Testimony for Israel


הרב שבתי סבתו
ט תשרי תשע
לרשימת השיעורים לחץ כאן
With these dramatic words, Moshe Rabbeinu begins his unforgettable Song of Rebuke in his parting speech before his death. But what does he mean? What does he want the heavens and earth to he
ב"ה 
Sept. 23, '09
ו' תשרי ה'תש"ע
Parashat Haazinu
פרשת האזינו
Rabbi Shabtai Sabato
הרבשבתיסבתו
 
 
עדות לישראל
Testimony for Israel
 
The Heaven and Earth's Testimony
האזינו השמים ואדברה, ותשמע הארץ אמרי פי
Hear, o heavens, and I will speak; let the earth hear the words of my mouth.
 (Dvarim 32,1)
 
With these dramatic words, Moshe Rabbeinu begins his unforgettable Song of Rebuke in his parting speech before his death. But what does he mean? What does he want the heavens and earth to hear?
 
Is this merely a theatrical declaration, reinforcing the validity and authority of the Song for the coming generations? Or is perhaps Moshe ordering the heavens and earth to "cease and desist," to no longer produce rain and dew, so that they can hear his words?
 
The next verse clears the picture:
יערוף כמטר לקחי, תיזל כטל אמרתי
My lesson shall drop like rain, My saying shall flow like the dew.
 (verse 2)
 
This comes to tell us that Moshe's "teaching" – i.e., his rebuke – shall take the place of the rain, and the "prophetic saying" shall come instead of the dew. In other words: Yes, the heavens and earth shall stop nourishing physical life, and in their place will come spiritual life.

When Moshe commands the heavens and the earth to suspend their operations, they might be well within their rights to protest: "Why should we stop our Divinely-commanded production of rain and dew, simply so that mortal Moshe should be allowed to speak in our place?"
 
To this, Moshe responds in the next verse:
 כי שם ה' אקרא, הבו גודל לאלוקינו
When I call G-d's Name, give greatness to our G-d.
 (verse 3)
 
Moshe is explaining to the heavens and earth: "I speak not in my own name, but rather in the name of Hashem. Therefore, you must also pay homage and give honor to our G-d, and comply with my command."
 
 
This is a sublime message. It means that the heavens and the earth are themselves testimony and proof of the tremendous value of the words of prophecy and rebuke - for the Divine message can even take the place of the rain and dew, which are so crucial to our existence.
 
This very profound concept – that the word of G-d is equal to life – is also expressed at the end of the Haazinu song:
ויאמר אליהם, שימו לבבכם לכל הדברים אשר אנוכי מעיד בכם היום...
כי לא דבר ריק הוא מכם, כי הוא חייכם
He said to them: Set your hearts to all that I testify among you today…
for it is not a vain thing for you; it is rather your very life.
 (verse 46)
 
Keeping G-d's precepts and commands is our prescription for long life upon the Land sworn to our forefathers by Hashem – as attested to by the heavens and the earth.
 
But the heavens and the earth are not the only witnesses. There is another witness as well.
 
 
The Song and the Testimony
The extra witness is none other than this very song – the Song of Haazinu. 
 
In the preceding chapter, the Torah states:
ופנה אל אלוהים אחרים...
וענתה השירה הזאת לפניו לעד, כי לא תישכח מפי זרעו
[Israel] will turn to foreign gods…
and this song shall testify for them like a witness,
for it will not be forgotten by their descendants.
(Dvarim 31,20-21)
 
What does the Song of Haazinu testify to? It is a message to future generations so that they will be able to understand what happened to Israel, and why.

Hashem says to Moshe: "If the worst happens and Israel strays from the good path, thus bringing upon themselves all sorts of difficult punishments, what will stop the downslide? What will cause a turnabout? The answer is found in the Song of Haazinu."
 
This song, Haazinu, will be the thing to bring about the movement of teshuvah (repentance) to G-d, and will serve as a light-tower for the future generations.
 
In order to understand how this works, we must first understand the big fear. What type of sins are Hashem and Moshe afraid that Israel will commit? 

The answer is: They fear that Israel will "eat, be satiated, and live in luxury" (Dvarim 31,20), that they will sink themselves in the physical enjoyments of life, and will forget their Lord G-d Who took them out of Egypt and developed them into G-d's Treasured Nation.
 
Not only that. Hashem also fears that the Chosen Nation will stray after the foreign gods and idols of the neighboring nations. If such a thing were to happen, it would turn G-d's gift of the Land of Israel into the opposite of what it was meant to be. Instead of it being a ladder for Israel to climb up to greater spiritual heights, it would be a steep downward slope liable lead to a crash.
 
All this is emphasized in Haazinu, after having been stated outright in VaYelekh, the portion before it. In VaYelekh we read:
ויאמר ה' אל משה:
הנך שוכב עם אבותיך וקם העם הזה וזנה אחרי אלוהי נכר הארץ...
Hashem said to Moshe: After you pass away,
this nation will arise and stray after the alien gods of this land.

כי אביאנו אל האדמה אשר נשבעתי לאבותיו,
זבת חלב ודבש ואכל ושבע ודשן
ופנה אל אלוהים אחרים ועבדום וניאצוני והפר את בריתי
When I bring them to the Land of milk and honey that I promised their ancestors,
they will eat, be satiated, and live in luxury
and will turn to other gods and worship them,
despising Me and violating My covenant.
(Dvarim 31,15-21)
 
The greatest fear is mentioned last: the fear that Israel, having sunk up to its neck in physical comforts, will violate its sacred covenant with Hashem. After all, the people sinned even in the desert, and so G-d asks: "If they sinned even when conditions were so bitter and difficult, how will they be able to remain loyal in the Land of Israel, where things are sweet and wonderful?"
 
The same sad turn of events is foreseen in Haazinu:
וישמן ישורון ויבעט, שמנת עבית כסית, ויטוש אלוה עשהו וינבל צור ישועתו
Yeshurun [Israel] became fat and rebelled. You grew fat, thick and gross.
The Nation abandoned the G-d Who made it,
and spurned the Mighty One of its salavation.
(Dvarim 32,15)
 
Thus, the Song of Haazinu is a witness for future generations - so that they will be able to understand what happened to Israel, and why.

Is this the end of the list of witnesses? Or perhaps there is one more?
 
The Scroll of the Torah
Moshe Rabbeinu completes writing the Book of the Torah, and turns to the Levites:
ויצו משה את הלויים נושאי ארון ברית ה' לאמר:
לקוח את ספר התורה הזה
ושמתם אותו מצד ארון ברית ה' אלוקיכם והיה שם בך לעד.
Moshe charged the Levites, those who carry the Ark of the Covenant:
Take this Torah Scroll and place it to the side of the Ark of the Covenant of G-d,
and it will remain there amongst you as a witness.
(31, 25-26)
 
The Torah itself is to be a witness. What will it be testifying about? The answer, as Moshe Rabbeinu explains in the next verse, is that he, too, fears the future. Moshe therefore gives his own warning to Bnei Yisrael:
כי אנוכי ידעתי את מריך ואת ערפך הקשה.
הן בעודני חי עמכם היום ממרים הייתם עם ה', ואף כי אחרי מותי.
For I know your rebelliousness and your stubbornness.
For even when I lived amongst you, you rebelled against Hashem –
and certainly after my death.
(31,27)
 
Moshe says: "If when I walked amongst you, commanding your respect and trying with all my might to lead you, you rebelled against G-d – what can be expected after I die, when you are left without the leader who performed G-d's great miracles and wonders that you experienced first-hand!?"
 
The answer, Moshe tells us, is that the Torah itself will be a witness for the End of the Days, telling the amazing story of the creation of the Nation of Israel. It will inspire us by recounting how the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were turned from a slave people, given to humiliation and persecution, into an honored and exalted nation led by none other than the Creator of the Word, Whose wonders echoed from one end of the world to the other.
 
 
We thus have four witnesses: The heavens and earth, the Song of Haazinu, and the Torah Scroll. Why do we need so many? Let us analyze each one.
 
It is clear that the heavens and the earth served as witnesses even before Israel entered the Holy Land. Their task is to serve as an example that the fulfillment of G-d's word is Lief, just as their rain and dew provide life for the world.
 
On the other hand, the Song of Haazinu is assigned to be a witness only at the End of Days, after the sin and punishment. Before we delve into the role of the Torah as the fourth witness, let us analyze the concept of "two and three witnesses."
 
 
Two or Three
In Parashat Shoftim, which we read a few weeks ago, the Torah gives us guidelines for the proper functioning of courts in a society based on law and justice. One of the rules is:
על פי שני עדים או על פי שלושה עדים יקום דבר
According to three witnesses, or according to three witnesses,
shall a matter be determined.
(Dvarim 19,15)
 
Clearly, the minimum number of required witnesses is two. But the continuation of this verse implies that two is not enough, and that three are required. Which is it: two, or three?
 
The answer is that the Torah is advising us not to try to seek out extra witnesses, and that if we want to add, we should add only one more. Why? Because in any group of witnesses, if one of them is found to be invalid, the entire testimony is invalid. If
three or four witnesses testify, and one of them is disqualified, the entire testimony is thrown out. Therefore, the more witnesses there are, the greater are the chances that their testimony will be invalidated.
 
This law teaches us a great lesson regarding Parashat Haazinu. It is not enough to have two witnesses – the heavens and the earth – for they can testify only about the situation as it was "ante," before anything happened to Israel. We must have a third witness – one who is equal in importance to the other two, as seen from the fact that his disqualification means their disqualification as well – and this third witness can tell us of the situation after the sin-and-punishment, as we explained above.
 
Let us consider the heavens and the earth as they function as a pair of witnesses. They clearly come from opposing standpoints: one views the situation from above, and one from below. This sheds light on the essence and the importance of "two witnesses" in regular situations as well: We must have two witnesses because each one comes with his own vantage point, and it is important for us to know the truth as it focuses on one point, but with its rays coming from two different directions.
 
In addition, witnesses also serve an educational function. According to Jewish Law, they must warn the perpetrator that he is about to commit a crime and that he faces severe punishment. If this warning is lacking, their testimony is invalid. Here too, it is important that they come from two different positions and viewpoints – rational/intellectual and emotional, for instance – in order that between them, they will be able to persuade the sinner not to commit the crime.
 
How does this apply to the Nation of Israel?  The first two witnesses, the heavens and the earth, stand as witnesses to Moshe's words. But what happens if or when Israel does not learn from them? What happens if they abandon Hashem and turn to false gods? Who will illuminate their way? Who will pave their way back to Him? Who will explain to them why they are suffering such heavy punishments?
 
For this, we need another witness for the future. Hashem warns them against the future when they will "eat, be satiated, and live in luxury" and allow their desire for physical enjoyment to distract them from G-d. This is the precise point addressed by Haazinu. The entire song emphasizes one central point of rebuke – namely, ungratefulness.
 
The song essentially asks: "Is this how you, O Nation of Israel, pay back Hashem for all that He did for you? He brought you to this land flowing with milk and honey, and in return, you abandon Him for idols and false gods that did nothing for you? Where is your simple, basic feeling of thanks and appreciation to the Creator for all that He has given you?" This is the essential message of Haazinu – a testimony to the importance of gratefulness to Hashem, and to teach us what happens when Israel forgets this.
 
But there is one more concern. Moshe wishes to emphasize his concern of what will happen based on his past experience! He tells Israel how rebellious they were even when he was alive – and they know he is right, but what about the future generations? How will they know?? It is therefore important for him to emphasize that the third witness is not only Parashat Haazinu, but the entire Torah – the very Torah that recounts the sins that they committed in the desert.
 
But the Torah tells more than that. And so, when the times comes and the People of Israel will study the Torah from cover to cover, its light will inspire them to realize that the time has come to return to their origins and to the "Rock from whence they were hewn."
 
Thus, this is our team of witnesses:
1-2. The heavens and earth, telling us that "G-d's word is life."
3-4. The Haazinu song, warning us that ungratefulness will lead to punishment, and the entire Torah, telling us that it happened in the past – but that we will return to G-d in the end.
 
Shabbat Shalom.
 
 



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