Listen Heaven and Earth! by Tzvi Kahn


האזינו השמים ואדברה..., “Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak…”  (Devarim 32:1).

Parshat Haazinu, which mostly consists of Moshe’s שירה of prophecy, rebuke of Bnai Yisrael, and praise of Hashem, begins with some rather cryptic words that demand explanation.  Moshe starts the שירה by saying, “Give ear, O heavens and I will speak; and may the earth hear the words of my mouth.”  Rashi explains that there are two reasons why Moshe began the שירה by asking the heaven and earth to listen to him.  First, Moshe wanted the everlasting heaven and earth to be eternal witnesses on behalf of Bnai Yisrael in case anyone should try to claim that Bnai Yisrael did not accept the covenant that Moshe had made with them in Parshat Nitzavim.  Second, if Bnai Yisrael ever did break the covenant, these witnesses would always be there to punish them: the heavens would withhold rain and the earth would not bring forth crops.

The Or Hachaim presents a much deeper analysis of this Pasuk, which raises some interesting points that are not easily apparent.  He begins his analysis of these seven words by asking several basic questions on the grammar and terminology used:

1) The choice of the word ואדברה, “and I will speak,” seems to be a rather peculiar one.  The Pasuk would sound much smoother if that word was replaced with דברי,  “my words,” thus reading האזינו השמים דברי, “Give ear, O heavens, to my words!”

2) We know that the Torah never wastes words.  Therefore, would it not have been much simpler to group the heavens and earth together, thus readingהאזינו השמים והארץ  or שמעו שמים וארץ?

3) For what reason was the word האזינו, “give ear,” used for the heavens, but the word ותשמע, “and may you listen,” applied for the earth?

4) Why did the heavens warrant a command (“Give ear”), while the land did not (“and may you listen”)?

5) Why is the word ואדברה, which is a word implying a strong and firm tone of voice, used for the heavens, while the word אמרי, a word suggesting a much softer and gentler tone of voice, is used for the earth?

6) The word פי, “my mouth,” seems extraneous.  Could not the phrase have simply read ותשמע הארץ אמרי, “and may the earth hear my words,” instead of, “and may the earth hear the words of my mouth?”

The Or Hachaim begins to address these questions by quoting a statement of Chazal that relates to this Pasuk.  Chazal write that since Moshe was spiritually much closer to heaven, he used the words האזינו השמים.  On the other hand, the prophet Yeshaya was, on a spiritual level, much farther away from heaven than Moshe.  Therefore, when he began his rebuke to Bnai Yisrael, he started out with the words שמעו שמים והאזיני ארץ, “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth” (Yeshaya 1:2).  While this does not really resolve any of the Or Hachaim’s questions, it does fit in with one of the translations of האזינו that the Or Hachaim now discusses.

The Or Hachaim explains that there are two ways to define the word האזינו: either הטה אזן, the listener is very far away from the speaker and must use some effort for the speaker to be heard, or תאזין אזנך, the listener is very close to the speaker and the listener requires miniscule effort to hear the speaker.  Although Chazal’s statement seems to fit best with the second translation, the Or Hachaim states that we can even analyze the Pasuk according to the first definition and resolve all of our questions in the process.

The Or Hachaim explains that since the heavens are very far away, Moshe had to use a much stronger and more commanding word when telling it to listen to him.  However, since the earth was right beneath him, such a strong word was unnecessary; that is why the word ותשמע, which is a relatively weak form of listening, was used.  This clearly answers the second and third questions, but by building upon it, we can also answer the remaining questions.  The word ואדברה as opposed to דברי is necessary because it denotes a more powerful form of speaking; although they both contain the same root, the word ואדברה, “and I will speak” is a more powerful way of speaking to something as vast and distant as the heavens than the word דברי.  Similarly, the heavens were commanded but the earth was not; the heavens are so far away that a stronger form of speech was needed.  By the same token, the heavens only needed the use of the word ואדברה while the earth only needed the words אמרי פי the earth was so close that it did not need such strong term such as אדבירה.  Finally, the word פי is not extraneous because it confirms the fact that the earth is so close that it could hear the very words of Moshe’s mouth very clearly.

In light of the Or Hachaim’s idea, another question is apparent.  In the Pasuk in Yeshaya, the word שמעו is used for the heavens and the word האזיני for the earth!  How can the Or Hachaim defend his idea when taking into account the Pasuk in Yeshaya?

The Or Hachaim gives a clever solution to this problem.  In Haazinu, the prophet was actually quoting the will of God.  To the Almighty, the heavens are very close while the earth is far away, as it says in Tehillim, “The heavens are God’s, but the earth He has given to mankind” (115:16), and in Yeshaya, “The heavens are My throne and the earth is My footstool” (66:1).

Bearing in mind everything we have said up to this point, the Or Hachaim now suggests that this Pasuk can be understood on a much deeper level.  He explains that the שמים and ארץ do not really refer to the heavens and the earth; in actuality, שמים means the spiritual dimension of man while the ארץ is the physical dimension of man.  This means that when Moshe mentioned the שמים he was really talking to those who were on a high spiritual level but when he mentioned the ארץ he was talking to those who were on a low spiritual level, those who were more interested in pursuing vain physical pleasures.  Thus, Moshe talked to the righteous individuals in a commanding tone of voice because they were already connected to Hashem and knew their obligations to him.  However, those among Bnai Yisrael who were not as righteous were spoken to by Moshe in a softer tone of voice because if Moshe had spoken to them with a more commanding tone they would not have listened.  We see from here how well Moshe understood the psychology of human beings: when it comes to rebuking somebody, it must be done in a soft tone of voice or the person will not listen.

As we approach Yom Kippur, let us strive to reach the point where we will be known in Hashem’s eyes as the שמים, as a people on a high spiritual level, capable of “giving ear” to the word of Hashem.

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