Thoughts and Teachings: Thoughts on Ha’avinu

This week’s parasha is Ha’azinu, “you give ear to or listen” Deuteronomy 32.1-52.[i] The parasha contains Moshe’s parting song to Bnei Yisrael, which is prompted by the LORD Himself. This song is intended not just for those present but for all Israel in perpetuity. At the very onset, the LORD is calling the heavens and the earth to witness His faithfulness and justice toward Israel, even in their foolishness and disobedience. Then in verse seven we are told to “remember,”

Remember the days of old, consider the years of ages past; ask your father, he will inform you, your elders, they will tell you: when the Most High gave nations their homes and set the divisions of man, He fixed the boundaries of peoples in relation to Israel’s numbers. For the LORD’s portion is His people, Jacob His own allotment. (Deuteronomy 32.7-9)[ii]

At least thirteen times so far in the book of Deuteronomy, Israel is encouraged, even commanded to remember – to remember the times of deliverance and care, as well as the times of discipline. They are told to hold fast to the oral traditions that recounted their history and the LORD’s faithfulness. Interestingly, this remembrance is also the remembering that the LORD Himself set the boundaries and parameters of Israel’s allotted inheritance in relation to the rest of the nations, and that He called out and claimed Israel from all the other nations as His own inheritance. Rav Shaul would affirm centuries later that the “gifts and the calling of the LORD are irrevocable” (Romans 11.29), which in essence echoes the prophet Jeremiah’s words:

Thus says ADONAI, who gives the sun as a light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars as a light by night, who stirs up the sea so its waves roar, ADONAI-Tzva’ot is His Name: “Only if this fixed order departs from before Me” — it is a declaration of ADONAI — “then also might Israel’s offspring cease from being a nation before Me—for all time.” (Jeremiah 31.34-35)

Even though this song of Moshe includes Israel’s future stumbling in disobedience that results in ADONAI’s discipline, her position as the LORD’s inheritance is established at the very beginning and remains so for all time. Even though at some point Israel would “mock the Rock of his salvation,” (Deuteronomy 32.15) the LORD’s discipline is not forever; “I bring death and give life, I have wounded but I will heal,” (Deuteronomy 32.39). As sure as there is punishment, there is restoration.

There is a story from our sages that not only reiterates this assurance but encourages us to remember the faithfulness of the LORD.

Another time, the same four Rabbis were on their way to Jerusalem when they saw a fox darting out of the ruins on the Temple Mount. Again the other Rabbis began to weep, whereas Rabbi Akiva began to laugh. When the Rabbis asked Rabbi Akiva why he was laughing, he responded by asking them why they were crying. They said to him that it says in the Torah that any alien, (non-priest) who enters the holy precincts of the temple will be executed, and now this site has become the home of foxes and we should not cry?

Rabbi Akiva said to them that this was the very reason he laughed. It is written in Isaiah 8:2 “I will have two reliable witnesses testify for you, Uriah the priest and Zachariah the son of Berechyah.” How can these two people be paired as witnesses? The first one lived during the period of the first temple, whereas Zachariah lived during the period of the second temple. What is meant is that the prophecies of Zachariah are just as trustworthy as those of Uriah. Concerning Uriah, it is written: “on your account Zion will be ploughed over and Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble” (Micah 3:12) In Zachariah 8:4 it is written “Old people will yet dwell in the streets of Jerusalem.” As long as I had not seen the prophecy in Micah fulfilled, I entertained some doubts about the prophecy in Zachariah concerning the rebuilding of Zion. Now that I have seen the first prophecy fulfilled, I am reassured about the validity of the second prophecy also. Upon hearing this, the other Rabbis exclaimed: “Akiva you have comforted us, Akiva you have comforted us!” [iii]

Similar to Moshe’s song, the Haftarah is also a farewell address, this time from King David (II Samuel 22.1-51). David, like Moshe was close to the end of his reign and life. Recounting the LORD’s goodness, protection and provision, David states,

ADONAI rewarded me for my righteousness. For the cleanness of my hands He repaid me. For I kept the ways of ADONAI, and did not turn wickedly from my God. (II Samuel 22.21-22)

However, if one looks back over David’s life, there are assuredly times that he did not “keep the ways of ADONAI.” BUT, he continually returned to the LORD when he was confronted with his sins and transgression. His plea to theADONAI shows his heart:

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from Your presence—take not Your Ruach ha-Kodesh from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit. (Psalm 51.12-14)

The LORD knew that Bnei Yisrael would turn away from His presence as He told Moshe, “They will abandon Me and break My covenant that I cut with them” (Deuteronomy 31.16b). But He would cause them to return to Him in due season. King David surely stumbled at times, but he too returned to the “joy of Your (the LORD’s) salvation.”

The prophet Isaiah expresses our heart cry to the LORD as he reminded the LORD:

But now, ADONAI, You are our Father. We are the clay and You are our potter, we are all the work of Your hand. Do not be angry much more,ADONAI, or remember iniquity forever. Oh, please see, we are all Your people! (Isaiah 64.7-8)

Yom Kippurim is past and we are about to enter into Sukkot — a time of remembering the care and provision of ADONAI. We should always remain in the shadow of Yom Kippurim, knowing how easy it is to stumble. But like David, we should not remain in our fallen condition. Rather we should seek the face of the LORD, return to Him in humble repentance, and rejoice in His salvation.

Shabbat Shalom

[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible.

[ii] Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler (ed). JPS Study Bible. Copyright © 2014 Oxford University Press, Inc.

[iii] Akeidat Yitzchak 88.2-4,

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Michael Hillel with his wife Vered and their three children, made aliyah from the US in late 80s, and in biblical fashion has, for the last 27 years, done whatever his hands have found to do. In 2013 Michael began working on a MA degree in Messianic Jewish Theology. Using the tools learned from his studies, he has been writing teaching and devotional materials from both the Tanakh and Apostolic Writings. Since Messianic Judaism shares a communal context with both Judaism and Christianity, he incorporates material from both traditionally Jewish and Christian perspectives.