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Parasha Ha’azinu – The Ethical Will of Moshe

Posted by Henric C. Jensen on September 10, 2007

There is a Jewish Tradition to leave an Ethical Will – a summary of one’s values and ethical principles to those left behind at one’s death – as a means of comfort to those bereaved and a reminder of oneself, that they can keep and return to any time they need and want. The Ha’azinu may very well be just such an Ethical Will – Moshe Rabeinu’s Ethical Will. If so, it’s one angry Leader/Teacher leaving his Students an earful for their bad manners and lack of learning skills!

Devarim/Deuteronomy 32:1
“Listen, O heavens, and I will speak! And let the earth hear the words of my mouth!”

Why would Moshe call on the Heavens and Earth to listen to him, when it is clearly stated in Deu 31:30 that he spoke “in the ears of all the assembly of Israel”? The Sages, as are their want, point out the obvious – that Moshe needs the Heavens and the Earth as witnesses against Israel: “And it will be when these many evils and vicissitudes befall him then this Song will testify before him as a witness…” Deu 31:21
In a way Ha’azinu is sort of a exposee over the History of Israel:

“The Mesiach Illmim, one of the early commentaries on Rashi, offers a cogent insight here. He points out that the Ha’azinu Song is divided into four sections.

  1. G-d’s kindness to Israel (verses 3-14)
  2. Israel’s rebellion (verse 15- 20)
  3. G-d’s vengeance against Israel(verses 21-35)
  4. G-d’s vengeance against Israel’s enemies (verses 36-43)”


  1. G-d gives out all kinds of gifts and asks for loyalty in return. Check.
  2. Israel decides they wanna eat the cake and keep it too. Check.
  3. G-d gets mad and gets back at Israel for their disloyalty. Check.
  4. G-d looks around and finds the REAL reason for Israel’s disobedience – the Gentiles. Check.

Doesn’t look right, does it? No, it doesn’t look right, because it isn’t. Moshe’s Great Speech, although Prophetic and accurate from one basic point of view, is wrought with his own bitterness. He is not going to lead Israel into the Land of Promise, because HE is being made personally responsible for one simple mistake, that was the result of frustration over being pressured by the ever complaining People – and here the entire people get to go where G-d promised, despite the fact that they have been a worse pain in the behind than Moshe ever was. After all, isn’t this song proof of that? You can hear Moshe’s embittered “Why them and not Me?” from his “Listen, O heavens, and I will speak! And let the earth hear the words of my mouth!” “Judge the fairness of this! Tell me this is fair, tell me I am getting a fair hearing and a fair deal!”

Ethical Will Lesson #1 Life is not fair, deal with it!

3 Responses to “Parasha Ha’azinu – The Ethical Will of Moshe”

  1. yaelbatsarah said

    Great post. Can you imagine? You start out life as a prince and end it wandering in the wilderness for 40 years and then in the end you will only get to take a look at the thing you most desired, but which will never be yours, and then you will die. I’d be just a little bitter, too. It’s hard enough dealing with the smaller disappointments in life.


  2. I have often wondered why the sages are so reluctant to admit that the Great People of Torah were fully human with human failings and human feelings.

    I was thinking about the Parasha for Rosh HaShana Day One – Yitzhak’s birth – the Parasha speaks about Sarah – and not one source I have found depict her as a woman of flesh and blood, distrusting, jealous, domineering, verbal and ever the meddler – no, no, Sarah was soooo saintly it’s revolting…

    Well I guess that’s a place to begin…and tie it in with Avraham going mad. You know, the Patriarchal/Matriarchal Family is one Dysfunctional Family, from Avraham to Yosef, Sarah to Dinah.
    Phew – no wonder Jews are such a mottled crew 🙂


  3. yaelbatsarah said

    Yeah, I like the fact that they are dysfunctional. If they can be the start of the clan, I guess we’re perfectly qualified to carry it on! I wrote some last year about our messed up ancestors.

    I don’t like them portrayed as perfect either. So much is lost in that portrayal. If I had wanted ‘perfect’ models I could have stayed where I was instead of converting. Maybe that was one of the reasons the sages wouldn’t acknowledge inperfection. One religion had their perfect person, we had to do one better with perfect ancestry? I don’t know.

    I always hated the stuff with Rachel, how she didn’t really steal her father’s idols, she just took them so he wouldn’t be an idolator anymore. Sure. If that was her purpose, why didn’t she destroy them or bury them or something. She took them with her because she wanted them in her new place. Why not just admit it?

    Torah to me is fascinating because it is real people with all the same struggles as the rest of us. To me it becomes totally boring when it is portrayed as one perfect person after another.


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