סדר האזינו

האזינו השמים ואדברה ותשמע הארץ אמרי פי

Give ear, ye heavens, and I will speak; and let the earth hear the words of my mouth 

Deuteronomy 32:1

Our master explained this verse in accord with the commentators on the piyut of the High Holy Days “לאדם מערכי לב ומה’ מענה לשון” (a man may prepare the thoughts in his mind, but the power of speech comes from the Eternal) who say that if listeners, wishing to learn to do what is good, focus their minds and hearts on the Eternal to hear instruction and wisdom from someone who gives them reproof and guidance, the Eternal will enhance the eloquence of the speaker so that he will deliver an eloquent and pleasing discourse to draw their hearts toward the speaker. However, if they come to hear his discourse only for enjoyment and to take pleasure in the eloquence and intelligence of the speaker, but are not sincere and do not want to hear reproof and instruction to improve their conduct, then the Eternal will not give the speaker “לשון לימודים” (Isaiah 50:4) (a skilled tongue), so that the listeners will not fulfill their desire of enjoying a pleasant discourse to mitigate their guilt for rejecting moral instruction. So did the prophet Isaiah say (Isaiah 29:13-14): “כי נגש העם הזה בפיו ובשפתיו כבדוני”  (Because this people approach Me with their mouth and honor Me with their lips), coming close only to hear beautiful oratory and lofty visions. But “ולבו רחק ממני” (their heart is distant from Me)” so that they do not hearken to Him, in which case, “ואבדה חכמת חכמיו ובינת נבוניו תסתתר” (the wisdom of their wise men shall fail and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden), so that the listeners will not accomplish their goal of being entertained by those that try to reprove them.

The letter “ה” in the word “ואדברה” is added, as the grammarians know, as a linguistic adornment, while Moses, from his youth, was tongue-tied. His speech was like that of a stammerer and was difficult to listen to. But when the Eternal placed words in his mouth and the Divine Presence was speaking from his throat, his spoken words were beautiful, and his oratory was like that “of those with a skilled tongue.” As the Midrash in סדר דברים says about him “The tree of life heals speech.” The verse ” האזינו השמים ”  (give ear, O heavens) therefore means that if those who approach someone giving reproof are dedicated toward heaven, seeking to depart from evil and to improve their conduct by “giving ear” (האזינו) and listening to the words of the reprover with the intention of acting accordingly, then “ואדברה” (I will speak) with purity of language and aesthetic perfection, symbolized by the “ה” added to “ואדבר”. Alternatively, the additoinal “ה” may symbolize the Divine Presence that speaks from the throat of the reprover.

But if  “ותשמע הארץ” (the earth will hear), that is, if the listeners come only to satisfy the desire of their heart to hear the elegant words of eloquent speakers, which is referred to as “hearing” (שמיעה), and not “giving ear” (האזנה), then what they will hear will be the “words of my mouth” (אמרי פי), because I am slow of speech and of uncircumcised lips. (שביבי אש)

יערף כמטר לקחי תזל כטל אמרתי כשעירם עלי דשא וכרביבים עלי עשב

May my discourse come down as the rain, my speech distil as the dew; as showers upon the young growth, like droplets upon the grass. 

Deuteronomy 32:2

See the explanation of our master in סדר דברים that if one offers reproof to the people by relying on what is written in the Torah and does not simply offer reproof based on his own opinions, he will be well received by his audience even if he speaks sternly. But it will not be so if he speaks what he has made up by himself. So, when he offers a reproof of his own, he should be careful to speak gently, words of pleasantness, to draw the hearts of his audience toward him. And this is what is meant by “יערף כמטר לקחי” (may my discourse come down as rain). Moses could speak sternly to them like a strong rain that buffets the ground if his words of reproof “לקחי” are taken from a holy place: the wellspring of the Torah. However, when Moses speaks his own words (“אמרתי”), then they should be spoken gently and slowly (“תזל כטל”).

A second rule for one who offers reproof is that it is appropriate to speak sternly only to a large gathering. But if one is speaking directly to an individual he should speak elliptically and gently in order not to humiliate the individual to whom reproof is being offered. See Rashi who explains “שעירם” as a stormy wind and “רביבים” as rain drops; “דשא” is a general term encompassing all the folliage that covers the land, and “עשב” is a term for each individual type of vegetation. That is why the noun “שעירם,” representing a harsher form of reproof is coupled with “עלי עשב” corresponding to a harsh reproof to all the people as a group, while “רביבים”, representing a gentle reproof, is coupled with “עלי עשב,” indicating that the reproof is directed to a single individual. (שביבי אש)

שׁחת לו לֹא בניו מומם דור עִקש ופתלתל

Is corruption His? No; the Blemish is His children’s; a generation crooked and perverse

Deuteronomy 32:5

Our master said that if a father has been brought up according to the precepts of the Torah, but then becomes corrupt in his conduct, he is nevertheless disposed to return to the Eternal in the moment of his distress or in the days of repentance, knowing that he has sinned against the Eternal. He will therefore quickly resolve to repent and repair his wrongful conduct. This is the meaning of the words ” שחת לו ”  (Is corruption his?). The Scripture responds: ” לא (No); his guilt is not considered to be exceedingly great, because he will undoubtedly repent. But “בניו מומם” (their blemish is his children’s). If his children have grown up being accustomed to transgress, their sins are considered as a hereditary blemish that cannot be removed until they perish, because they are “דור עקש ופתַלתל” (a generation crooked and perverse) and they will never repent. (שביבי אש)

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