Parashat Haazinu - The Song of Justice

הרב שבתי סבתו
יב תשרי תשעו
לרשימת השיעורים לחץ כאן
The first stage in this song of reproof highlights the lack of symmetry in the relationship between Hashem and Israel: G-d's fatherly concern and care for Israel, on the one hand, and Israel's


Sept. '15

תשרי תשע"ו

Parashat Haazinu

פרשת האזינו

Rabbi Shabtai Sabato

הרב שבתי סבתו



שירת הצדק והמשפט
The Song of Justice



The Ways of Law

Parashat Haazinu revolves around one central axis of the concepts of law and justice, providing a fascinating historic overview thereof at the same time. Haazinu opens with the proclamation that absolute Divine justice is the mechanism by which the entire world is run:

הַצּוּר תָּמִים פָּעֳלוֹ כִּי כָל דְּרָכָיו מִשְׁפָּט
אֵל אֱמוּנָה וְאֵין עָוֶל צַדִּיק וְיָשָׁר הוּא.

The Rock, His deeds are perfect, for all His ways are mishpat (just);
He is a faithful G-d, without injustice; He is righteous and upright.

 (D'varim 32,4)


The Hebrew word mishpat, מִשְׁפָּט, can be understood in two ways: Behavioral guidelines, or a one-time legal judgment. An example of the first definition is the word's usage by Manoach, father of the Biblical judge Shimshon, asking what will be required of him in raising the son who is to be born to him:

וַיֹּאמֶר מָנוֹחַ, עַתָּה יָבֹא דְבָרֶיךָ מַה יִּהְיֶה מִשְׁפַּט הַנַּעַר וּמַעֲשֵׂהוּ.
Manoach said: "Now your words will come forth:
what is the proper behavior for the lad…" (Judges 13,12)


Mishpat is similarly understood in this verse:

...וְנָשָׂא אַהֲרֹן אֶת מִשְׁפַּט בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל עַל לִבּוֹ לִפְנֵי ה' תָּמִיד.
Aaron will bear the mishpat of the Children of Israel on his heart
before G-d at all times.
(Sh'mot 28,30)


It means that Aharon will carry on the Breastplate on his chest the guidelines for leading the nation, such as when to go out to war and other national needs.


We must now clarify, however, the difference between chok, חֹק, and mishpat, since both of them mean "law." The answer is found in the following verse:

וַיָּשֶׂם אֹתָהּ יוֹסֵף לְחֹק עַד הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה עַל אַדְמַת מִצְרַיִם לְפַרְעֹה לַחֹמֶשׁ...
Yosef instituted it as a chok (statute) to this day,
that one-fifth of the land of Egypt is for Pharaoh.
(B'reshit 47,26)


The word chok means a regular and repetitive pattern of behavior. For instance, a daily or weekly portion of food is known as chok, as in this verse:

כִּי חֹק לַכֹּהֲנִים מֵאֵת פַּרְעֹה וְאָכְלוּ אֶת חֻקָּם אֲשֶׁר נָתַן לָהֶם פַּרְעֹה...
…for the priests had a chok (regular allotment) from Pharaoh,
and they ate their allotment that Pharaoh gave them.
(verse 22)


In the same way, the Torah terms the annual commandment of Pesach and daily tefillin as chok:

וְשָׁמַרְתָּ אֶת הַחֻקָּה הַזֹּאת לְמוֹעֲדָהּ מִיָּמִים יָמִימָה.
You shall keep this statute at its appointed time, from year/day to year/day.

 (Sh'mot 13,10)


Another example is found in this verse:

זֹאת חֻקַּת הַתּוֹרָה...וְיִקְחוּ אֵלֶיךָ פָרָה אֲדֻמָּה...

This is the chok of the Torah… They shall take to you a Red Heifer…
(Bamidbar 19,2)


That is, this is the regular cycle that will repeat itself every time a new Red Heifer is needed, after the ashes of the previous one are depleted. It follows the path of the cyclical nature of life and death that has accompanied mankind ever since the expulsion of Adam from the Garden of Eden.


In sum, the above meaning of mishpat refers to principles of obligatory behavior, while chok applies to repetitive and regular obligatory behavior.


The second, and more familiar, definition of mishpat is a judgment or a legal law, one whose application is not cyclical, but rather only to specific cases. For instance:

...כִּי רָאוּ כִּי חָכְמַת אֱ-לֹהִים בְּקִרְבּוֹ לַעֲשׂוֹת מִשְׁפָּט.
They saw that G-d's wisdom was within him, to do judgement. (Kings I 3,28)


In any event, all laws and behavioral guidelines in the Torah are subservient to the absolute Divine justice, as Moshe Rabbeinu informs Bnei Yisrael in his parting speech:

וּמִי גּוֹי גָּדוֹל אֲשֶׁר לוֹ חֻקִּים וּמִשְׁפָּטִים צַדִּיקִם
כְּכֹל הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי נֹתֵן לִפְנֵיכֶם הַיּוֹם.

Who is as great a nation [as you], that has laws and statutes tzaddikim (so just),
as in this entire Torah that I give before you today?
(D'varim 4,8)


Though the word tzaddikim is used, it means tzodkim, i.e., just and correct. What comprises justice? Three elements:

·         Equality of all before the law, with no favoritism

  • Consistency and trustworthiness
  • Balance and fairness.


Parashat Haazinu is a song entirely based on these elements. It begins as Moshe calls on the heavens and earth as witnesses to his words to Israel, and says: "When I proclaim G-d's name, give greatness to our G-d" (32,3). How is G-d's name given greatness? That is, how is it magnified and sanctified? The answer is: via law and justice, as in the next verse:

הַצּוּר, תָּמִים פָּעֳלוֹ, כִּי כָל דְּרָכָיו מִשְׁפָּט. אֵ-ל אֱמוּנָה וְאֵין עָוֶל צַדִּיק וְיָשָׁר הוּא.
The Rock, His deeds are perfect, for all His ways are just;
He is a faithful G-d, without injustice; He is righteous and upright.
(verse 4)


This verse is the source for the words of the Prophet Yeshayahu:

וַיִּגְבַּהּ ה' צְבָאוֹת בַּמִּשְׁפָּט וְהָאֵ-ל הַקָּדוֹשׁ נִקְדָּשׁ בִּצְדָקָה.
The Lord of Hosts shall be exalted in judgment,
and the holy G-d shall be hallowed with justice.
(Yeshayahu 5,16)


The song continues by explaining that despite G-d's integrity and justice, Israel behaves with injustice, disloyalty, and ungratefulness:

הֲלַה' תִּגְמְלוּ זֹאת עַם נָבָל וְלֹא חָכָם...
וַיִּשְׁמַן יְשֻׁרוּן וַיִּבְעָט... וַיִּטֹּשׁ אֱ-לוֹהַּ עָשָׂהוּ... בָּנִים לֹא אֵמֻן בָּם.

Is this how you repay Hashem, you disgraceful, unwise people?!...
Jeshurun became fat and rebelled… and abandoned the G-d Who made them…
These are faithless children…
(D'varim 32,6-20)


Let us now outline four historical stages in which the principles of Divine law and justice are manifest, as they are reflected in the Haazinu, Moshe Rabbeinu's song of rebuke for Israel.



Disgraceful Nation

The first stage in this song of reproof highlights the lack of symmetry in the relationship between Hashem and Israel: G-d's fatherly concern and care for Israel, on the one hand, and Israel's ungratefulness and back-turning, on the other. Moshe, clearly pained at the turn of events, asks:

שִׁחֵת לוֹ?! לֹא בָּנָיו מוּמָם?! דּוֹר עִקֵּשׁ וּפְתַלְתֹּל!
Is corruption His? No, the blemish is that of His children;
a generation crooked and perverse.
(verse 5)


"Is Israel actually perverting its ways before G-d?" Moshe asks in incredulity. "Is this not a terrible blemish on His children's part? This is the way of a crooked generation that takes twisted and perverted paths!"

הֲלַה' תִּגְמְלוּ זֹאת עַם נָבָל וְלֹא חָכָם?!
Is this how you repay the Lord, you disgraceful, unwise people?! (verse 6)


"Does Hashem deserve having you return His good favors with such wickedness, as true rogues act?" Certainly not! Moshe then recounts G-d's unrequited kindnesses to Israel:

יִמְצָאֵהוּ בְּאֶרֶץ מִדְבָּר וּבְתֹהוּ יְלֵל יְשִׁמֹן, יְסֹבְבֶנְהוּ יְבוֹנְנֵהוּ יִצְּרֶנְהוּ כְּאִישׁוֹן עֵינוֹ.

He found them in a desert land, in a desolate, howling wasteland. He encompassed them and granted them understanding; He protected them as the pupil of His eye. (verse 10)


כְּנֶשֶׁר יָעִיר קִנּוֹ עַל גּוֹזָלָיו יְרַחֵף...
יַרְכִּבֵהוּ עַל בָּמֳתֵי אָרֶץ וַיֹּאכַל תְּנוּבֹת שָׂדָי וַיֵּנִקֵהוּ דְבַשׁ מִסֶּלַע וְשֶׁמֶן מֵחַלְמִישׁ צוּר.

As an eagle awakens its nest, hovering over its fledglings… He had them ride
over the high places [Eretz Yisrael], and they ate the produce of the field.
He had them suck honey from a rock, and oil from the flinty rock.
(verses 11-13)


How did Israel repay these tremendous favors? Most wretchedly:

וַיִּטֹּשׁ אֱ-לוֹהַּ עָשָׂהוּ וַיְנַבֵּל צוּר יְשֻׁעָתוֹ.
יַקְנִאֻהוּ בְּזָרִים בְּתוֹעֵבֹת יַכְעִיסֻהוּ. יִזְבְּחוּ לַשֵּׁדִים...

They abandoned the G-d Who made them, and spurned the Rock of their salvation. They provoked His zeal with alien worship;
they angered Him with abominations; they sacrificed to demons… 


צוּר יְלָדְךָ תֶּשִׁי וַתִּשְׁכַּח אֵל מְחֹלְלֶךָ.

Of the Rock Who bore you, you were unmindful;
you forgot the G-d Who produced you.
(verses 15-18)



Measure for Measure

The second stage in the Song of Haazinu describes the proportionate punishment G-d meted out to Israel for its treacherous ungratefulness. It begins with the "hiding" of the Divine countenance – a measure-for-measure punishment for Israel's sin (in the above-quoted verse) of forgetting G-d:

וַיַּרְא ה'... וַיֹּאמֶר אַסְתִּירָה פָנַי מֵהֶם, אֶרְאֶה מָה אַחֲרִיתָם...
G-d saw… and said, "I will hide My face from them,
and see what will be their end."
(verses 19-20)


Immediately afterwards comes more of the same:

הֵם קִנְאוּנִי בְלֹא אֵל, כִּעֲסוּנִי בְּהַבְלֵיהֶם,
וַאֲנִי אַקְנִיאֵם בְּלֹא עָם, בְּגוֹי נָבָל אַכְעִיסֵם.

They provoked Me with a non-god, and angered Me with their worthless acts,
and I will provoke them with a non-nation; with a vile people I will anger them.

(verse 21)


Tit for tat: Israel prefers meaningless acts, G-d will choose a vile people; they turn to a non-god, and G-d turns to a non-people.



The Revolving Sword Blade

Now comes the third stage in this song of rebuke – and it turns the entire picture upside-down. Like the others, this stage is a sharp manifestation of Divine law and justice, but this time it is directed against those who would destroy Israel.


Hashem sees that the vicious nations He sent to punish Israel are not doing so in accordance with the mission He gave them. They have turned their backs on Him, arrogantly declaring their own strength, haughtily showing that their cruel persecution of Israel is their own choice – and as such, their ruthless torment of Israel is harsher than called for by the Divine plan:

...פֶּן יְנַכְּרוּ צָרֵימוֹ. פֶּן יֹאמְרוּ יָדֵינוּ רָמָה וְלֹא ה' פָּעַל כָּל זֹאת.
כִּי גוֹי אֹבַד עֵצוֹת הֵמָּה וְאֵין בָּהֶם תְּבוּנָה.

lest their adversaries should misjudge and say:
"Our hand is strong; not G-d has brought about all this."
For they are a nation void of counsel, and they have no understanding.
(verses 27-28)


This heartless behavior on the part of Israel's enemies will lead the blade of the punitive sword (see B'reshit 3,24) to revolve in the other direction – away from Israel, and in vengeance towards its enemies:

אִם שַׁנּוֹתִי בְּרַק חַרְבִּי וְתֹאחֵז בְּמִשְׁפָּט יָדִי,
אָשִׁיב נָקָם לְצָרָי וְלִמְשַׂנְאַי אֲשַׁלֵּם.
I will whet My lightning sword and grasp judgment in My hand,
I will bring vengeance against My foes, and repay those who hated Me.

(verse 41)


The results of this vengeance will be quite lethal for those who seek to destroy us:

אַשְׁכִּיר חִצַּי מִדָּם וְחַרְבִּי תֹּאכַל בָּשָׂר...
הַרְנִינוּ גוֹיִם עַמּוֹ כִּי דַם עֲבָדָיו יִקּוֹם וְנָקָם יָשִׁיב לְצָרָיו...

I will make My arrows drunk with blood; My sword shall devour flesh…
Sing aloud, O nations, of His people, for He will avenge His servants' blood,
and will bring vengeance upon His adversaries.
(verses 42-43)



Historic Conciliation

The fourth stage of the song of Haazinu concludes the story of the ultimate law and justice: The terrible injustice caused to the land of Eretz Yisrael when its sons were banished to the four corners of the earth will come to an end.


The Children of Israel will return in droves and masses in the End of Days, back to their homeland. This process will be the historic reconciliation for the Land of Israel, as we read in Haazinu: וְכִפֶּר אַדְמָתוֹ עַמּוֹ, G-d's Nation will appease G-d's Land <span style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; mso-bidi-font-family: David</body></html>

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