Times: Shabbat in – 5.56, out – 7.06

Brendan Stern on the Parsha:

Haazinu – Live Learning

“Listen, O heavens, and I will speak!

And the earth will hear the words of my mouth!” (Devarim 32:1)

Moshe opens the poem of Haazinu with a declaration to the heavens and earth to pay attention to the pivotal message he is about to deliver. Why, however, does he address the heavens in the command imperative form “listen” whereas when speaking to the earth it is a passive description in the future tense of what will happen “the earth will hear”?

The Ohr HaChaim explains that the terms “heaven” and “earth” relate to the nation’s leaders and commoners respectively. He therefore suggests that Moshe instructed the “heavens” – the leaders – to heed his teachings, which will then naturally result in the “earth” – the rest of the people – abiding by his words.

The leaders will set an example for others to follow, and thus Moshe only needed to instruct the leaders to heed his guidance. Rather than directly instructing the commoners to obey his words, Moshe instead addresses himself to the leaders, confident that once they act the right way, the rest of the people will follow suit.

The poem of Haazinu conveys harsh warnings to the people, castigating them for their future betrayal of Hashem and describing the calamities that would befall them as a result. Moshe was therefore teaching a powerful pedagogic message, that harsh warnings are not necessarily appropriate to be delivered to everybody.

Often the most effective means of inspiration and transmitting a message is through osmosis, when the masses see visual and living representations of how they are expected to act.Similarly in our personal lives we need to strike the appropriate balance between directly and matter-of-factly demanding changes at times, and the softer approach of providing guidance and teaching through example rather than preaching via words.

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