A Powerful Farewell by Reuven Herzog


Imagine the scene.  It is the year 2488, and Moshe Rabeinu is delivering a speech before of all of Bnei Yisrael.  While the scene appears normal (as Moshe has been giving speeches for the past forty years in the Midbar), this time, something is different.  Moshe is extremely emotional, and everyone in the crowd knows something momentous is about to happen. This is not a usual speech about Mitzvot. It is a speech of farewells, a speech of the past, but, most importantly, a speech of the future. This is the ultimate speech. This is Shirat Ha’azinu.

One of Ha’azinu’s many unique aspects is its timing.  In all likelihood (see Ibn Ezra), Moshe has already given the Berachot found in the next Parasha (VeZot HaBerachah) and is about to give his final speech to Bnei Yisrael.  The events leading up to this final speech make it an even more emotional experience for Moshe. His only desire is to enter Eretz Yisrael, and, despite countless requests to Hashem to do so, Moshe is denied repeatedly. Although Hashem orders Moshe to stop asking to enter Eretz Yisrael one month prior to Ha’azinu, this fact does not sink into Moshe, as he is preoccupied with preparing Bnei Yisrael for Eretz Yisrael

While delivering Shirat Ha’azinu, Moshe must be distraught—he is about to see Bnei Yisrael for the last time, and his death is imminent. While his farewell speech would most likely discuss his life with Bnei Yisrael in the Midbar, Yehoshua’s greatness as the future leader, and his disappointment in not entering Israel, Moshe, instead, discusses G-d.  Immediately after the introduction to the Shirah, Moshe starts off with the Pasuk, “HaTzur Tamim Pa’olo Ki Chol Derechav Mishpat Keil Emunah VeEin Aveil Tzadik VeYashar Hu,”  “The Rock – all his creations are perfect, for all of his ways are just.  G-d, faithful, and without falseness; just and straight is He” (Devarim 32:4). The first topic Moshe discusses, which takes up a large part of the Shirah, is Hashem’s Tzedek—justice.

Although this praise seems out of place for the beginning of a farewell speech, after consideration, its placement makes perfect sense. At the end of the Shirah, Moshe’s final words are, “Simu Levavchem LeChol HaDevarim Asher Anochi Me’id Bachem HaYom . . . Ki Hu Chayeichem, UVadavar HaZeh Ta’arichu Yamim Al HaAdamah Asher Atem Overim Et HaYardein Shamah LeRishtah,” “Pay close attention to all of the things that I told to you today . . .  for they are your life, and with these things you will extend your days on the land that you will inherit when you cross the Jordan” (Deveraim 32:46-47). Moshe does not forget himself here.  In his farewell speech, he tells Bnei Yisrael of his one dream to enter Eretz Yisrael. Moshe feels that after leading Bnei Yisrael through the desert for forty years without getting angry at them, he deserves to enter Eretz Yisrael. However, Moshe admits that he erred at Mei Merivah, and Hashem punished him by forbidding his entry into Eretz Yisrael. Moshe acknowledges that Hashem is always just. He always is right, and there is always a reason for what He does.

At this point Moshe shifts the focus from himself to Bnei Yisrael. He explains how they are moving into a new stage in their lives—they will be in Eretz Yisrael with a new leader, but will not have Hashem’s Shechinah at their doorstep. While Hashem will guide and support Bnei Yisrael, they must take the initiative to remain with Hashem. Moshe continues to entreat Bnei Yisrael by stating that he wants them to be his legacy, as they were his life’s purpose. Moshe leads Beni Yisrael, raises them like a father, and protects them from Hashem’s wrath. Moshe considers them his children, and, in order for him not to die in vain in Midbar Mo’av, he begs Bnei Yisrael to listen to Hashem, understand that He is the Master Planner—He always knows what is happening—and that it is in Bnei Yisrael’s best interest to stay with Hashem because He truly loves them.  Proceeding with his speech, Moshe states, “Ha’azinu HaShamayim VaAdabeirah,” “Hear, O skies and I will speak” (32:1).  Moshe implores Bnei Yisrael to adhere to his last request—to fulfill his dream by going into Eretz Yisrael, to embrace the land, and to love it.  He pleads them to learn from their forefathers’ mistakes and to live in the land for a long time.  Nothing would make Moshes happier on his last day alive than to know that his children are fulfilling the dream he started.

And, with that, he bids Bnei Yisrael farewell.

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