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Parshas Ha’azinu: Never Give Up!

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Yom Kippur was but a few days ago and we were all feeling the closest to Hashem that we feel all year. And now it’s time to build the sukkah.

But before we move on with the holiday cycle we need to see what we can do to retain at least some of those special feelings of Yom Kippur.

This week’s haftorah guides us on just such a path.

We don’t always read the haftorah portion which we read this week given that Parshas Ha’azinu is often Shabbos Shuva when we read the classic Shuva Yisrael ad Hashem Elokecha haftorah. But this year Ha’azinu is read on the Shabbos after Yom Kippur and the haftorah is one of Dovid HaMelech’s songs to Hashem from Shmuel Beis (22:1-41) known as Shiras Dovid. A very similar version of this shira appears in Tehillim perek 18. (Of course, the rabbinic enactment of haftorah is to read specifically from the Navi so reading from the Tehillim version is not an option. Tehillim is part of Kesuvim, Writings of Tanach, and not the Prophets.)

Shiras Dovid is essentially a praise and thanksgiving from Dovid to Hashem Yisbarach thanking Him for saving Dovid from all his enemies. Dovid expresses very poetic and detailed praises and rededicates himself to an even stronger connection and relationship with Hashem as a result of all Hashem has done for him.

Rabbi Moshe Eisemann in Music Made in Heaven-Thoughts on Dovid HaMelech and Tehillim, (pgs. 53- 54) points out that of all the 150 chapters of Tehillim, the only one that makes an appearance in Sefer Shmuel is the Shiras Dovid. Why, aren’t there many songs in Tehillim which were said in connection to various events in Dovid’s life that appear in Shmuel? If the prophet Shmuel wanted us to get a full picture of who Dovid was, why is this one the only perek of Dovid’s songs included? Furthermore, when exactly was this song written? It appears in the text in the final segment of Dovid’s life but it mentions Dovid being saved from Shaul which occurred very early in Dovid’s life. Why then is the song only mentioned now?

Rabbi Eisemann mentions the Abarbanel’s approach to the shira. – this song was sung by Dovid on many different occasions. One might call it Dovid’s own personal “theme song” and whenever he was saved from a perilous situation, he would sing this same song to Hashem. This is why the first pasuk reads, “Dovid spoke to Hashem the words of this song on the day Hashem delivered him from the hands of all his enemies and from the hand of Shaul.” Dovid always spoke these same words to Hashem whenever he was saved, going back all the way to his first dangerous encounter with an enemy, Shaul.

Given that this was Dovid’s theme song, we suggest that’s why the song is mentioned at the end of Sefer Shmuel, at the conclusion of a book designed to tell us about Dovid’s life. In a sense, mentioning the shira here acts in part as a eulogy, a hesped, a great telling of who Dovid was and how he lived his life.

Sefer Shmuel records many of Dovid’s successes but also records his mistakes and transgressions. (To be sure, Dovid’s transgressions are not like yours or mine. The sins of individuals mentioned in the Torah must never be understood at face value. Rav Shlomo Wolbe’s Alei Shur, Volume 1, page 227 explains that sins of the earlier biblical generations were all based on mistaken intellectual calculations, not animalistic desires or simple “foul-ups.” The same point is brought in Rav Avraham Korman’s Mavo LeTorah SheBichsav VeSheBaal Peh, pgs. 168–169, in the names of the Alters from Kelm and Slabodka. They go so far as to apply this rule to wicked people mentioned in the Torah, as well. See also Rav Dessler’s Michtav Me’Eliyahu, vol. 1, p. 161–166.)

Rabbi Eisemann writes “Sefer Shmuel teaches us that even very great men can sin, without impugning their greatness or cutting them off from their source of inspiration. Perhaps more importantly, that even a sinning man can be great, if he is able to summon the energy which true teshuvah demands.”

And this insight is a very good reason why we should be reading this haftorah immediately after Yom Kippur. Dovid HaMelech committed transgressions, big ones (on his level) during his life, but because he is one of the paradigms of teshuvah, he redeemed himself and remains one of the most righteous heroes in all of Jewish history.

We must internalize this lesson as we face the year post-Yom Kippur.

How do we hold on to at least some of our Yom Kippur feelings? What makes us fail? What is the greatest obstacle in fulfilling our commitments and resolutions that we made on Yom Kippur?

The problem we face is not being to handle failure. All too often we give up, on ourselves, and that is our biggest obstacle.

Rav Chaim Volozhin in Ruach Chaim on Avos writes:

“A person is constantly going up and down [in ruchniyus]. When he’s down, he feels as if whatever he does and has done in avodas Hashem was without a full heart, and he’s not accomplishing anything by doing it. He wants to rest and sleep deeply until the time of passionate avodas Hashem would return…But a person can grow easily to a high level if he specifically maintains his avodah, even when feeling a weakening, a hisrashlus, rather than entirely giving up his service. If he gives up his avodah entirely (and waits to feel the passion again), he’ll distance himself further.”

Rav Chaim Shmulevitz (Sichas Mussar, 5732, Maamar 37) also states this insight into spiritual growth. The pasuk in Micha (7:8) says “Al tismechu ayvati lee, kee nafalti kamti, kee eshev b’choshech, Hashem or li – My enemies should not rejoice that I have fallen, because I have gotten up; when I sat in darkness, Hashem was a light for me.”

Chazal explain: If I had not fallen, I would not have risen – ilu lo nafalti, lo kamti – I have only grown because I fell in avodas Hashem. I have only experienced Hashem as a light for me because I once experienced the darkness, the lack of spiritual growth.

Allow me to quote from some meaningful lyrics sung by popular contemporary singer and composer, R’ Eytan Katz:

If you have transgressed, Don’t get yourself depressed, Just get up from the floor, That’s what Hashem requests.

The most important message in learning this week’s haftorah is not to give up on ourselves. We won’t be perfect and G-d doesn’t expect that from us. When we fall, we need to get up, learn from our mistakes, do teshuva, and fight on. This was the most significant aspect of Dovid, the warrior. He won many battles on the battlefield, but the greatest of all enemies he defeated was the spiritual one who dogged him throughout his lifetime, the yetzer hara.

So, yes, lose some battles against that evil inclination, but win the war!

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