The Jewish Song

Rabbi Hyim Shafner serves Bais Abraham Congegation.

By Rabbi Hyim Shafner

This Shabbat, we read Ha’azinu, the second-to-last portion in the Torah. This Torah portion is written in two narrow columns like a poem or song and is often referred to as a song. But why does the Torah, a book of history and law, end with song?

The introduction to this Torah portion, which we read at the end of last week’s portion, states that G-d told Moses that after Moses dies, the Jewish people are going to sin and worship other gods: 

“And I will become angry at the Jewish People on that day and I will hide My face from them. … So now write this song for them … when bad things happen to them this song shall be a witness … that I will (ultimately) bring them to the land flowing with milk and honey. … And Moses spoke the words of this song into the ears of the whole congregation of Israel until its conclusion.”

According to some, the song in the above paragraph refers to what comes next, namely our Torah portion, which is written like a song.  But the Talmud has a different point of view (Sanhedrin 21b):

“Raba said, even if your parents left you a Torah scroll, it is a mitzvah to write one yourself, as it says, ‘So now write this song for them.’ ”

It is clear from the Talmud that “the song” refers not only to our portion but to the entire Torah. The Torah is the Jewish people’s song. 

Why see the Torah as a song? What is the power of song? A song is catchy, comes from inspiration and brings emotion. The Talmud writes:

“King David lived in five worlds and sang in all of them. In the womb he sang, when he emerged into the world and saw the stars he sang, he nursed from his mother’s breasts and was amazed by it and sang, he saw the wicked fall and he sang, he looked at the day of death and sang.”

Perhaps the whole Torah is a song because it helps us, as it did King David, to turn our lives into one big moment of spiritual ecstasy. It is easy to take life for granted, the vastness of the stars or the miracle of nursing. The Torah comes to help us appreciate all of life and to find G-d in everything. 

This is why, in Judaism, there is a blessing for almost everything — for seeing the stars or a beautiful tree, eating a new fruit or seeing the ocean. In fact, just the act of waking up each morning has a blessing and should inspire us. This is the song. It is more than information, more than law; it inspires us like a song.  Indeed, Rabbi Nachman of Beslov said that song is what connects us to G-d most profoundly (Likutey Halachot, Nisiat Kapayim 5:6).  

As Rabbi Abraham Joshuah Heschel put it: “Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement … get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.” 

May it be a year in which we sing the joyous song of the Torah and our Jewish lives more and more, and feel at all times the amazement of the gift of life and of living in the presence of the Infinite Holy One. Shanah Tovah