The Tune of the Torah by Josh Schwartz


In last week’s Parashah, Parashat VaYeilech, Hashem instructs Moshe, “VeAtah Kitvu Lachem Eit HaShirah HaZot,” “And now you should write down this song” (Devarim 31:19). Chazal derive from this commandment the 613th Mitzvah, to write a Sefer Torah. Rashi, on the other hand, interprets phrase as a reference to Shirat Ha’azinu, which follows Parashat VaYeilech. Parashat Ha’azinu is defined by its Shirah, one of the few Shirot in the Torah.

What is the relevance of the fact that Ha’azinu is composed as a song, as opposed to the rest of the  Torah, which is prose? To answer this, we first have to look at the nature of a song. Rav Gedaliah Shorr explains that a song is something that is completely synchronized and is in complete harmony. In a song, all of the notes of the song, all of the instruments of the orchestra, and all of the voices in the choir join and blend together to create a perfectly harmonious and incredibly delicate blend. Likewise, all of the elements of the universe work in harmony to perform Hashem’s will, like the first Pasuk states, “Ha’azinu HaShamayim VaAdabeirah, VeTishma HaAretz Imrei Fi,” “Give ear O Heavens and I shall speak, and may the earth hear the words of my mouth”(Devarim 32:1). Shirat Ha’azinu teaches us that all parts of Hashem’s universe respond harmoniously to the good deeds and the bad deeds that Bnei Yisrael may perform.

This understanding of Ha’azinu sheds new light on the tradition that every Jew’s fate is concealed within the 43 verses of the song. There is a story in which Rambam taught this mind-boggling fact to Avneir, his student. Avneir refused to believe that this could be even remotely true, and thus decided that Judaism as a whole could not be true either. Avneir happened to be one of Rambam’s sharper students. One day after this incident, he slaughtered a pig in front of Rambam, cooked it, ate it, and asked how many Aveirot he transgressed. Rambam responded that he transgressed four violations, whereas Avneir declared that he transgressed five, and they argued back and forth. Finally, Avneir won, and was asked why he left Judaism. He replied that this tradition regarding Ha’azinu could not be true, and he challenged Rambam to find his fate. Rambam agreed. He Davened, and Avneir’s fate was revealed to him. Rambam told him his fate by quoting a Pasuk in this week’s Parashah: “Amarti Afeihem Ashbita MeiEnosh Zichram,” “I [Hashem] had said, ‘I will scatter them, I will cause their memory to cease from man’” (32:26). Rambam explained that starting with the word “Afeihem,” the third letter of each word spells out the name Avneir. Thus, this Pasuk is an indication of what Avneir’s fate will be. Following this episode, Avneir journeyed on a boat without any captain or crew, and was never heard from again. In this way, the fate Rambam predicted for Avneir came true. This story provides a taste of the intricacies of a seemingly simple text, and also causes oneself to wonder about how his own hidden fate is within the Parashah.

This concept of finding hidden meanings in Shirat Ha’azinu can be extended to the entire Torah, which, as we know from the Mitzvah in Parashat VaYeilech, is called a Shirah, song. If a single letter is removed, changed, or added, it is no longer the Torah, just like a song is transformed if a single note is altered. The same intricacies of Shirat Ha’azinu apply to the rest of the Torah, which is replete with an inconceivable number of hidden messages that are all placed so delicately. If one letter is added or missing, the entire harmony comes crashing down. This song is all-encompassing and was clearly inscribed with wisdom even beyond human comprehension, and must be incorporated into all of our daily affairs because it is a foretaste of eternity. Heaven and earth are melded together when the Torah is the conductor of our mundane activities. When spirituality is integrated in commonplace activities, a person’s perspective changes, transforming death into a transition from one stage to a more intense but similar stage.

There is one more connection between the Torah and a song. In an orchestra, there are many different types of instruments, each producing their own distinct sounds, and many different voices, no two of which are identical. They all combine into perfect harmony only when they adhere to the same score. Similarly, everyone is different and has his or her own talents, which must be utilized to become the best Ovdei Hashem. However, they must all originate from the same score, i.e., the Torah. To deviate even slightly would be disastrous to the entire harmony and distort the song that is the Torah.

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