Testimony of Heaven and Earth
“Give ear, O’ heavens and I will speak; and may the earth hear the words of my mouth.” In this opening line of Parshat Ha’azinu, Moses calls the heavens and earth to serve as witnesses against Israel when we sin and to testify in favor of Israel when we follow the Torah. Moses instructs all of Israel to write this song (the mitzvah for every male to write a Torah which contains this song) and to learn it. In this way Ha’azinu’s message will always be in the forefront of our minds. Two questions arise: first, what is so important about the message of this song and second, why the need for witnesses?
The song of Ha’azinu has three distinct parts. It begins with a metaphorical description of Moses teaching Torah as, “falling as rain and dew.” The second section of the song mentions a litany of consequences that will befall us as a nation for failing to keep the Torah. These punishments culminate, as foretold in Ha’azinu, with our exile from the land of Israel and in our being scattered throughout the world. In fact this is the unfortunate situation we, the remnant of the Jewish people, find ourselves in today. Considering the last 2000 years of Jewish history, sociologically speaking, the people of Israel should not currently exist. Indeed, it is a wonder that there is anything left to talk about!
The third part of Ha’azinu contains the promise of Israel’s ultimate redemption. This occurrence was not just a fantasy or a wish by some leader long ago. Moses was revealing God’s ultimate destiny for the nation of Israel. In the future the people of Israel will be redeemed to their full and complete form. They will live in the land of Israel as sovereigns, studying and living the Torah way of life. Then the nation of Israel will serve as a beacon of light, “אור לגוים ,” a showcase for other nations to emulate.
Now let us take the second question. What is the idea behind God using the heavens and earth as witnesses? Can they testify? No, certainly not in the usual sense of the term but they are capable of testimony in a different way, that of verification.
In this regard the heavens and earth are the best witnesses for the nation of Israel. How? Their existence is part and parcel of the very same plan by God to create the nation of Israel. It is precisely in the very nature of their existence that testifies and assures us of the fulfillment of God’s words in Ha’azinu. The Torah begins with the creation of the universe, the heavens and earth. The heavens and earth exist as part of God’s will to create humanity. In Parshat Ha’azinu, Moshe is stating that this very same will of God also includes the ultimate redemption of a specific nation, the people of Israel.
From the use of the heavens and earth as witnesses, this song of Ha’azinu is telling us even more. The heavens and earth will also only find their ultimate fulfillment when this last part of Ha’azinu occurs. This idea was expressed by the prophet Jeremiah when he said, “כה אמר ה’ אם לא בריתי יומם ולילה חוקות שמים וארץ לא שמתי” “So says Hashem, If not for my covenant (with Israel) day and night, the laws (of physics) governing the heavens and earth have no purpose.” He is telling us that the heavens and earth find their ultimate purpose for creation when the covenant between the nation of Israel and God is fulfilled. Only then is the design of God’s creation complete.
Israel’s ultimate return to the land of Israel and its commitment to a life of Torah and mitzvot are thus every bit a reality as is the existence of the heavens and earth. We should take heart that as the other sections of Ha’azinu have taken place so too in the future this fantastic final stage will be brought about by God.
Let us use this new year of learning at the Posnack Jewish Day School to advance our nation toward its ultimate goal.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,
Rabbi Robert Kaplan