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Ha'azinu (give ear!)

Deuteronomy 32:1-52, 2 Samuel 22:1-51


Notice that verses 2-3 imply that rain, dew, storm winds, and storm rain all proclaim the name of Adonai.

Verse 36 mentions God having mercy when Israel is brought so low they have no strength. But there is no mention of Israel repenting—just of God asking for Israel to return while proceeding to judge Israel's enemies instead of Israel. The situation is reminiscent of Samson, who never was repentant of his misdeed yet turned to God in his time of lack of strength and saw Israel's enemies crushed.

The final line of Moshe's song says that God's vindication "atones for his land of his people". The Gemara translates the Hebrew v'cheeper admah-to am-o as "his land will make an atonement for his people" and teaches that being buried in the Land causes atonement from sin. It is odd that Talmud does not interpret Leviticus 11:17 as saying that all atonement covers is deserving to die (as Paul writes, "the wages of sin is death"). The issue after death is not atonement but justice: to which destiny do the condition of people's hearts direct them, now that their physical deaths have atoned for their life's sins? (In other words, Yeshua's atonement allows us full atonement before we die, so we may experience the Kingdom of God in this life; scripture is clear that this is the only way to be sure of having your heart judged favorably after death, although some people who did not enter Yeshua's covenant before dying may enter the World to Come.) Entering the Kingdom has never been about perfection; it is a matter of having a heart that allows us to kneel in undivided allegiance before the King, who is messiah.

Traditional Jewish Commentary

Moshe, who is also imminently facing God's judgment, in this song declares that God is just in judging.

The Hebrew word s'eereem in verse 2 means "storm wind"; just as a storm's wind flattens the grass but does not destroy it, this song is intended to humble the Israelites and not harm them.

Verse 5 begins with "He is not corrupt": sheechat (corruption, destruction) lo (his [lamed-vav]) lo (is not [lamed-alef]). R' Bechaye creates a play on words and teaches, "What was the sin of Adam? Sheechat lo lo, his was the destruction of the word 'no'. When God told him, 'No, do not eat of the Tree of Knowledge,' Adam ate anyway."

Verse 5 is normallly translated as "He [God] is not corrupt; the defect is in his children", contrasting God's perfection with our imperfection. Another traditional interpretation sees the word "children" as referring to someone's sins and translates the verse as "He [God] did not destroy a man; the defect is in his sins", changing the contrast to be about fair judgment.

The Tz'enah Ur'enah comments on verse 39:

"I have killed Israel and will make them live again." We learn from this that God will resurrect the dead in the days of Mashiach.

R' Bechaye asks: Why did the Torah not state explicitly that God would resurrect the dead? The answer is that the Torah was given for all people. There are simple people who cannot understand everything, particularly something as novel as this. The Torah therefore merely hinted at resurrection, so that the wise folk would understand.

The Hebrew word nakam in verse 41 is most accurately about squaring accounts for justiced owed, not feuding or vengeance.

Stone comments that Israel's future physical redemption is not conditional upon repentance. Is this song's physical redemption still a future event, or was this song fulfilled at the end of the Babylonian captivity?

In verses 32:48-50 Moshe dies "on that very day" (b'etem ha'yom ha'zeh). This phrase occurs twice elsewhere, regarding Noach leaving the sinful world for the ark and Israel leaving Egypt for the promised land. Neither could be stopped; both were God's judgement and not his mercy.

Tradition takes Second Samuel 22:25 literally, and says David was so strong he could use a copper bow. According to story he hung copper bows in his throneroom to intimidate visitors from other nations.

Midrash Rabbah writes:

David said, "Let me pursue my enemies and destroy them." God heeded this prayer (Second Samuel 22:38).

Then King Asa said, "I have no strength to smite my enemies. I will pursue them but you, God, please smite them." God heeded this prayer, too (2nd Chronicles 14:12).

Then King Yehoshafat said, "I lack the strength to even pursue my enemies. I will sing your praises and you, God, please strike them down." God heeded this prayer, as well.

Then King Chizkiyahu said, "I even lack the strength to sing your praises. Please, God, let me sleep in my bed while you destroy my enemies." God even heeded this prayer (Second Kings 19:35).