)
The dialogue is difficult to understand. Yehoshua asks the man if he is with them or against them and the man cryptically responds, I have come now. The Gemara in Megillah (3a) explains that Yehoshua knew that he was actually in a conversation with an angel.
אמר לו אמש בטלתם תמיד של בין הערבים ועכשיו בטלתם תלמוד תורה אמר לו על איזה מהן באת אמר לו עתה באתי
The angel said to Yehoshua: Yesterday, i.e., during the afternoon, you neglected the afternoon daily offering due to the impending battle, and now, at night, you have neglected Torah study, and I have come to rebuke you. Yehoshua said to him: For which of these sins have you come? He said to him: I have come now, indicating that neglecting Torah study is more severe than neglecting to sacrifice the daily offering.
Tosafos explains that this cryptic conversation is actually in the text of the pseukim. When Yehoshua asked the angel are you with us or against us asked he said: הֲלָ֥נוּ אַתָּ֖ה אִם־לְצָרֵֽינוּ
The words "lanu" and "tzareinu" are actually code. Yehoshua is asking did you come "lanu" because of our bittul Torah as it says Torah tziva "lanu" Moshe or because we didn't bring korbanos which protect us from "tzareinu" our troubles. The Malach responds, עתה באתי which means I have come for the sin of bittul Torah as the pasuk says "viata" kisvu lachem es hashira hazos.
The Ponovezher Rav asks, when Yehoshua asked his initial question he asked from Torah tziva lanu Moshe but when the Malach responds he uses the passuk of viata kisvu lachem es hashira hazos. Why the switch?
The Ponevezher Rav answers that there is a subtext to the conversation between Yehoshua and the Malach. Klal Yisrael was in the middle of a war. Yehoshua was asking the Malach how they could be held accountable for the commandment to learn Torah in such a situation. Are we really "commanded" (tziva) to learn Torah under such circumstances? The Malach's response answers Yehoshuas question. Of course you are not obligated to learn Torah when you are otherwise occupied but if Torah was a song to you then you would find a way to learn anyway. This is the why the Malach responded with the passuk of Viata kisvu lachem es hashira hazos.
There are many benefits to learning Torah with a song, perhaps none is greater than the fact that the music of Torah inspires us to continue learning with diligence even in the most trying of circumstances.
As we said above, Shiras Haazinu is in perek lamed beis (lev) of Devarim. The entirety of the Torah which begins with a Beis and ends with a Lamed can be found in the perek that turns Torah into a song. Though we have not fully explained why the Rambam uses the passuk of viata kisvu lachem es hashira hazos as his source for writing a Sefer Torah, at least we now have some inkling as to the inner connection between Torah and song. Far from being just a tune, the niggun we use when singing the Torah touches the inner essence of the Torah itself, inspiring us to continued learning.
Appropriately, our obligation to recite a bracha before learning Torah can be found in Shiras Haazinu as the passuk says, "When I call out the name of the Lord, ascribe greatness to our God." (Devarim 32:3) The punishment for failure to make a Birchas HaTorah? The Gemara in Nedarim (81a) says that the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed as a result of this sin. How could this be? Failure to make a bracha is such a tragedy that it deserves the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash?
It wasn't the failure to make the bracha that resulted in the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. That was merely a symptom of a more fundamental issue. When Torah is an intellectual pursuit we lose sight of the Godliness of the Torah. When Torah is a song we sing in unison with the composer and make a bracha before we learn.
This is as the Rambam writes in Hilchos Talmud Torah (3:13), "Even though it is a mitzvah to study during the day and at night, it is only at night that a person acquires most of his wisdom. Therefore, a person who desires to merit the crown of Torah should be careful with all his nights, not giving up even one to sleep, eating, drinking, talk, or the like. Rather, [they should be devoted to] the study of Torah and the words of wisdom. Our Sages declared: "The song of Torah can [be heard] only at night, as [
] states: 'Arise, sing out at night..."
But why is the song of Torah primarily sung at night? At night we had every excuse not to learn. It was dark outside and difficult to learn by the light of a candle. We were exhausted after a hard day’s work. Perhaps on a purely halachik level we are exempt from learning but if the Torah is the song of our soul then obligation is not what carries the day. Even in a state of exhaustion one finds a way to sing.
The Song of Teshuva
The Vilna Gaon (Biur HaGra: Divrei Hayamim 1:23:4) teaches that through the power of song we can defeat the yetzer hora.
The Shem MiShmuel teaches that when one was bringing a korban, if the Kohen offering the korban would sense that the owner had not yet undergone complete repentance, he would signal the Levi to fire up the heart of the owner to repentance through his song (Shem MiShmuel – Simchas Torah 5681 quoting the Bris Kehunah).
How does this work? How does music help us defeat the yester hora and inspire us to teshuva? We have already explained that music is the language of the soul and is connected to the essence of our being. Let us now go one level deeper.
Shirah comes from the word sharsheres, which means chain. Sometimes we find ourselves in a state of hester panim. God's plan is hidden from our eyes and we fail to see how all the events in our life connect together harmoniously. The events that occur all around us, tragedies that befall us, feel totally random. In such a place a person is prone to sin. When we see God clearly in our lives it is easy to do what we know to be true. When God is hidden it can be difficult to remain loyal to Him. It can be difficult to be inspired to return to Him. Shira has the capacity to remind us that history has a harmony. Events are links in a chain. Each moment spurs on the next. Nothing is random. It is all part of a larger plan. God's plan.
Knowing this we are ready to begin explaining the secret of Shiras Haazinu.
Recall the reason Moshe is instructed to sing the song to begin with.
And the Lord said to Moses: Behold, you are [about to] lie with your forefathers, and this nation will rise up and stray after the deities of the nations of the land, into which they are coming. And they will forsake Me and violate My covenant which I made with them. And My fury will rage against them on that day, and I will abandon them and hide My face from them, and they will be consumed, and many evils and troubles will befall them, and they will say on that day, 'Is it not because our God is no longer in my midst, that these evils have befallen me?' And I will hide My face on that day, because of all the evil they have committed, when they turned to other deities."
God is telling Moshe about the hester panim that Klal Yisrael will experience as a result of their sins.
We can understand why Yehoshua needs to hear this message but what can Moshe do about it? It's going to happen after he dies?
But in truth Moshe can do something. By singing the song of Shiras Haazinu together with Yehoshua he can give Klal Yisrael the cure before the illness can even occur. Through song Moshe can teach the nation a valuable lesson. God's hester panim is part of a sharsheres (chain) of events. Don't just look at one moment in time as if it is disjointed from the one that came before it. Our actions have consequences. It's a chain reaction. When it's dark outside we know that we took part in bringing that darkness upon ourselves. And in the darkness when we connect to the song of Haazinu we are able to remember that all of life is a chain reaction.
This explains why the song begins with the words, "Listen, O heavens, and I will speak! And let the earth hear the words of my mouth!" Moshe and Yehoshua are going back to the beginning of time, to the creation of heaven and earth, to show that every event that got us to where we are today can be traced back to the beginning of time. Nothing is random. All is ordered. This is why Rashi explains that heaven and earth are being called upon as witnesses. Moshe will die but the heavens and earth will testify that when we act righteously we are rewarded and when we act sinfully we treated in accordance. Heaven and earth have been here since the beginning of time. They testify to the sharsheres of history. The hester panim we experience was brought upon by us. God is a loving father as the song attests to.
"Destruction is not His; it is His children's defect you crooked and twisted generation. Is this how you repay the Lord, you disgraceful, unwise people?! Is He not your Father, your Master? He has made you and established you." (Devarim 32:5,6) The Shira reminds us that we are responsible for our actions. The message is not only in the words of the song but in the very notion of song itself. Song touches the essence of our being. All seven attributes of our soul. It can cure our depression, bringing us to new heights in our service of God. A niggun itself reminds us that behind everything there is a cause. The tune of this moment of history was preceded by a different niggun.
This explains why we find a reference to the seven sephiros in Shras Haazinu itself. The passuk says, “When I call out the name of the Lord, ascribe greatness to our God. The deeds of the (Mighty) Rock are perfect, for all his ways are just; a faithful God, without injustice He is righteous and upright. Destruction is not His; it is His children’s defect you crooked and twister generation.” (Devarim 32:3-5) The Shla quoting the Zohar explains that “ascribe greatness” is the sefira of chesed, “the deeds of the Rock are perfect” is the sefira of gevurah, “for all His ways are just” is the sefira of tiferes, “a faithful God” is the sefira of netzach, “without injustice” is the sefira of Hod, “He is righteous” is the sefira of Hod and finally “upright” is the sefira of Malchus. This is why Moshe said I will proclaim the name of God. No song ever encapsulated all seven sefiros like Shiras Haazinu.
With this in mind let us return to the Rambam above that says the rina (song) of Torah is primarily at night. When a Jew finds themselves in the hester panim of night time it is our responsibility to sing the song of Torah and ask ourselves where we went wrong. God does not want to be hidden. More than anything He wants a relationship with us. It is the reason for our very existence. Only those who learn Torah at night, when God’s face is hidden from us, merit finding God in the darkness. We don’t know why God brings tragedy to our world. We can ask why me or we can ask what now. Chazal tell us that when tragedy strikes we ought to make an internal accounting of our actions and do teshuva. In this way we use hester panim as an opportunity for introspection. We are confident that God did not hide Himself for no reason. Those who learn the Torah of the night look for a cause for the hester panim.
We can now understand how Shiras Haazinu encapsulates the entire Torah and is an appropriate source for the Mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah. The song is not depressing. It is real. It is powerful. It confronts the truth that our actions have consequences. It teaches us that God wants to have a relationship with us but we have to stop running away from Him if we want Him to reveal Himself to us. Reward and punishment are the natural results of our behavior. This is the entire Torah.
Appropriately this shira was sung as a duet. Rebbe and talmid. The leader and his successor. Another link in the chain. The ultimate expression of the sharsheres of Klal Yisrael.
This also explains how the Leviim could sing Shiras Haazinu in the Beis HaMikdash on Shabbos. Shiras Haazinu touches all seven attributes of the soul. It is the song that stirs us to do Teshuva. Could there be a more appropriate time then Shabbos? Could there be a more appropriate place than where heaven meets earth for it to be sung?
A New Song
Shiras Haazinu is specifically related to the korban mussaf, the additional sacrifice, that is brought on Shabbos. While the Korban Mussaf was being sacrificed the Leviim would sing Haazinu. What is the connection between the koran mussaf and Shiras Haazinu?
Dovid HaMelech, “the sweet singer of Israel”, (Shmuel II 23:1) is deeply connected to the number seven. He is the seventh of the great leaders of Klal Yisrael (the seventh of the Ushpizin on Succos). He died on Shavuos which ends the seven weeks that began with Pesach. He married Bat Sheva (seven) for which he suffered from six months of leprosy (in the seventh month he was healed). For many years Dovid suffered so greatly that each day they would replace seven pillows from under him after they became soaked with blood and puss. Dovid HaMelech reigned for seven years in Chevron and seven years in Yerushalayim.
Perhaps most importantly the Gemara in Eirichin (13b) tells us that the harp of Dovid HaMelech, which was played in the Beis HaMikdash, had seven strings. In Pirkei DiRebbe Eliezer it is brought down that there are seven major bodies of water and the seventh one is the Kinneret which is so named because it is shaped like a Kinnor (a harp). Thus we see that Dovid HaMelech, as the ultimate musician, is intimately linked with the number seven because he knew how to arouse all seven emotions of the soul with each one of the seven notes of music. The Zohar says the Kinor (harp) is a contraction of the ki (the first two letters) which in Gematria is twenty six and Ner, meaning candle. Dovid would play on his harp and arouse the soul (Ki ner Hashem nishmas adam) to twenty six which is the same Gematria as Hashems name (the tetragrammaton).
Interestingly, Dovid lived for seventy years and the Rambam in Hilchos Mezuzah, Teffilin and Sefer Torah (8:4) paskens that Haazinu has to be written on precisely seventy lines of the Torah.
The Gemara in Eirichin continues and says that in the times of Mashiach an eighth string will be added on to the harp of Dovid HaMelech while in the times of Olam Haba the harp will be played with ten strings. What is the significance of the fact that Dovids harp had seven strings, Mashiach’s will have eight and in the times of Olam Haba the harp will have ten strings?
Canaan was conquered by Yehoshua who conquered seven of the ten nations that inhabited the land (He did not conquer the Keni, Knezi and Kadmoni). In other words, only the seven lower sefiros were revealed in Yehoshuas conquest. The remaining sefiros will only be conquered in the times of Mashiach. Mashiach adds a string on to the harp of Dovid HaMelech as he takes us from the natural world of seven to the supernatural world of eight, culminating in the ten stronged harp of Olam Haba.
Rav Moshe Wolfson explains that this is why before Tisha B’Av we read three parshiyos that relate to destruction while after Tisha B’Av we read the seven parshiyos of Nechama, consolation. In the times of Mashiach all ten parshiyos will ultimately involve rejoicing as all ten of the sefiros will be revealed in this world and God’s presence will be completely manifest.
We also see a reference to this in Az Yashir. The Kitzur Baal HaTurim (15:1-3) explains that Az Yashir, in the future they will sing, is a reference to the ten songs of that are sung throughout history. Yashir stands for Yud Shir, ten songs. The Medrash Tanchuma in Beshalach (10) explains that these ten songs are Shiras HaYam (Yeshaya 30:29), Shiras HaBe’er (Bamidbar 21:17-20), Shiras Haazinu (Devarim 32), the shira with which Yehoshua stopped the sun (Yehoshua 10:12-13), Shiras Devorah (Shoftim 5), Shiras Dovid HaMelech (Shmuel II 22), Shiras Chanukas HaBayis (Tehillim 30) and Shir HaShirim by Shlomo HaMelech. If you were counting you will notice that there are only nine songs listed. The Medrash explains that the tenth song will be a shir chadash, a new song (Tehillim 33), written by Mashiach ushering in the era of Olam Haba. Only in the times of Olam Haba, when all ten sefiros are revealed, will we have a brand new tenth song. This is in accordance with the Gemara in Pesachim (117a) that says there are ten synonyms for songs in Sefer Tehillim and why Sefer Tehiilim culminates (Tehillim 150) with ten different forms of musical expression.
We can now understand the connection between Shiras Haazinu and the Korban Mussaf. Through singing Shiras Haazinu which encapsulates all seven of the lower sefiros (Shabbos) the Leviim were adding on (mussaf) a new string to the harp of Dovid HaMelech. The Korban Mussaf represents the eighth string of Mashiach’s harp. Ultimately Mashiach will bring us to the dimension where two more strings will be added on as all ten sefiros are revealed.
May we merit to hear the new song of Olam Haba speedily in our days.