The fishermen’s nets were everywhere. The poor trout, bass, and whitefish were frantically swimming in all directions in an effort to avoid the nets. The sight amused the crafty fox on the shore. He also longed for a nice fish meal. “Oh brother fish,” cried the fox, “why are you swimming in all directions?”
The fish replied in unison, “Can’t you see all the fishermen’s nets we must avoid? This river has become an ‘Olympic obstacle course’ – without a gold medal at the end!”
“Oh brother fish,” exclaimed the fox, “why don’t you join me on the dry land? We can live together as our ancestors once did, and I will protect you from all danger!”
The fish replied in unison, “Oh crafty fox! You are known to be clever, but what a fool you are! If we are in danger while in our life source – the water – how much more so would we be in danger if we forsake our life source.” And so the fox was deprived of his fish ‘n chips lunch!
This parable was told by the great talmudic sage Rabbi Akiva, to explain his stubborn refusal to stop teaching Torah in public, despite the Roman decree making Torah study illegal and punishable by death. “If we are in danger when studying Torah, our life source,” said Rabbi Akiva, “how much more so if we stop studying!”
In the end, Rabbi Akiva was arrested and sentenced to death by torture. His friend Papos was also arrested for “tax evasion” and sentenced to that famous spectator sport, the coliseum. As they were taken together, Papos cried out, “Happy are you, Akiva, arrested for Torah study. Woe to Pappos who will be executed for some minor misdemeanor.”
In Parshat Ha’azinu, the Torah is compared to rain. When the fish sense that it is raining, they leap up to taste the fresh water. Similarly, a Jew who loves Torah will be elated to hear new Torah insights.
In beautiful poetic style, the Parsha reviews the past, present, and future relationship of the Jewish people with God. Moses has been the “broker” of this “everlasting covenant” between God and his people. As the book of Deuteronomy approaches its conclusion, we need “witnesses” to help perpetuate the relationship. So Moses calls upon heaven and earth – which exist eternally – to testify.
While our Parsha says, “Listen, oh Heaven, and hear oh Earth,” the prophet Isaiah (1:2) says the converse: “Hear heaven and listen earth.” The Sages explain that Isaiah, as holy a prophet as he was, was still a resident of planet earth, and therefore requested that the earth listen (from nearby) and that heaven hear (from a distance). Moses, on the other hand, was a regular resident of heaven (on three occasions, for 40 days each), so he could demand that the heaven listen and the earth hear from a distance!
TORAH COMPARED TO RAIN
“May my teaching descend as the rainfall, like the downpour on the pasture.” (Deut. 32:2)
Water is the source of all life, and nothing can grow without rain.
Torah is the spiritual rain of the world, and the plant that it grows is man himself. Man is compared to a tree (as opposed to an inanimate object). In fact, the early development of the fetus is similar to that of a plant as they both share the power to grow. The difference, of course, is that man has a soul and grows both physically and spiritually!
If a person interrupts Torah study for extended periods, it is compared to planting a seed and constantly uprooting it. It will never grow!
“The Rock whose act is perfect; all His paths are justice.” (Deut. 32:4)
No human judge can claim to carry out perfect justice. Even to convict a cold-blooded murderer with many witnesses, results in unnecessary suffering: e.g. Why should his wife, mother, and children have to suffer??
When God renders justice, we believe, although we don’t always understand how, that God gives fair judgment to all the parties involved.
REMEMBER THE PAST
“Remember the days of yore, understand the past generations. Ask your father and grandfather and they will tell you.” (Deut. 32:7)
It is very important to remember the past. Jewish history is the hand of God. If you get the opportunity to ask an elderly Jew about his youth, it can be a very special experience. This maintains our link to the past and to our heritage.
The reason a person’s hair turns gray is to let others know who to ask advice from!
CENTRALITY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE
World history, including Noah’s Flood and the tower of Babel, led up to the emergence of the Jewish people on the scene. The Jews are to function as a “light unto the nations,” teaching mankind how to live and the meaning of existence.
God finally finds His nation in the desert. They agree to follow Moses into a desolate wilderness with no provisions, they accept the Torah, and God surrounds them with Clouds of Glory and loves them like the “apple of His eye!”
God hovers over the Jewish people like an eagle. First she awakens her chicks gently. Then the eagle carries its young on its wings to protect them from predators. However, the chicks have to make the first effort to climb upon their mother’s wings. So too, God wakes us up and we have to take the first step forward. (heard from Rabbi Osher Weiss)
THEY WAXED OBESE
God promises to grant the Jewish people prosperity to demonstrate to the world that it is possible to enjoy this world without becoming decadent.
God predicts they will become obese and rebel, instead of serving Him. They designed their own idols that even the idolaters themselves had not known. Those who worshiped them did not truly believe in them, but only worshiped them as justification for immoral lifestyles.
THEY FORGOT THEIR SUSTAINER
How could a person ever forget God who gave you everything?
To illustrate, here’s a parable:
Tom: “I can’t take it. All day long my creditors bug me for their money. What should I do?”
Jack: “Make believe you are insane, and yell and scream at them until they leave you alone.”
Tom (one week later): “Your trick worked beautifully! They all steer clear of me now.”
Jack: “That’s great. By the way, Tom, what about the $100 you owe me?”
Tom begins to yell and scream.
Jack: “Come on, Tom! I was the one who gave you that idea. You can’t use it on me!”
God gives us the power to forget, so that we don’t remain depressed and embarrassed for the rest of our lives. How can we then go and forget God?!
BLESSING IN DISGUISE
“My arrows will I finish upon them.” (Deut. 32:23)
All the arrows in the quiver will end, and the Jews will still be standing! In the end, God will take revenge upon evil, and all the nations will praise the Jews for remaining loyal to their Torah in spite of all the horrors inflicted upon them.
CONCLUSION OF PARSHAT HAAZINU
(1) The redemption will arrive when God desires, a time unknown by any human.
(2) God will take revenge on the wicked nations.
(3) The redemption will come after the Jewish people have atoned for their misdeeds.
(4) The redemption will be for God’s sake alone. That means that even if the world doesn’t deserve to be redeemed, God will still redeem them for His sake. Because without the Jewish example of decency and morality in the world, who needs a world?
(5) Following the “ingathering of the exiles” will be the “resurrection of the dead.”
By Rabbi Avi Geller
credit to aish.com