The greater part of parashat Ha’azinu is a poem in which Moses—speaking as God’s voice—adjures the Jewish people to remain true to God. He bids them to learn from history, recalling both humanity’s past mistakes and God’s love and faithfulness in fulfilling His promises. He warns them of the consequences of violating the terms of the covenant, and finally reminds them that the purpose of all the vicissitudes of history is to bring them to their ultimate goal, the final Redemption.

All this, of course, rings very familiar, since only three parashiot ago, in parashat Tavo, the consequences of honoring or violating the terms of our covenant with God were spelled out quite graphically. That being the case, what does the Ha’azinu poem add that was not covered in the admonitions in parashat Tavo?

The answer may lie in the fact that the admonitions in parashat Ha’azinu are cast as a “poem,” a literary form whose use the Torah usually reserves for joyous and thankful praises to God.1 Later Jewish use of this poem, in the Temple ritual, bears out this conception of the poem.

Every day in the Temple, while the priests were offering up the daily sacrifice, the Levites would sing a different psalm for each day of the week. Every Sabbath, while the priests were offering up the additional, weekly sacrifice (musaf), the Levites would sing a segment of the Ha’azinu poem, completing the entire poem over the course of six weeks.2 Inasmuch as it is expressly forbidden to be sad on the Sabbath,3 the fact that specifically the Ha’azinu poem—most of which concerns punishment, threats, and retribution—was selected to be recited while the special Sabbath sacrifice (which expressed the joyous essence of the day) was being offered up seems perplexing, to say the least.

True, the opening and closing passages of this poem are mostly “positive,” describing God’s benevolent providence and His promise for a bright future. But the intervening passages are largely “negative,” so why were they recited by themselves on their designated Sabbaths, detached from the redeeming optimism of the poem’s opening and closing passages?

It appears that the point of reading the poem over a span of six weeks, thereby dividing it into six sections, is precisely to emphasize this point—that even the retributive content of the poem is meant to be understood as part of the whole, a paean of praise to God.4

Thus, the purpose of this poem is not just to review the contractual terms of our covenant with God, but, as Moses says immediately after the poem: “Pay close attention to all of the words that I testify to you today.”5 We are bidden to consider all these things, take them to heart, and draw the proper conclusions. This poem and its message—that God takes our commitment to Him seriously and that our behavior can determine the course of history—are meant to infuse our lives and our relationship with God with enthusiasm, focus, and yes, even joy.

This becomes even clearer when we note that the finale of the poem is God’s promise of messianic redemption. From this perspective, all our turbulent history can be seen as leading toward our ultimate radiant destiny. The fact that this review of past failings and prophetic admonition for the future ends on this positive, hopeful note transforms the entire poem from a dirge into an exultant, joyful hymn.


What remains to be explained is why the recitation of the poem was spread over specifically six weeks, resulting in the division of the poem into six sections. The primary significance of the number six is its being the number of weekdays, so we may infer that the six divisions of the poem for the Sabbath Temple ritual were meant to correspond to the six different psalms that were recited for the daily Temple ritual. Sunday’s psalm corresponds to the first of the six sections of Ha’azinu, Monday’s psalm to the second section of Ha’azinu, and so on.

The psalms sung to accompany the daily sacrifice described the various facets of God’s relationship to creation, as reflected in the events that occurred on the six days of the Creation week. The Ha’azinu poem, in contrast, describes God’s relationship with the Jewish people and their connection to the Torah, as reflected in their collective history. The psalms and their corresponding segments of Ha’azinu thus describe, respectively, the corresponding facets of God’s relationship with creation, on the one hand, and with the Jewish people, on the other.

Thus, just as the various steps in creation were stages in the process of bringing the world to its completion, which in turn was the prerequisite for the world’s fulfilling its purpose of becoming God’s ultimate home, so are the various epochs in Jewish history—even the blemished ones—stages in the process leading toward the ultimate Redemption, in which the world will once again become God’s ultimate home.

The same applies to our own personal histories: we learn from Ha’azinu that we should consider all phases of our life, even those marked by embarrassing failures or suffering, as necessary stages in personal growth, all leading to our eventual maturation as human beings fully devoted to our Divine mission and equipped to fulfill it.

But more than that, the fact that Ha’azinu is a poem of praise teaches us that the highest form of returning to God (teshuvah, the overall theme of the Book of Deuteronomy) is the return motivated by joy and performed in joy, focused optimistically on the happy ending awaiting us at the conclusion of the drama we are all living.

Thus, this last, concluding section of Moses’ review of the covenant is his reminder to us to keep its significance at the forefront of our consciousness. In this way, our entire lives—past, present, and future—take on true meaning, true vitality, and true direction. Our triumphs and our sufferings, our personal and national identities, all combine to form our song of destiny, all flowing toward the ultimate goal of making the world into God’s home.6