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From Parsha to Halakha: Ha’azinu – can I get a witness?

Tishrei 5784 | September 2023

Do you Ha’azinu?

In Hilkhot Tefilla, Rambam records that there are those that say Shirat Ha-Yam, the Song of the Sea, every day before Yishtabakh, others read Shirat Ha’azinu, and some say both – each according to their custom.[1]

We don’t have other records of such a custom, although a handful of similar customs have been recorded throughout the ages. Orchot Chaim mentions that some people read the text of the ma’amadot and ha’azinu, according to a specific breakdown.[2]

Orchot Chaim indicates that some people continued to recite the texts of the ma’amadot after the Temple was destroyed. It seems likely that they added Ha’azinu as well, as a reminder of what brought about the destruction and a testament of their continued faith in God. Some texts of the order of the ma’amadot still contain Ha’azinu.

Yet these are admittedly singular and rare mentions of customs to regularly say Ha’azinu. Today many schoolchildren learn Ha’azinu by heart, and some people say it as a segula.

It seems these traditions were influenced by chassidut. In Iggeret d’Pirka, Rav Tzvi Elimelekh of Dinov says that studying Ha’azinu daily is a segula to be saved from apostasy and false beliefs. In Sefer HaZichronot Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson writes that Maharal had a tradition to say Ha’azinu every day before davening as a segula for purity of heart and mind. He continues that Maharal advised merchants and tradespeople to say Ha’azinu twice a day as a segula for success, and that it was a general segula for lengthy days.

There’s no other written mention of such a tradition from Maharal. And while Ha’azinu does affirm our faith in God’s justness and tells us how to ensure lengthy days in the land of Israel, the connection to successful business is not so clear. Maybe a closer look at Ha’azinu can offer insight.

Ha’azinu or the entire Torah?

The end of the previous parsha, Vayakhel, refers to a shira – poem – that will be a witness or testament for Israel when they inevitably sin and lose sight of God:

“Now write this shira for yourselves and teach it to the Children of Israel, put it in their mouths, so this shira will bear witness for the Children of Israel. For I will bring them to the land I have sworn to their fathers, flowing with milk and honey, and they will eat and be satisfied and grow fat; they will turn to other gods and serve them and spurn Me and break My covenant. And when many evils and troubles find them this shira will answer before them as a witness that will not be forgotten from the mouths of their offspring…”[3]

What is this shira?

One might think that it’s referring to the poem of Ha’azinu that comprises the bulk of the parsha. The similarities in language and message support this assumption, but the rabbinic tradition does not. In a beraita Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai uses this final verse as a proof that the Torah will never be forgotten.[4]

Maharsha in Chiddushei Agadot explains that the generally accepted reading is that the “shira” refers to the entire Torah, and these verses to the mitzvah each person has to write the Torah for themselves.

Rav Tzadok HaCohen of Lublin questioned why this is counted as a mitzvah for each individual to write a Torah. He explained that it should be counted as a mitzvah to say Ha’azinu.[5] Although there is no indication as to the frequency of the obligation he says it’s likely that it’s enough to read it once a year for Parshat haShavua.

Perhaps the missing link can be found in Rashi on the parsha. He indeed explains that ”this shira will answer before them as a witness that will not be forgotten from the mouths of their offspring” teaches us that the Torah will never be forgotten, yet he explains that it is “this shira” of Ha’azinu that bears witness and cautions the people. Therefore, this is what should be “put in their mouths.”

How can a shira be interchangeable with the entire Torah?

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson explained the verses at the end of Vayakhel teach us that Moshe wrote many copies of Ha’azinu to distribute among Israel. While it’s not so easy to write an entire Torah and commit it to our hearts, Ha’azinu can stand in, as a testament.

The shira is a lesson in the importance of gratitude and our duty to God. We did nothing to deserve special treatment, yet God guides us anyway. The verses that speak of destruction and times when God’s countenance is Hidden are scary, and it seems that this makes people view the entire shira as a scary warning. The shira states that God is just – sometimes we are at the receiving end of that justice. But God is behind that.

The end of the shira focuses on the eventuality of Divine justice finding our tormentors. This is often understood as a comfort, but it is not the only one. Our faith in God’s justice should affirm our faith that God is with us even when we can’t see or feel it. The shira reminds us that we have always been a stubborn people, that God knows this, we have sinned and we have survived – because of our faith and because of our Torah. Once we have been cleansed God’s presence will once again be clear to us.

This shira is not a witness to our wrongdoings, it is a testament to the strength of our bond with God. It is a reminder that throughout everything, even though we don’t always see it, God and Divine justice guide our lives. When a rabbi tells us to say Ha’azinu as a segula for success or long life this may not be about some mystical, transcendent power the words have to influence how God relates to us, but rather the very imminent possibility these words can change the way we relate to God and the precious Torah – if we take them to heart and allow “My message to come down like the rain, my words like drip like dew, like showers on new shoots and droplets on grass.”

[1] 7:13

[2] The ma’amadot were gatherings of laypeople in the Temple and town squares to represent Israel’s interest in the temple service. There were twenty-four shifts corresponding to the bi-yearly weeklong shifts the priests had in the Temple. These people, the anshei-ma’amad, had set customs and prayers as described in the beginning of the fourth chapter of Tractate Ta’anit.

For more on the significance of the breakdown of Ha’azinu see

[3] Devarim 31:19-21

[4] Tb Shabbat 138:2

[5] Sefer haZichronot 3:29

Rabbanit Debbie Zimmerman

Debbie Zimmerman graduated from the first cohort of Hilkhata – Matan’s Advanced Halakhic Institute and is a Halakhic Responder. She is a multi-disciplinary Jewish educator, with over a decade of experience in adolescent and adult education. After completing a BA in Social Work, Debbie studied Tanakh in the Master’s Program for Bible in Matan and Talmud in Beit Morasha.