Parashat Haazinu – Erev Shabbat 7 October 2022 (5783)
Week of 8-14 October 2022
Torah portion: Deuteronomy 32:1-32:52 Haftarah: 2 Sam. 22:1-22:51
Theme: Song for new beginnings
Parashat Haazinu (Give ear!), the second to the last portion of the Book of Deuteronomy, also known as the Song of Moses or Moses’ Poem has two main themes. These are the greatness and generosity of God and the stubbornness and ungratefulness of “crooked and perverse” Israelites.
I had to wrestle with the text. The mention of Sodom and Gomorrah in Deut. 32:32 made me ask perplexing questions: Was Moses’ warnings about divine vengeance? Is the Song of Moses a cursing psalm?
Tiglay (2003) says that Haazinu is a psalm which, like many biblical psalms, includes several other genres. In my quick research, I could not find direct answers to my questions. My rereading of the parasha, however, makes me see that Moses did not curse or ask God for bad things to happen to the Israelites. Instead, there is the metaphor of God as a father, and as the Rock his children could trust and rely on. The relationship is not of an enemy and a victim; but perhaps that of a father and prodigal children. Though the song predicts a consequent divine punishment, in the end it adds that the Lord will relent and will vindicate his people.
Scholars like G. Ernest Wright have proposed that the poem belongs to a genre called a covenant or divine lawsuit (or rib in Hebrew). This is shown in the summons to witnesses in v. 1, the indictment in vv. 15-18, and the judge’s verdict in vv. 19-29.6. But Thiessen (2004) disagrees with Wright and in a study concludes that Moses’ Song is a liturgical work of Israel, a hymn that contains a covenant rib. His main evidence is the number of changes of grammatical persons that take place throughout the Song. In Deut. 32:5, the people of Israel are mentioned in the third person plural (“they”), but in vv. 6-7, Israel is addressed in the second person singular (“you”). Then it reverts back to the third person in vv. 7-14. Again, such a shift takes place in v. 15, when Israel is referred to in the third person (“Jacob”/”Jeshurun”/”he”). The second person continues for the entirety of v. 18 before giving way to the speech of the LORD in vv. 19-27.
Thiessen also says that the song has the elements of the form of a hymn in that it has the call to worship (“Give greatness to our God!” v.3); the introductory summary (“The Rock, his work is perfect for all his ways are just. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, righteous and upright is he!” and praise for The LORD for his works, deeds, and qualities. He adds that the Song of Moses, like a liturgy, is prescriptive and instructive. It was meant to prescribe the people’s reaction: to guard them from acting like the sinful generation of the Song; to lead them in responding to any evil that was brought upon it; and to call them to make the choice to praise and thank God.
Moses in his dying hours, perhaps in desperation (considering the warnings), asked the people to take a look at their lives; learn the lessons from their history; and repent to make new beginnings to return to God the Father.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1.Do you think there is divine vengeance? 2. What are changes you think you have to make to continue to ‘deserve’ God’s blessings?
Bibliography: ETZ Hayim: Torah and Commentary (New York, 2001); Tigay, The JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy (Philadelphia, 2003); Thiessen, The Form and Function of the Song of Moses (Deuteronomy 32:1-43), in Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 123, No. 3 (Autumn, 2004), pp. 401-424
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Minerva Generalao, Philippines, Bat Kol Alumna July 2014