Ha’azinu is the penultimate sedra in our annual cycle and Moses turns to song as he reaches his final moments.
In the second half of his career Frank Sinatra generally ended his concerts with a rendition of My Way:
And now, the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I’ll say it clear
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain
I’ve lived a life that’s full
I travelled each and every highway
And more, much more than this, I did it my way
(Songwriters: Claude Francois / Gilles Thibaut / Jacques Revaux / Paul Anka)
Sadly we don’t have an audio or video file of Moses’ song. But what is very clear is that, tempting as it may have been, Moses absolutely rejects the idea that he did it ‘his way’. Instead he is concerned with ‘God’s way’.
He starts (verses 4-20) with an indictment of the Israelites – God found them and looked after them but they forsook God.
He continues 21-25) with a reminder of the punishment that God visits on them as a consequence – God hid His face, send evil, demons, venom, terror.
But God restrains his punishment (26-43) – other nations might think they had successfully defeated the Israelites and not God, so God will ultimately save His people, and demonstrate His power while destroying belief in false gods.
As we read the song we might begin to wonder whether Moses is recalling the past or prophesying the future. He writes as if it is the past but the story seems to fit more with the rollercoaster of the Israelites’ history in the land of Canaan. Is this Moses prophesying the Israelites future? Or has some later redactor placed this song here at the end of the Torah?
Actually it may make little difference because either way it serves a purpose. At one of the great turning points of Jewish history and experience we read this song which is intended to speak to us at all great turning points.
The sedra is about the journey we take – the tangible and the political events that we experience and take part in. But it is also a spiritual text reminding us that God is the sustenance that suckles [us] with honey from the Rock. (verse 13)
Even though the song is about reward, punishment, nations’ rise and fall, the text is full of figurative language …
Give ear, O heavens (verse 1)
The Rock! — His deeds are perfect (4)
Like an eagle who rouses his nestlings (11)
… including feminine images
You neglected the Rock who birthed you, forgot the God who laboured to bring you forth (18)
… reminding us that cannot understand God by simple intellect or rationality alone; we need the poet’s lexicon to begin to understand the place of the Eternal in our life.
The spiritual and intangible is bound up with the material and the political.
The time of year when the sedra is read is no coincidence. It reminds us that life is both linear – a narrative that tells of a journey moving forward with great turning points such as the entry into the Land of Canaan (or the Exodus or Revelation at Sinai before that) – but life is also cyclical. As well as the new challenges we face, we are in the middle of the period from Rosh Hashanah to Sukkot when we re-examine ourselves in the same way each year.
And in just two weeks we will return to Bereishit to start our learning cycle over again.
We’ve only just begun to live
White lace and promises
A kiss for luck and we’re on our way
We’ve only begun
Before the rising sun, we fly
So many roads to choose
We’ll start out walking and learn to run
And yes, we’ve just begun
(Songwriters: Roger Nichols, Paul Williams)