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Haazenu 5771

By: Rav Michael Susman

As is generally the case, Parshat Haazinu corresponds this year to Shabbat Shuva, the Shabbat that falls between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  It is clear that the designation of this Shabbat as Shabbat Shuva is a function of both timing – after all it is the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur- and the opening passuk of the Haftara.  Taken from Hoshea (Perek 14) in Trei Assar, the Haftara begins with the words “Shuva Yisrael ad Hashem Elokecha”, “Return oh Israel to Hashem your Lord”.  In fact, in our Chumashim, this Haftara is attributed to Parshat VaYelech, and Haazinu has its own Haftara, taken from the end of Shmuel Bet, Shirat David.  It should therefore be clear that Parshat Haazinu has nothing to do with Shabbat Shuva.  But is this really the case?
What is the purpose of Parshat Haazinu?  Firstly, we know that Haazinu is categorized as “Shira”, a song or poem.  This characterization is clearly correct, as the passukim in the Torah are arranged in the format of a song.  The purpose of the song seems to be to warn Bnei Yisrael of their fate if, and when, they forget Hashem and his mitzvoth, while at the same time assuring them that they will never be utterly destroyed.
In a long piece towards the end of the Parsha (32:40), Ramban posits that the shira of Haazinu encapsulates the entire history of Am Yisrael, from its very beginning to the end of time.  Ramban counts a series of steps which describe the history of Am Yisrael, beginning with creation, and then proceeding to Bnei Yisrael’s being protected by Hashem in the desert.  The song continues with a description of Bnei Yisrael claiming the land of Israel and then proceeding to abandon Hashem who had enabled them to conquer and settle the land.  God then becomes angry with Am Yisrael, and as punishment allows their enemies to defeat them, and then scatters Bnei Yisrael to the four corners of the earth. Up until this point, says Ramban, we have unfortunately seen the words of Haazinu fulfilled.
The song ends with the promise of the future, that our enemies will receive their comeuppance, and Hashem will atone for our sins for His sake (and not necessarily ours), which will then end with our redemption.  Our treatment at the hands of our enemies is a Chilul Hashem which needs to be corrected, and their punishment is therefore a way of eradicating the Chilul Hashem that our actions have caused.  Furthermore, our eradication would mean that Hashem's purpose and goal of creation would be forever lost, which would only perpetuate this Chilul Hashem for all time.  (For a fuller treatment of this point see Ramban 32:26 and our treatment of that passuk in an earlier shiur -
What is interesting in Ramban’s survey is the importance that he attributes to teshuva in the ultimate redemption of Am Yisrael.  The answer is - absolutely none!  In the words of Ramban, “V’hinei ein b’shira hazot tenai b’teshuva v’ovada”, “And here, this song contains no condition of repentance or service (for its fulfillment)”.  Rather this shira is a guarantee that Hashem will ultimately punish our enemies and redeem us, regardless of our behavior.  This is an ironclad guarantee, no matter what our enemies (or we) do.  If we accept Ramban’s approach, then there really is no connection between Shabbat Shuva and our Parsha.
But before we ascribe the commonality of Parshat Haazinu and Shabbat Shuva to mere coincidence, we must take the words of Rambam (Hilchot Tefila 13:5) into account.  Rambam, when speaking of how aliyot are apportioned in a parsha, rules that that we begin and end each aliya on a positive note. The exception to this rule is Parshat Haazinu.  Here aliyot begin and end on a negative note.  Rambam explains that the reason for this is “mipnei shehen tochacha, kedi sheyachzeru haam b’teshuva”, “because they are (words of) rebuke, in order to encourage the nation to repent”.  With these words, Rambam clearly places Parshat Haazinu as a focal point of teshuva, and therefore a worthy choice for Shabbat Shuva.
It should be noted that Rambam’s understanding of teshuva as being a central theme of Parshat Haazinu is his own, and is not based on any Talmudic source.  Rav Yosef Karo makes this point in Kesef Mishna, his commentary on the Mishneh Torah.  Commenting on this halacha, Kesef Mishna points out that the rule regarding the general apportioning of aliyot is based on the gemara in Rosh HaShana, while the explanation regarding the aliyot in Haazinu “are the words of our master, and it is correct” (“hu lashon Rabbenu, v’nachon hu”).
It is clear that Ramban and Rambam take diametrically opposed views as to whether or not Parshat Haazinu is a call to teshuva on our part or if it is a statement of Hashem's ultimate intention, fueled by the desire to punish His (and our) enemies, to restore us to our homeland and punish our oppressors.  But might there be a way to reconcile their views?
Rav Yehuda Shaviv, who raises this question in his work, MiSinai Ba, seems to feel that the disagreement is real.  He suggests that one might view the Haftara as Chazal's attempt to balance the lack of a teshuva requirement in the Parsha, as posited by Ramban, with a call to action on our part.  It is true that redemption will come, "with us or without us".  Nonetheless it is only fitting and appropriate that we be active participants in that process, and not passive bystanders, or worse, be dragged kicking and screaming into Geulah.
Rav Elchanan Samet (Iyunim B'Parshat HaShavua, first series) in his essay on V'zot Habracha, the next and final Parsha in the Torah, suggests that we must view the bracha that Moshe gives Bnei Yisrael prior to his death as the flip side of the painful message of Haazinu.  According to Rav Samet, Moshe wishes to leave Bnei Yisrael with a positive message prior to his death, firstly because the negative message of Haazinu is a poor legacy after forty years, but more importantly because teshuva can not only be coerced through fear, but must be inspired by love and passion.   
Before I continue I must stress that Rav Samet analyzes and then rejects Ramban's viewpoint.  He therefore accepts the idea that teshuva plays a role in Haazinu, though he does not deal with Rambam's position per se.  I will try and use his idea without rejecting Ramban.
Perhaps we can suggest that Rambam would agree with Ramban, that technically speaking, redemption can come without teshuva.  But what a poor, even hollow redemption that would be!  Can we imagine a Geula in which our beliefs and passions don't play a central role?  Even if we are doing teshuva, what type of teshuva do we envision?  One, grudgingly given, coerced through fear, or one expressing love and devotion, hope and passion?  Rambam reminds us that even though you don't need to read Parshat Haazinu as a call for teshuva, it is nonetheless an opportunity to do so.
May we all merit that this year we can do teshuva with love and excitement, and witness true Geula.
Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova -
Rav Michael Susman


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