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Ha'azinu(Deuteronomy 32)

The Song of Moses

This week's Torah portion is one of the last in the Torah. Here Moses takes a different course of action when compared to the other parts of his farewell speech which makes up the Book of Deuteronomy.

Until now Moses either taught, or re-taught, the commandments, or rebuked the people for their misdeeds. In Ha'azinu, Moses breaks out in song.

It is not the first time that Moses sings, but here he sings by himself.

It is not the first time that Moses sings. The song at the miraculous splitting of the Red Sea is surely the most famous. But that song was the response to an unparalleled Divine action. Moses led, and the entire people followed. Here, Moses sings by himself.

The generation that left Egypt is dead, and soon Moses will follow them to the grave. In this context it seems like a strange time for song, but herein lies the greatness of Moses.


* * *



In order to understand this idea, let us look at a passage in the Talmud, which describes, how someone else wished to sing but was not allowed:

Our rabbis taught: "When the wicked Nebuchadnezzar threw Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah into the fiery furnace, the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Ezekiel: 'Go and resurrect the dead in the plain of Dura.' This being done, the bones came and smote the wicked man upon his face. 'What kind of bones are these!' he exclaimed. They [his courtiers] answered him, 'Their companion is resurrecting the dead in the plain of Dura.' Thereupon he broke into utterance, 'How great are His signs, and how mighty are His wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and His dominion is from generation to generation!'" Rabbi Isaac said: "May molten gold be poured into the mouth of that wicked man [Nebuchadnezzar]! Had not an angel come and struck him upon his mouth he would have eclipsed all the songs and praises uttered by David in the Book of Psalms." (Sanhedrin 92b)

The conclusion of the passage is that Nebuchadnezzar wished to sing but was not allowed, and had he sung, his songs of praise would have been comparable with those of King David, the sweet singer of Psalms. The passage is difficult, why would God display the miracle to a heathen, if not to make him realize the greatness of God? And why would Nebuchadnezzar be struck dumb, when the idea of a God more powerful than he, finally dawned on him? The Kotzker Rebbe addresses these issues in a short comment:

You wish to sing praise while the crown is on your head, I would like to hear how you sing after being slapped in the face. (Emet miKotzk Tizmach pg. 37)

Many people after being inspired by a wondrous sight, have the ability to sing praise. The greatness of King David was his ability to sing despite personal tragedy which would have broken the spirits of a lesser man. In order to be compared to David, the angel came to hit Nebuchadnezzar. Had he now sung he would have indicated spiritual greatness, and true humility. But in the aftermath of the blow Nebuchadnezzar no longer felt inspired, the moment was gone.


* * *



Now we can appreciate the sublime greatness of Moses, surely the song sung after the splitting of the sea was a moment of religious ecstasy. But Moses, like David sings even when things are not going his way.

David sings when escaping from his own son who is attempting to usurp his power. Moses sings the moment before death.

When we contemplate the words which Moses uses we are all the more amazed:

Give ear, O you heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth. My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distill as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass. Because I will proclaim the name of the Lord; ascribe greatness to our God. He is the Rock, his work is perfect; for all his ways are justice; a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he. (Deut 32:1-4)

Of all the ways of describing God, Moses refers to God as a "Rock." The Term, of course, signifies the power of God. But when we recall that the down fall of Moses took place when attempting to extract water from a rock it is all the more surprising that this particular appellation is used. This understanding may be found in the Zohar:

Rabbi Simeon said: "Moses in his Song, first said The rock, perfect is his work, referring to the occasion when water issued from the rock..." (Zohar S'hmot 64b)

In his song, which is sung immediately preceding his death Moses completely accepts Divine justice: He is the Rock, his work is perfect; for all his ways are justice; a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.

In his song, which is sung immediately preceding his death, Moses completely accepts Divine justice.

Instead of avoiding this painful topic, Moses addresses it head-on, displaying absolute acceptance of God and His will. This is yet another indication of the spiritual level which Moses achieves.

As we saw from the beginning, the Book of Deuteronomy can be broken into three parts:



  1. Rebuke, wherein Moses hopes to bring the people to a higher spiritual level.



  2. A review of the commandments based on the Oral Torah.



  3. This last section of song.


Moses goes to his death, with dignity, praising God and his people, as we will see in next week's final Torah portion.

August 20, 2000

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Visitor Comments: 4

(4) Yehudith Shraga, September 27, 2012 12:37 AM

Where was the Creator when Moses rebuked, sang, taught and re-tuaght!?

Torah is not Moshe's reaction on the events he was involved in!Torah teaches us what should be done no matter what our personal state of mind, emotion or instinctive is,Moshe is the example of the real level of spirituality which should be atained by us which is called leShma= for the sake of the Creator,the level where your own intrests come always second,and we know that the only situation that Moshe let HIS reaction to come first was his striking the Rock,when he was told to speak to it and that is why it is mentioned here as a Name of the Creator to show us that "the rock" is also the form of the Creator and it isn't a good idea to bit it with the stick.The Greatness of Moshe is that he knows completely what this life is about-correction and before he goes and make a work on his mistakes, actually the one=his lack of ability to see the Creator behind the "matrerial" rock and thus giving the place for the split of the Unity, where there is a Rock and there is the Creator, and before he passes he states it clearly that all the creation is the form of Ekhad, Yakhid uMi'ukhad=One, The Only and Unique( read the articles of Baal haSulam and Rabash on the topic)and it is the real Greatness of Moshe,that no matter that he was chosen by the Creator to be His speaker,he knows to differ what comes from the Creator and what belongs to his spiritual work,the purpose of Moshe was to overcome any personal reaction or understanding and to follow the orders of the Creator and if he failed to do it even once he knows that he has to correct it in any possible way.It is very important to see the Creator behind each and every word written in Torah and not to make Torah Moshe's personal message to the people of israel,it is a big mistake which should be corrected whenever we feel like thinking so,Torah could be passed only through a person who has mastered all his personal levels and corrected them, for them not to be mixed into the Devine message of the Creator to His People.

(3) Paul Stewart, March 12, 2012 6:08 PM

Death of Moses

I don't think that Moses was distressed about dying. If he was distressed it was because God would not allow him to enter the promised land. I believe full well, that Moses knew that after dying (which the Bible on many occasions refers to sleep) he would awaken in God's Kingdom to a life of peace, happiness, productivity and prosperity for all eternity. So why would you be sad about that?

(2) Scott Granowski, October 14, 2005 12:00 AM

The Song of Moses

Rabbi Kahn writes brilliantly and concisely. We have all sung during happy times; my children and wife love to hear me singing. But, unlike Moses, I lack the ability to sing in the face of pain and suffering. This article deepens my understanding of Moses's greatness. Thank you.

(1) Anonymous, October 11, 2005 12:00 AM

did he die?

R Kahn,

A thought on your brilliant article last week on R Eleazar ben Dordaya - - perhaps he didn't die physically, but rather his old self died. His new self in Olam Hazeh was then addressed as Rabbi, but not exactly "posthumously."

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