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Parshat Hazinu

Moshe's Song
Rabbi Ari Kahn
This week’s Parsha is one of the last Parshiot in the Torah. Here Moshe takes a
different course of action when compared to the other sections of D’varim. Until
now Moshe either taught or re-taught the commandments, or rebuked the people
for their misdeeds. In Ha’azinu, Moshe breaks out in song. It is not the first time
that Moshe is involved in song; the “Shira” after the miraculous splitting of the
sea is surely the more famous of Moshe’s songs. But that song was the response
to an unparalleled divine action. That was a song inspired by religious ecstasy. It
was a moment of rapture; Moshe led and the entire People followed.

Here, Moshe sings by himself. The generation that left Egypt is dead, and soon
Moshe will follow them to the grave. This seems like a strange time for Moshe to
break into song, but herein lies the greatness of Moshe.

In order to understand this idea, let us look at a passage in the Talmud which
describes another instance when someone wished to sing but was not allowed:

Our Rabbis taught: When the wicked Nebuchadnezzar threw


Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah into the fiery furnace, the Holy One,
blessed be He, said to Ezekiel: ‘Go and resurrect the dead in the plain
of Dura.’ This being done, the bones came and smote the wicked man
upon his face. ‘What kind of bones are these!’ he exclaimed. They [his
courtiers] answered him, ‘Their companion is resurrecting the dead in
the plain of Dura.’ Thereupon he broke into utterance, ‘How great are
His signs, and how mighty are His wonders! His kingdom is an
everlasting kingdom, and His dominion is from generation to
generation!’ R. Isaac said: May molten gold be poured into the mouth
of that wicked man [sc. Nebuchadnezzar]! Had not an angel come and
struck him upon his mouth he would have eclipsed all the songs and
praises uttered by David in the Book of Psalms. (Sanhedrin 92b)

The conclusion of the passage is that Nebuchadnezzar wished to sing but was not
allowed, and had he sung, his songs of praise would have fared well in a
comparison with those of King David - the sweet singer of Psalms. The passage is
difficult: Why would G-d display the miracle to the heathen, if not to make him
realize the greatness of G-d? And why would Nebuchadnezzar be struck, when the
idea of a G-d more powerful than he, finally dawned on him?

The Kotzker Rebbe addresses these issues in a short comment;

“You wish to sing praise while the crown is on your head, I would like
to hear how you sing after being slapped in the face” (Emet miKotzk
Tizmach pg. 37)
Many people, after being inspired by a wondrous sight, have the ability to sing
praise. The greatness of King David was his ability to sing despite personal
tragedy which would have broken the spirit of a lesser man. The angel came to
hit Nebuchadnezzar:, had he now sung he would have indicated spiritual
greatness and true humility. But in the aftermath of the blow, Nebuchadnezzar no
longer felt inspired. The moment was lost.

Now we can appreciate the sublime greatness of Moshe: Surely the song sung
after the splitting of the sea was a moment of religious ecstasy. That song was the
first time people sang to G-d. The Midrash indicates that in the future this will be
noted:

THAT WHICH HATH BEEN IS THAT WHICH SHALL BE (I, 9). The Rabbis say: In
the Hereafter the generations will assemble in the presence of the Holy
One, blessed be He, and say before Him, ‘Lord of the Universe, who shall
utter a song before Thee first? ' He will answer them, 'In the past none but
the generation of Moshe uttered a song before Me, and now none but that
generation shall utter a song before Me.’ What is the proof? As it is said,
‘Sing unto the Lord a new song, and His praise from the end of the earth; ye
that go down to the sea’ (Isa. XLII,10) (Midrash Rabbah - Ecclesiastes I:28)

But Moshe, like David, sings even when things are not going his way. David sings
when escaping from his own son who is attempting to usurp his power. Moshe
sings the moment before death.

When we contemplate the words which Moshe uses we are all the more amazed:

Give ear, O you heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of
my mouth. My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distill as the
dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the
grass. Because I will proclaim the name of the Lord; ascribe greatness to
our G-d. He is the Rock, his work is perfect; for all his ways are justice; a G-d
of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he. (D’varim 32:1-4)

Of all the ways of describing G-d, Moshe refers to G-d as a “Rock”. Of course this
term signifies the power of G-d. But when we recall that the downfall of Moshe
took place when attempting to extract water from a rock, it is all the more
surprising that this particular appellation is used. This understanding may be
found in the Zohar:

R. Simeon said: ‘Moshe in his Song, first said “The rock, perfect is his work”
(Deut. XXXII, 4), referring to the occasion when water issued from the
rock…” (Zohar S’hmot 64b)

In his song, which is sung immediately preceding his death, Moshe completely
accepts Divine justice: He is the Rock, his work is perfect; for all his ways are
justice; a G-d of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.
Instead of avoiding this painful topic Moshe addresses it head-on, displaying
absolute acceptance of G-d and His will. This is yet another indication of the
spiritual level that Moshe achieves.

At the beginning of the Book of Devarim, we noted that Moshe deals with three
main issues: Rebuke, in the hope of bringing the people to a higher spiritual level;
A review of the commandments based on the ‘Oral Torah’; and finally, this section
of song where Moshe indicates that there is no remorse on his part. He goes to
his death with dignity, praising G-d and his people, as we will see in the final
Parsha in the Book of Devarim,‘V’zot Habracha’.