Parashat Ha’azinu is a beautiful poem,
a final effort, by a soon-to-die
Moshe, to stir the Jewish people
to a commitment to their
covenant with G-d.
The parsha, which speaks of
• the Jewish past and future,
• our relationship with G-d and his mitzvot (commandments),
begins like this:
“Listen, oh heavens and I will speak, and hear, oh earth, what I say”.
The obvious question is why does Moshe seem to address the heaven and earth !?
We thought he was meant to be talking to the Jewish people?
Rashi, in his commentary, referencing the Midrash, explains:
heaven and earth are eternal.
who is about to die,
they will be here forever.
if the Jewish people ultimately,
In the future,
and break the covenant,
and then try to somehow argue
out of being punished,
the heaven and earth will be there to testify against them,
and to affirm that they did,
accept the Torah,
agree to enter into a covenant with God,
and have failed to live according to its laws and ethics.
In addition, Rashi explains,
if and when the Jewish people do the right thing,
and keep the laws,
then the heaven and earth will
not only stand in witness for their
but they will reward them as well,
and bountiful crops.
If, on the other hand,
they break the covenant,
the same heaven and earth will first testify against them,
and then punish them, with drought and famine.
One is tempted, of course, to understand this imagery as being metaphorical.
After all, the heaven and earth have
no free will,
Nor the capacity of making a choice,
and they will not really testify
for or against
the Jewish people,
or decide to reward or punish them.
If we think about it for a moment,
we soon realize that Moshe’s
addressing the heaven and earth,
and making them the guardians, as it were,
of the fate of the Jewish people,
is no metaphor.
We now stand at the precipice,
the very edge, of doing irreversible damage
to our climate,
our heavens and earth.
This past year saw remarkable excesses of heat, drought, wildfires, storms and flooding, all over the globe.
Severe and dangerous climate change is already a reality.
The seas, which are rising,
are being reduced of the life of many species
which once in large number,
were in motion in their depths, and played such a large role in feeding us.
The heavens and earth are doing their job
testifying to our
The heavens and earth are,
in their rapidly increasing dysfunction,
eloquently and forcefully
• what is right and what is wrong,
• what is good and what is evil,
and quite naturally, showing us
how we have chosen
• evil over good,
• death over life;
and they are punishing us for it.
In just a few weeks we will be finishing the yearly cycle of the Torah portions and begin again at Bereshit / Genesis.
There we will read that G-d commanded Adam and Eve to “conquer”,
to take charge of the world He had just created, and the deeper meaning was :
we are the earth’s guardians:
That is our role here on earth.
Taking charge means taking care. That is our role here on earth.
As we begin a new year,
and approach the end of the Torah cycle and the start of a new one,
we must understand and come to terms with the role
of the heavens and earth
in rewarding and punishing our actions.
• This is not a metaphor,
• and not metaphysics.
• This is real, this is literal.
Our selfish, thoughtless greed,
expressed in dozens of ways daily,
is destroying the world.
This is the most basic,
ultimate message for us here,
as the Torah comes to a close
and Moshe reaches the end of his life.