Torah thought forFriday 11 Tishrei 5782 September 17 2021

Parashat Ha’azinu

(HaRav HaGaon Rav Yaakov Sasson Shlit”a, a grandson of Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l)
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)

Exploring Why Some Are Moved by True Words from Rabbanim and Educators, Whilst Others Remain Stuck in their Ways!

This Shabbat we shall read the wonderful Shirah that Moshe Rabbeinu a”h, the Master of all Prophets, said prior to his passing from this world, at a time that he had reached the most humanly complete level that was ever achieved then. This is “Shirat Ha’azinu”, which is replete with exceedingly profound secrets.

Before Moshe commenced his words, he looked heavenward and said, “Listen heaven! I will speak! Earth! Hear the words of my mouth! When I proclaim Hashem’s Name, praise Hashem for His greatness” (Devarim 32:1 & 3). This means that due to the great importance of the Shirah, Moshe said that the Heavens should listen and that the Earth should hear. This is due to the fact that he produced such wonderous words of song to Hashem Yitbarach.

However it is difficult to understand for it states “A stranger should praise you and not yourself” (Mishlei 27:2), meaning it is common practice that a person doesn’t praise his own actions but that rather others do. Yet we find here that Moshe Rabbeinu who was the humblest of all people, boasts, as it were, and requests that the heaven and Earth pay attention to what he has to say. The answer is that precisely for this reason Moshe continued and said, “When I proclaim Hashem’s Name, praise Hashem for His greatness”, meaning that the praise isn’t unique because I am saying a wondrous Shirah, but rather because I am coming to praise Hashem Yitbarach, and to him it is beautiful and to him it is proper to praise. Therefore, “Listen heaven! I will speak!... praise Hashem for His greatness!”

From here we learn a great moral lesson, that when anyone will come to teach Torah, it is proper and fitting, to listen to what they have to say, as our chachamim said  “accept the truth from whoever said it”. And they gave a parable about this that the most precious garments, made of silk, is spun from the silk fibres produced by tiny silkworms [i.e. seemingly insignificant things produce amazing products]. Likewise, King David said, “I became knowledgeable from all my teachers” (Tehillim 119:79), without considering at all the person speaking, in terms of what their status may be.

And so we witnessed by Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l, who was a wise man learning from everyone. He would even study the works by current scholars and listen attentively to his students, even the very young ones. This is because sometimes even a small light is able to kindle a great light. He didn’t think who is this young one who is debating before me? But rather he would always be open to others’ views. And if they said something that was correct, he would accept it with a smile. (In the work Abir HaRoim - Beit Midot, that we recently merited to publish we have brought many incredible examples of this virtue which Maran zt”l possessed.)

Moshe Rabbeinu also said “My lesson shall drop like rain, my saying shall flow down like the dew - like a downpour on the herb, like a shower on the grass” (Devarim 32:2), meaning that my words should be received in a pleasant way, just like the rain and dew are well received. Our chachamim the Rishonim [Rambam and many others] said, “words that exit the heart enter the heart”, when words are truly expressed from the depth of a person’s heart, they are also received by the minds of others who hear them.

In the work known as Sha’ar Bat Rabim [an anthology from some 500 commentaries, pub. circa 1890 - by the 19th cent. scholar Rav Chaim Aryeh Leib Fenster z”l from Jedwabne, Poland], he asks how can it be that we see that the Prophets, Yirmiyahu and Yeshaya as well as others, rebuked Am Yisrael, and for sure their words came from the heart, yet they achieved no effect, for Am Yisrael didn’t receive [or act on] their words. How could this be? And so we see with our own eyes that sometimes a great tzaddik comes to rebuke the tzibbur, for example regarding educating children, and many pay no attention to what he says. How can this be? The words are indeed coming from the heart?!

This may be explained through a parable. Sometimes we find there are expensive medicines which may assist a dire illness thereby enabling the person to live, albeit a just a few hours, to put his household affairs in order and to speak to his family. It once happened that a person was critically ill and his death was imminent. They called for the most eminent physician and requested that he sell them this medicine despite its high price. He agreed. They sent him the funds and he sent the medicine. But when they administered it to the patient he neither got up or even moved, the medicine was to no avail. They sent a message to the physician, “Why did you trick us? Your medicine is worthless!”

So the physician came to see for himself the sick patient and he saw that the person had already been dead for a number of hours. The physician said to them, “You fools! Do you think I can resurrect the dead? My medicine can only assist someone who still has the breath of life, but a person who is totally dead, I cannot help him at all!”

The same is true of spiritual matters. I person who is spiritually ill, full of serious sins, sometimes he has hope and it is possible to influence him. But sometimes, due to the enormity of the sins, the person is already considered dead. As our chachamim said, “The wicked, even in their lifetime, are considered dead” [Berachot 18b]. Therefore when they said that “words that exit the heart enter the heart”, this was in reference to a person who still has a residue of faith and some spiritual life. But one who has become so distant and his heart has become like stone due to his great desires and his sins, such a person has no remedy and it is [almost, see further below] impossible to influence him.

Therefore Moshe Rabbeinu said, “My lesson shall drop like rain, my saying shall flow down like the dew - like a downpour on the herb, like a shower on the grass”, not on totally dry land, but rather on grasses that still have some moisture, they are suitable to receive rain, and to thereby grow further from their newly gained strength. In truth however, there are in every Jewish soul sparks of holiness that for time to time one is able to oxygenate and to kindle the hearts with inspiration, “its flashes are flashes of fire, the flame of Hashem” [Shir HaShirim 8:6]. [This is true] especially at times of joy, such as the ensuing days of Sukkot which follow the Yamim Noraim. This is a time of simchah, and everyone as it were, is reconciled and more easily accepting of instruction in mussar (self-betterment) and fear of Hashem. This is a very auspicious time, with the commencement of a New Year, to strengthen and increase in belief in Hashem Yitbarach. And may we merit to cleave to Him and to make our will like His will [see Avot 2:4]. Amen ken yehi ratzon!

Shabbat Shalom!