Parashat Ha’azinu – Erev Shabbat 22 September 2023 (5784)
Week of 17 -23 September 2023
Torah portion: Deuteronomy 32.1-52   Haftarah: Hosea 14.2-10; Micah 7.18-20; Joel 2.15-27
Theme: When Words Fail

Throughout the book of “Devarim,” we’ve listened to Moses speak thousands of words to God’s people. These are the speeches Moses delivered in his final month of life, reiterating the Law for a new generation, and earning the book the early rabbinic name Mishneh Torah (deuteros nomos in Greek; second law/deuteronomy in English). (Sacks, “Words”) Yet despite all the words it appears    that, in Parashah Ha’azinu, words fail. So when words fail, songs emerge.

Israel’s story is punctuated by songs. (Sacks, “Spirituality”) Consider the songs of Hannah, Miriam, Solomon, David and Deborah.  While this song is attributed to Moses, we know the original Composer. “‘Now therefore, write down this song for yourselves, and teach it to the children of Israel; put it in their mouths…’ Therefore Moses wrote this song the same day, and taught it to the children of Israel. Then Moses spoke in the hearing of all the assembly of Israel the words of this song until they were ended” (Deut 31.19,22,30).

Moses’ song is filled with metaphors of God – as rock, warrior, father, mother, eagle, provider, executioner and healer (Held, 290). These metaphors attempt to capture a God whose character and ways cannot be fully expressed in factual prose, a God who is “faithful and nurturing, but also [as] violent and vengeful.” (Eskenazi, 1253) As Moses breaks forth in poetic song, he joins the choruses of creation (Ps 19) while warning, cajoling and reminding Israel of the true God and their covenantal commitments. I imagine Moses praying this final offering of a song might encourage God’s people as they enter the Promised Land – even when they face circumstances and challenges when words fail.

For Reflection and Discussion: 1. How has music filled the gap for you “when words fail”?  2. Why do you think God gave a song to Moses for this final message? 3. Which metaphor from Moses’ song is most surprising or challenging to you? Why?

BibliographyEskenazi, T.C. and A.L. Weiss. The Torah: A Women’s Commentary (New York, 2008). Held, S. The Heart of Torah, Vol 2 (Philadelphia: 2017). Sacks, J. “The Spirituality of Song,” accessed at Sacks, J. “Words,” accessed at 

This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Rev. Dr. Kristen Marble
USA, Bat Kol Alumna 2013


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