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Listen, Heavens, and I will speak,
And may the Earth hear the words of my mouth.
May my teachings drop as rain,
May my words flow as dew.
Like storm winds upon vegetation,
Like raindrops on blades of grass (32:1-2).
These words open the Song of which Moses spoke in the previous chapter. Here, Moses carried out his stated intention of calling Heaven and Earth to act as witnesses to the disasters that will descend on the Israelites when they 'do what is evil in the eyes of G-d to anger Him' (31:29).
Haazinu is a poem. Moses was instructed to write out that Song, teach it to the Israelites and 'put it their mouths' (31:19): make it part of their understanding and instant oral recall - they should know it by heart. In addition, it may be suggested that as a Song, it was originally set to music. Poetry has special characteristics of its own, as elaborated below.
As an eleven-year old schoolboy, I had to learn poetry and lyrical works off by heart. Amongst the items were Shakespeare's poetical reconstructions of Richard II's decanting on the splendors of England's isolation from the rest of the world as an island, and of Henry V's morale booster to his leading soldiers when about to face the French at the Battle of Agincourt. They sounded nice, but they meant little at the time. I recited them to my advantage in talent competitions, and they proved useful tools for convincing people that I was a lot more educated than I really was. But nevertheless, those essentially poetical items stick in my own mind in a way that prose does not. A speech, however good, will be only remembered for its general impression and message, apart from perhaps one or two extremely memorable and powerful phrases. A good poem: especially if it is lyrical and even more if actually set to musicpresents ideas in a much more memorable and quotable package. And one appreciates its meaning far more when reviewing the same words off by heart as a more educated and experienced adult.
Thus, poetry is memorable. It is also a form of art, containing images and metaphors that may be appreciated at different levels. Its full impact seldom strikes when reading it for the first time, but tends to grow on the person with constant recall and review, and as he or she matures in intellect and experience.
This idea is contained in the opening words of this Parasha.
The Sforno writes broadly on those lines when he explains the words, 'May my teachings drop as rain, may my words flow as dew. Like storm winds upon vegetation, like raindrops on blades of grass'. To learned people who can absorb much knowledge, the Torah's wisdom is like pelting, penetrating rain, and like powerful storm winds: high input to high capacity students. To others who can only understand smaller bits and pieces of its vastness, the Torah is like dew and gentle raindrops, even small amounts of which do much good. In addition, Ibn Ezra explains these words as meaning that Moses wanted the Song to penetrate the Israelite nation, and make it fruitful like productive rain and dew.
Indeed, a careful look at the above quotation brings out the importance of poetry as an educational tool:
Thus the reason that the Song brings Deuteronomy to its near conclusion is that by merit of its poetic and lyrical form it consolidates the values contained in its main body of that Book. Once memorized - and Moses was commanded by G-d to do this by 'putting it into their mouths', that consolidation gets to the core of the more receptive personality, and initially affects others more superficially. But the very use of the tool of poetry ensures that the contents stay in the mind of the learner so that when he or she comes across the same thing again as a more mature and learned person, it will make a greater impact on him by dint of his earlier less meaningful encounter with it.
And the impacts of poetry and good music penetrate very slowly… if it is of real quality, we do not generally grasp its images, metaphors, and deeper reading on a first exposure - even if committed to memory. They take time to penetrate the person… History and current affairs of the Jewish People are like poetry in that sense… it takes a long time until the real meaning of pagans' successes, and sufferings of the Israelites appear in their true light… Bear in mind that no nation which persecuted the Israelites, and later the Jews, prospered in the long term.
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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