Parshat Ha’azinu = The Torah?
Rabbanit Dena (Freundlich) Rock is a core member of the faculty at Midreshet Lindenbaum in Jerusalem, where she teaches Talmud and Halakha, and coordinates the midrasha’s Matmidot Scholars Program.
Parshat Ha’azinu is unique in that virtually the entire parsha is a song. Even in an actual Sefer Torah, the verses of Shirat Ha’azinu are written in two columns, instead of the standard continuous lines.
Surprisingly, however, Chazal interpret 31:19, “V’ata kitvu lachem et hashira ha’zot” – Now write for yourselves this song, as a reference to the entire Torah, not the immediately upcoming Shirat Ha’azinu (Sanhedrin 21b and Nedarim 38a). (This interpretation has significant ramifications because it transforms our pasuk into the source for a new mitzva – the mitzva for every Jew to write for himself a Sefer Torah. See Rambam Hilchot Sefer Torah 7:1 and Sefer HaChinuch Mitzvah 613.)
What led Chazal to veer from the obvious interpretation that “ha’shira ha’zot” refers to Shirat Ha’azinu, in favor of the surprising one that it is a reference to the entire Torah?
An examination of the pesukim reveals that Chazal’s seemingly farfetched interpretation actually emerges directly from the text. Although at first glance it seems to be obvious that the words “this song” in 31:19 must refer to the upcoming Shirat Ha’azinu (and in fact, Rashi and Ramban interpret them as such), other phrases in the text make it seem just as clear that they refer to the entire Torah. For example, 31:2224 reads, “Moshe wrote down THIS SONG on that day and taught it to Bnei Yisrael… And when Moshe finished writing the words of THIS TORAH in a book until they were completed . . .” which implies that the song that he wrote was the Torah.
Similarly, at the conclusion of Shirat Ha ‘azinu, it says, “Moshe came and spoke all the words of THIS SONG in the ears of the people… and he said to them, ‘Pay close attention to all the words which I testify among you today . . . the words of THIS TORAH.'” In addition, in 31:20, Hashem tells Moshe that “ha’shira hazot,” this song, is meant to serve as an eid, a witness. A mere six verses later, Moshe instructs the Levi’im to place a Sefer Torah he has just written at the side of (or inside – mackloket, of course) the aron to serve as an eid, again making it seem that this “shira” and the entire Torah are one and the same.
The above examples demonstrate that Hashem wrote this section intentionally in a way that blurs the distinction between Shirat Ha’azinu and the entire Torah. (It is very helpful and interesting to read through 31:14-30 and 32:44-47 twice, one time interpreting every usage of the word “shira” as referring to Shirat Ha’azinu, and the other time interpreting them all as referring to the entire Torah.) This interchangeability in the pesukim between Shirat Ha’azinu and the Torah must reflect some common denominators between the two. How is Ha’azinu representative of the entire Torah? And how can the Torah be called a shira?
Why is Ha’azinu worthy of being equated with the entire Torah? Many elements of this parsha contribute to its being quintessential Torah, in particular the fact that it encapsulates virtually all of Jewish history, from Hashem’s choice of Bnei Yisrael through our abandonment of Him in favor of other gods, to our exile, and ultimately to our redemption. As Ramban, quoting the Sifrei, says, “Great is this song for there is in it the present, the past, the future, and there is in it this world and the World to Come.” One of the Torah’s overarching goals is to develop Bnei Yisrael’s relationship with God. Since Shirat Ha’azinu depicts the ongoing relationship between Hashem and His people, its ups and downs, its periods of grace and rejection, of hester panim and the final reconciliation, it embodies this aspect of the entire Torah.
The Netziv, in his introduction to Bereishit, develops a brilliant explanation as to why the Torah is called a shira. He writes that the essence of poetry is that it is concise, so that a few meticulously selected words express volumes of emotion and meaning. In addition, the condensed, sometimes cryptic, nature of poetry enables the poet to slip several layers of meaning into one poem, and it is the reader’s challenge and delight to discern those multiple messages. So too, writes the Netziv, each word of the Torah was deliberately chosen by God, and He embedded within each pasuk endless possible interpretations. It is mind-boggling that a text written thousands of years ago which is likely the single most-studied text in the history of the universe, still has novel sefarim and chiddushim written about it every year! Our Torah is undoubtedly the most profound shira ever penned.
Nechama Leibowitz connects this idea to the words at the end of Ha’azinu,”Ki lo davar raik hu mikem” – for it is not an empty thing for you (32:47). In Yerushalmi Pe’ah 1:1, Chazal interpret this phrase as follows: “’Ki lo davar raik hu,’ v’im raik hu, ‘mikem’ hu. V’lama? She’ain atem yigai’im ba’Torah” – “For it is no empty thing,” and if it is empty, it is your fault. Why? Because you do not labor in the Torah. The Torah contains infinite wisdom; the challenge is ours to discover it.
Referring to the whole Torah as a shira reminds us of the poetic nature of the entire Torah, including its narrative and legal sections, not just Shirat HaYam (Shemot 15:1-19), HaBe’er (Bamidbar 21:16-18), and Ha’azinu (Devarim 32:1-43). It calls to us to dive in and explore with fresh, inquisitive eyes, seeking each time to delve a little deeper, understand a little better, and perhaps even to discover a chiddush of our own.