By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
3 Tishrei 5765 - September 17-18, 2004
Give ear (HA’AZINU), O heavens, that I may speak,
Let the earth hear the sayings of my mouth.
So begins the song HA’AZINU (Devarim 32), which chronicles the history, past
and future, of Hashem and Israel (Sifri 333). It is intended to stand as a
reminder to Israel against sin. Ramban (on verses 40-43) divides the song into
i) Hashem’s kindness to Israel.
ii) Israel’s rebellion against Hashem and their punishment.
iii) Hashem’s vengeance against the oppressors of His people.
The Sages, however, have a different way of parsing this song. The Talmud
(Rosh Hashana 31a) discusses HA’AZINU as part of an analysis of the “Songs of
the Day,” those chapters of Tehillim which the Leviim sang in the Temple
during the daily sacrifices (see Tamid 7:4). The Sages ask:
“During the Musaf (additional sacrifices) of Shabbat, what would they recite?
Said Rav Anan (other versions, Chanan) son of Rava in the name of Rav, “HaZIV
HaZIV LeCHa, says Rashi, is a mnemonic for the division of HA’AZINU into six
sections (each beginning with one of these letters. Rambam (“Laws of Daily
and Additional Sacrifices” 6:9) explains that the Leviim
“recite a section each Shabbat. When they have completed the song in six
Sabbaths, they return to the beginning.”
[As a reminder of the Temple Service, we continue to say the “Song of the Day”
at the end of our morning service (Orach Chaim 132:2, Rema based on Tur).
Curiously, however, we do not recite HA’AZINU during the Musaf of Shabbat.
Aruch HaShulchan (R. Yechiel Michel Epstein, 1829-1908) finds this surprising,
and leaves the question unresolved: “And this requires great investigation” (Orach
Furthermore, the same division is utilized this Shabbat during the Torah
reading, as the Talmud continues:
“Rav Chanan son of Rava in the name of Rav also said, ‘In the same manner that
they are divided here so are they divided in the synagogue.’”
Rambam (ibid.; “Laws of Prayer” 13:5) confirms that this is the practice. This
makes HA’AZINU unique among Torah portions: Whereas general principles of
dividing up Torah readings are given by the Talmud (Megillah 21b-24a),
HA’AZINU is the only instance of the Sages dictating exactly where to divide
Rashi elucidates HaZIV LeCHa. The first four sections, he says, are six verses
each, and the last two are eight verses each, as follows:
1) HA’AZINU (1-7)
2) ZECHOR – Remember the days of old. (7-13)
3) YARKIVEHU – He made them ride on the high places of the earth. (13-19)
4) VAYAR -- Hashem saw, and rejected. (19-26)
5) LULEI – Were it not that I had stored anger against the enemy. (27-35)
6) KI – For Hashem will judge His nation. (36-44)
The seventh aliya consists of the balance of the portion (verses 44-52).
Tosefot concur with this division, while citing other versions found in
Tractate Soferim (12:8) and in the commentary of Rabbenu Chananel (ben
Chushiel, d. c.1055).
Rambam’s system, based on Poltoi Gaon (d. 857), differs from Rashi in the last
5) LU CHACHMU -- If only they were wise (verse 29).
6) KI ESA – For I will raise My hand (verse 40).
The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 428:5) follows Rambam’s division. However,
Magen Avraham (R. Avraham Abele ben Chaim HaLevi Gombiner, c. 1637-1683) says,
“In our countries, the division is like Rashi.” Each community is encouraged
to follow its own custom (The Stone Edition follows Rambam’s system).
What is the significance of HaZIV LeCHa, which translates as, “the radiance is
Maharsha (R. Shmuel Eliezer ben Judah HaLevi Edels, 1555-1631) says that this
phrase refers to Moshe, whose face shone from the time he descended Sinai (Shemot
34:29-35); for the word KARAN (shone) the Targum translates ZIV. At the end of
the Torah, HaZIV LeCHa pays tribute to Moshe, the quintessential Teacher of
Sforno (R. Ovadia ben Yaakov Sforno, c. 1470-c.1550), following Rambam’s
division, explains the development of themes in HA’AZINU:
1) (verses 1-6) Introduction: Hashem is righteous, faithful, beneficent and
2) (verses 7-12): Hashem’s original plan was for all mankind to serve Him, but
when they showed themselves unready, Hashem chose Israel.
3) (verses 13-18): Hashem gave Israel an abundant land so as to serve Him, but
4) (verses 19-28): Israel is punished, but not destroyed, lest that lead to a
desecration of the Divine Name.
5) (verses 29-39): The reason for Israel’s ultimate redemption
6) (verses 40-43): Hashem’s revenge against the oppressors of His people and
the redemption of Israel.
A more fundamental question regarding HaZIV LeCHa is addressed by Rambam
(“Laws of Prayer”, 13:5):
“Anyone who ascends to read from the Torah begins with something good and
concludes with something good.” [His source is Yerushalmi Megillah 3:7.]
Nevertheless, all the pauses in HA’AZINU are dire warnings of Divine
“So, why do we pause at these topics? Because they are admonition, in order
that the nation will return in repentance.”
Kesef Mishnah (commentary on Rambam, by R. Yosef Karo, 1488-1575) says that
this is Rambam’s own reasoning, and it is correct. This is important for us to
remember on this Shabbat Shuva.
On the other hand, the other admonitions in the Torah (Vayikra 26:14-46;
Devarim 28:15-69) are not divided into separate aliyot (ibid., par. 7).
Perhaps HA’AZINU is different because it also contains Hashem’s defense of
Israel and His vengeance against its oppressors.
In fact, Ramban explains,
“In this song there is no stipulation of repentance and worship. Rather it is
written testimony that we will do evil, but we will prevail. He, may He be
blessed, will then deal with us with chastisements of wrath but He will not
obliterate our memory, and He will eventually relent and exact punishment from
our enemies with His harsh, great and mighty sword. He will pardon our sins
for His name’s sake. Therefore, this song is a clear promise of the future
redemption, in defiance of the heretics.”
During this Shabbat Shuva, when we are immersed in
introspection and repentance, it is reassuring to know that Hashem is on our
"Ain Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from
Interestingly, the words “Rosh Hashanah” do not appear in the Chumash.
Rather, Bamidbar 29:1 refers to “Yom Teruah,” “a day of blowing of the
horn.” The closest we come to “Rosh Hashanah” is in Devarim 11:12: “A
land which the Lord your God cares for; always are the eyes of the Lord
upon it, from the beginning of the year (me-reshit hashanah) until the
end of the year.” The context in which these words appear is
significant: God’s love and concern for Eretz Yisrael.
Question: Why doesn’t the Torah simply state that “God’s eyes are always
on the land?” Why does it add the phrase, “From the beginning of the
year to the end of the year?”
Perhaps the Torah is informing us that God's concern for the Land is not
automatic. It is renewable at every “beginning of the year.” But we must
earn that renewal. And it is renewed at Rosh Hashanah because this is
when we renew our own relationship with God, crowning Him as our King.
When we do this, we effect a reaction in heaven. God reciprocates and
renews His love for us, once again focusing "His eyes on His land.”
May we be worthy of renewing our attachment to Him this "Reishit
Hashanah," and may He once again renew His divine care and deliverance.
Rabbi Emanuel Feldman
Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American
Rabbis and laymen who successfully made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting
the centrality of Israel and promoting Aliyah. They send emissaries –
Rabbis, academicians, and others – on speaking-tours throughout the U.S.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Roness , Exec. Dir., Aloh Naaleh,
At the OU Center, 22 Keren HaYesod
Tel.(02) 566-7787 ex. 254