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The Rain Song (Haazinu)

Note: Due to time constraints, the following article is being presented in outline form. אי”ה it will be developed further in the future.


I. Data

It seems that the song of Haazinu, which constitutes the bulk of the Torah’s second-to-last Parshah, is intended to be read in light of the Torah’s second-to-first Parshah: Noah. Parshat Noah provides the most striking historical example of Hashem punishing humanity for disobeying His will; Parshat Haazinu contains Hashem’s promise to punish the Israelites should they disobey His will in the future. How appropriate, then, to find within Parshat Haazinu strong echoes of Parshat Noah.

Most pointedly:

  • The song of Haazinu itself asks us to consider its content in the context of ancient history: “Remember the days of old; reflect upon the years of earlier generations…” (Deut. 32:7)
  • The song’s opening lines invoke rain imagery—“let my lesson drip like rain, my word flow like dew…” (32:2)—which remind us of the floodwaters in Noah’s time.
  • In the prelude to Parshat Haazinu, Moshe informs the Israelites that he is teaching them the song of Haazinu because they will grow “corrupt,” השחת תשחתון, upon entering into the land of Canaan (31:29). Later, the song itself describes the nation of Israel as having grown “corrupt,” שחת (32:5). That root, שחת, appears seven times in Parshat Noah to describe the corruption and consequent destruction of humanity (Gen. 6:11-13, 17; 9:11, 15).
  • Moreover: The Haazinu song focuses on a specific “generation,” דור, that has grown corrupt (32:5). In Parshat Noah, too, it is the wickedness of a particular “generation,” דור, that is emphasized (6:9, 7:1). Then, after the flood, Hashem establishes a covenant with all future “generations,” דורות עולם, not to destroy the world again (9:12). (Note too: The phrase ימות עולם, which appears in Deut. 32:7 cited above, calls to mind this phrase from Parshat Noah, דורות עולם).
  • The Haazinu song predicts that Hashem will bring calamities Israel because of their sins, but emphasizes that this consequence is just, and that Hashem, too, is just: “The deeds of [Hashem] are perfect, תמים… He is righteous, צדיק, and straight” (32:4). We find proof for the notion that Hashem is indeed just—that He punishes only those who deserve it, but spare those who do not—through Noah, who is described in the same language: “a man who was righteous, צדיק, and perfect, תמים…” (6:9). Noah was saved from the flood that washed away the rest of humanity.
  • In Haazinu, Hashem describes Himself as a bird who found Israel in the desert, i.e. dry land, and “guided them, ינחנו, alone… making them ride on the high places of the earth…” (32:10-13). This description subtly calls to mind the ark of Noah that rested, ותנח, atop a mountain after the flood, and the birds sent by Noah who not find a place to rest, מנוח, because there was no dry land (8:4-14).
  • After the flood, Hashem vows “never again to curse the land on man’s behalf, because man’s nature, יצר, is bad from his youth…” (8:21). Before Haazinu, Hashem makes a similar declaration regarding the inevitability of human sin: “For I know his nature, יצרו, that which he shall do, even before I bring Him into the land that I swore…” (31:21).
  • In Parshat Noah, Hashem sets the rainbow as “the sign, between Myself and earth, of My covenant” to never again destroy the earth—when Hashem sends the rainbow, He states, it will serve as a sign that “I will have remembered My covenant between Me and you” (9:12-17). Conversely, the Haazinu song is intended to serve as a “witness” that will “answer against” Israel when they “forget” their “covenant” with Hashem (31:19-21). Ironically: Hashem also calls upon “heaven and earth” to serve as witnesses of the Haazinu covenant (31:28, 32:1), much like the rainbow, situated between heaven and earth, had served as a witness to the Noah covenant.
    • Incidentally: In Hebrew, the word קשת means both “rainbow” and “bow” (as in the weapon that shoots arrows). The rainbow in Parshat Noah is a symbol of Hashem acting mercifully towards creation—indicated, perhaps, by the fact that the rainbow is inverted, so that it “shoots” towards heaven. But in Haazinu, Hashem threatens repeatedly that He will shoot his “arrows” against Israel when they breach His covenant (32:23, 29, 42).

Other language in Haazinu which evokes memory of the flood—some examples more directly than others:

  • The phrase cited above, “Remember the days of old; reflect upon the years of [other] generations,” continues: “When the Most High gave nations their lot, when He dispersed the sons of man…” (32:8). The language of nations, גוים, being dispersed, הפרד, is mimicked in Parshat Noah in the story of humanity’s dispersion following the flood: “from these were the nations, גוים, dispersed, נפרדו” (10:5; see also the Tower of Bavel story, in that Parshah).
  • The Haazinu song speaks of “Hashem having closed [the fates] of Israel, ה’ הסגירם” (32:30). This recalls Hashem sealing the fate of Noah and of the members of his generation when He closed the doors to the ark—ויסגר ה’ (6:15).
  • After the flood in Parshat Noah, Hashem permits man to eat meat (9:2). In Haazinu, meat consumption is what leads Israel to abandon Hashem: “[They ate] the fat of lambs and rams of Bashan and he goats… and became fat, and rebelled; you grew fat, thick and round, and forsook the God Who made [you]” (32:14-15). Moreover, the song speaks of “the blood of grapes and intoxicant they [i.e. Israel] drank” (32:14)—and of “God’s arrow” that becomes “intoxicated with blood” (32:42). Both of these call to mind the wine that Noah drunk after the flood, which rendered him intoxicated (9:20-21).
  • The song proclaims: “You forgot the God who delivered you/in whom you had hoped—קל מחללך” (32:18). This recalls the deliverance that Noah “waited / hoped for,” ויחל (8:10, 12) after the flood, when he sent the bird to find dry land. Perhaps the notion of hope / deliverance is also at play in Noah’s act of planting the vineyard—ויחל—after the flood (9:10).
    • Incidentally: The stem חל appears three more times in the Parshah: once with regard to the window of the ark (8:6), and twice with regard to the nefarious initiatives that humanity undertakes in the wake of the flood (10:8, 11:6)—i.e. Nimrod’s wars to conquer the earth, and the attempt to conquer heaven on the part of those who built the Tower of Bavel. It seems, then, that “חל”functions as a leiwort of sorts in that Parshah. Maybe its role is to connect all of the sources of false hope / deliverance that appear in the Parshah. In contrast, “the God who delivered you,” in Haazinu, proves to be a true source of hope—but alas, Israel has exchanged this source for the counterfeits.
  • In the song, Hashem states: “I considered making an end of them, eradicating their remembrance from mankind” (32:26). The language of total destruction recalls that of the flood: “And the flood blotted out all beings that were upon the face of the earth, from man to animal to creeping thing and to the fowl of the heavens, and they were blotted out from the earth” (7:23).
  • In the song, Hashem asks, rhetorically: “Where is their [false] deity, the rock in which they trusted, who ate the fat of their sacrifices and drank the wine of their libations? Let them arise and help you! Let them be your shelter!” (32:38). In other words, Hashem intimates, the curses with which He threatens Israel in Haazinu cannot be prevented by the foreign gods to whom Israel had offered sacrifices. By contrast, the curses that Hashem inflicted upon Noah’s generation were suspended eternally following Noah’s sacrifice to Hashem: “And Noah built an altar to Hashem… and Hashem smelled the pleasant aroma, and Hashem said to Himself, “I will no longer curse the earth because of man…”” (8:20-21).

II. Implications

The song of Haazinu is Hashem’s anticipated response to the complaints that Israel will lodge when it is beset by calamity in the future: “And My fury will rage against them on that day, and I will abandon them and hide My face from them, and they will be consumed, and many evils and troubles will befall them, and they will say on that day, ‘Is it not because our God is no longer among us, that these evils have befallen us?’” (31:17). In fact, the song counters, Hashem never disappears; but sometimes, He does “hide [His] face, on account of evil conduct” (31:18).

By proclaiming this principle against the backdrop of the Noah narrative, the Torah anchors that principle in a familiar historical precedent, thereby increasing the likelihood that the audience upon whom the principle is being impressed will accept its painful implications. At the same time—and perhaps more significantly—the Torah subtly communicates that “the children of Israel,” despite their unique covenantal status, should not expect to be treated any more favorably, when they veer off the path set for them by Hashem, than were the “children of Noah” (i.e., the rest of humanity). True, Israel shall never quite meet the fate of Noah’s contemporaries; yet as the earth could not tolerate the sins of the latter, the land of Canaan will not long tolerate the sins of the former.

Indeed, this idea will set the ethical framework for the remaining books of Tanach: as the Torah draws to a close and Israel prepares to enter into the land Canaan, it must understand that it will fare no better than the land’s current inhabitants, should it choose to mimic their immoral practices—viz., incest, bestiality (Lev. 18), child-sacrifice (Deut. 12:29-31), etc. Only by maintaining a society that will “keep the way of Hashem, to perform righteousness and justice” (Gen. 18:19) will Israel be able to fulfill its covenantal destiny upon its ancestral homeland.


3 Comments

  1. Mike Shriqui says:

    Thank you for the intriguing essay, Alex. Shabbat Shalom.

  2. Jonathan Tavin says:

    I liked the dvar torah. One comment: I don’t think the shorashim חלל ,חלי/חלה, and יחל are necessarily related.

    • alexmaged says:

      Thank you Jonathan!
      Re the roots: though probably unconnected etymologically, the point being made here is that they are connected phonetically. Linguistic meaning can be developed at multiple levels; and if we take R. David Zvi Hoffman’s standard of pshat as our benchmark–i.e. what would the original audience have understood / appreciated? –one could argue that the latter (phonetics) is perhaps even more significant than the former (etymology). Remember that we are dealing with a primarily oral method of transmission, after all; and that to the average person, the semantics of language are less intuitive than its sounds.

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