In this week’s Parsha, האזינו, we sing the aforementioned song Moshe was commanded to write in last weeks Perek. It describes the calamities Bnei Yisrael will face if they sin, and the opposing joys of the final redemption. This song is one of the very last sermons Moshe gives to Bnei Yisrael making it markedly distinct and critical. The song is constructed of events ranging from the beginning of creation to the beginning of Bnei Yisrael, to their sinning, the Hester (concealment) of Hashem, and finally rebuilding and redemption. The timeframes of the song are composed of the past, present, and future. Rav Gedaliah Schorr explains that within songs and music, the goal is usually to display a harmony of nature. This is seen in the experience of hearing the perfect symphony. האזינו Contains these aspects of nature, the facets of our history all together amalgamated as if they were melded to a singular simultaneous moment of Jewish existence. These ideas are intriguing, however, what is the reason for this Parsha being a song? Additionally, what is inherent and unique about האזינו that it has this distinct recognition?
The Slonimer Rebbe quotes the Ramban who explains the song as mainly being an emblem of our faith and the everlasting bond within ourselves and Hakadosh Baruch Hu. The song begins with the conception of Am Yisrael and Hashem’s remarkable redemption of us from Mitzrayim. Bnei Yisrael’s existence is habitually described in the Torah as transcendent and intertwined with Hakadosh Baruch Hu. In our Parsha, we are described as “חבל נחלתו”. Just as much as we often exhibit our connection towards the Ribbono Shel Olam, He is connected equally to us, we are His portion. He blissfully basks in our presence as much as we merrily receive His.
The Rav describes this intimate distinct relationship as stated in Shemot— a סְגֻלָּה֙, a treasure. We are a treasure for Hashem, as long as we keep and safeguard His commandments. As we are Segulah, we “Inhabit a Segulah land.” (Reflections of the Rav, chapter XI) The fate and faith of our people are drawn to solely Israel and nowhere else. What the secular eye cannot perceive or understand is this distinctive connection. Beyond what is what seems to be a nationalistic battle, apologetics, or alleged war reparations is an indestructible bond amidst the children of Israel and the Land of Israel.
But what about the times where this bond seems to be deteriorating, or even depleted? Where is Hakadosh Baruch Hu in times of such distress and perplexity? We read previously in last week’s Parsha Hashem’s response to our failures of observing his commandments, “וְאָנֹכִ֗י הַסְתֵּ֨ר אַסְתִּ֤יר”. We are warned, “I will keep My countenance hidden on that day, because of all the evil they have done in turning to other gods.”
Hester Panim, the turning away of Hashem’s countenance, is described by Rabbi Norman Lamm on 4 levels. 1) Absolute Hester 2) Survival Hester 3) An Intermediate Hester 4) Nesiat Panim.
On the Absolute level, Hashem has completely left, not watching over even our survival. This level surely does not exist. We lived, and continue to live, manifest by our exceptional historical persistence of being the oldest existing nation and religion. Survival Hester Panim exhibits concealment— but one incomplete, in which the Scheina shines through to watch for Klal Yisrael’s perseverance. Intermediate Hester Panim corroborates the vicissitudes of our existence with the occasional extension of יד ה׳ extended over us, and conversely the withdrawal of it. Lastly, Nesiat Panim, the lifting of the face, is the return of the Scheina.
The thought of Hester Panim is unsettling. We experience it in our contemporary times, but in truth, we decide how to interpret this concealment. Rav Lamm quotes the prophet ירמיהו who compares Hester to us being “like” a widow—but never actually a widow, forever forsaken.” We may have been banished, but not punished. In Hashem’s merciful glory, he still sees through the suffering and lets his divine providence persist. We are not on a level of absolute Hester, and we truthfully can return to our Av Bashamayim.
Just as much as we may come to ask and inquire about God’s presence in times of distress within our history, sometimes we forget to see where we stand. Rav Soloveitchik’s thesis in response to the Holocaust, Kol Dodi Dofek, in its exquisite glory, can perhaps be summed up in his following riveting words, “We ask not about the reason for evil and its purpose, but rather about its rectification and upliftings. How should a man react in a time of distress? What should a person do so as to not rot in his affliction?” (Kol Dodi Dofek pg. 8)
Simply put, we shouldn’t ask why, but for what? What is our response? In these times of Hester, we can propel ourselves in return, individually and collectively towards HaKadosh Baruch hu. The same aforementioned Pasuk of הַסְתֵּ֨ר אַסְתִּ֤יר was the very pasuk which decided that the Purim story would be counted and canonized in Tanach. In the times of Esther and Mordechai, when the providence of Hashem seemed dim, choices were made to continue fighting for Am Yisrael. It is these choices that have kept us sustained today and those which will continue to do so in the future. Through the greatest darkness, we can spark an infinitesimal light, which may bring us to the most glorious blaze.
Now, the reason for the song of האזינו can be better understood. This song is the “מקור החיזוק”, the source of strength, for the Jew. The Slonimer Rebbe explains that as we stand on Rosh Hashanah, we may come to the humbling realization that everything we deserve for the following year is absolutely nothing. This is the הַסְתֵּ֨ר אַסְתִּ֤יר. Then, comes Teshuva, our joyful song, הַאֲזִ֥ינוּ הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וַאֲדַבֵּ֑רָה וְתִשְׁמַ֥ע הָאָ֖רֶץ אִמְרֵי־פִֽי. A proclamation of our faith, and promise for future redemption with our efforts. We must remember this intrinsic bond between ourselves, Klal Yisrael, and Hakadosh Baruch Hu. The Gemara in Sanhedrin elucidates a debate regarding the response of Hashem to a sinner, “קלני מראשי קלני מזרועי אם כן המקום מצטער על דמן של רשעים” Kallani, is translated as distressed. When we sin, Hashem is distressed and feels it the same way we do. Hashem is waiting to turn back to us, Nesiat Hapanim is upon us, but it’s all a matter if we decide to glance back.
The song of האזינו reminds me of another song in Tanach, the song of times found in קהלת. The book of קהלת was written by King Shlomo as a retrospective work in search of the ultimate wisdom. Through the book, Shlomo grapples with the meaning of life, oscillating between different options, ultimately arriving upon the truest meaningful existence, serving Hashem. Chapter 3 contains a special song, it begins, “לַכֹּ֖ל זְמָ֑ן וְעֵ֥ת לְכָל־חֵ֖פֶץ תַּ֥חַת הַשָּׁמָֽיִם׃ (א) עֵ֥ת לָלֶ֖דֶת וְעֵ֣ת לָמ֑וּת עֵ֣ת לָטַ֔עַת וְעֵ֖ת לַעֲק֥וֹר נָטֽוּעַ (ב) עֵ֤ת לַהֲרוֹג֙ וְעֵ֣ת לִרְפּ֔וֹא עֵ֥ת לִפְר֖וֹץ וְעֵ֥ת לִבְנֽוֹת׃ (ג
A season is set for everything, a time for every experience under heaven:A time for being born and a time for dying, A time for planting and a time for uprooting the planted; A time for slaying and a time for healing, A time for tearing down and a time for building up;
Here we find a song describing the vicissitudes of life on mostly an individual level. In האזינו it is more of a communal, historical level. Coming off of the inspiration of Yom Kippur this year, we’ve spent the month of Elul working on ourselves through Selihot, Teshuva, Tefilah, Tzedaka, and learning. However much of this inspiration and change usually occurs individually. Now, as the gears shift towards the new themes of Sukkot, the conclusion of דברים, and Simchat Torah, we must push ourselves communally, and make changes on a larger scale.
Through the reading of the very special ontological song of האזינו, some of the final resonating words of Moshe, may we be inspired and able to impel ourselves, individually and collectively, towards our Av Bashamayim. As we read the narrative of our nation’s history, may we be motivated to continue passionately driving it onward. May we be Zoche this year to experience the epilogue האזינו with the coming of Mashiach, במהרה בימינו