Friday, September 28, 2012

Parshat Ha'azinu - פרשת האזינו

האזינו השמים ואדברה ותשמע הארץ אמרי פי - Listen, heavens, and I will speak; and the earth shall hear the words of my mouth.
 (דברים לב:א)

The words of the pasuk above are Moshe Rabbeinu's words as he stood before Bnei Yisrael not long before his passing. Moshe calls on the heavens and the earth to heed his words; not to testify but simply to take note. It seems a rather strange request - what was his intention?

If we look closely at the wording of the pasuk, we may notice that Moshe uses different commands to the heaven and the earth. With regards to the heavens, Moshe uses the word האזינו, (listen,) and when dealing with the earth, he uses the word ותשמע (and it shall be heard).

As well as instructing the heaven and earth to listen and hear, two different modes of receiving his words, Moshe also employs two differing types of communication; he says "ואדברה" (and I will speak), to the heavens but says that the earth should take note of אמרי פי (the words of my mouth).

We learn that there's a nuanced difference to be understood when the Torah elects to use one of the words "Hear" and "Listen" over the other. In this case, Moshe speaks to heaven and earth and tells the earth, the lower of the two, to hear him. The meaning of the "hearing" is that (because we are mortals, infallible and absolutely not all-knowing,) we who do not understand this world have to try and piece together the truth from what is happening around us. When one hears something, he takes in a word at a time until the full sentence is understood. So Moshe uses the word for hearing to tell the earth (and by way of reference, all that is on it) to stick to this particular task.

But what of the heavens? Why should Moshe tell the heavens "האזינו" - to listen? What is implied here? If we pay close attention to the text, we notice that this command is accompanied by the term "ואדברה", a harsher, more direct type of speech.

It is often noted that the word is דבר, "davar," means both "thing" as well as "word" in Hebrew. There is a vital connection here. This kind of speech can be compared to a thing, in that it is complete. Moshe mentions tells the heavens that they must listen to him and perceive the entirety of what he says. But to the earth the simple אמרי פי, "the words of my mouth," suffices. I think that the lesson to be learned here is that one must always speak to one's audience and have realistic expectations. It's not always possible to expect others to know what you know. Nobody on this world knows everything, and so it is important to speak in uncomplicated terms with other people and not to assume anything about them that could embarrass them.

Wishing you a peaceful Shabbat from Jerusalem.

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