As we near the end of the Torah and the accounts of Moshe Rabbeinu’s life, we encounter a most unusual section – nearly an entire parsha, set up as a song, which predicts poor behavior of the Jewish people in the future.

Moshe states, in the preceding parsha (Devarim 31: 28) that he delivered this song by “speaking in the ears” of the people, a phrase that echoes Bilaam’s comments that the prophecies he received from God came when He “put them into (his) mouth” (Bamidbar 23:12). This indicates some unwillingness of the recipient to accept the message.


We learn in the Gemara (Eruvin 54b) that the song of Ha’azinu should be familiar to every Jew, to the point where we know it by heart. So we have a peculiar dichotomy – an unpleasant song that must be placed in the ears of the people, that they are expected to memorize.

What is it in this song of Jewish betrayal of God and consequent suffering that makes it a ‘song’ and merits such dedication?

It may well be that the answer lives in the promise that God will never sever his unique covenant with the Jewish people (Devarim 32: 26-27, 36) no matter how badly they stray or how severely they are punished.

Our closest relationships should entail a deep, primal commitment. One will sometimes help his children for no other reason than the connection that exists between parent and child. For a child to grow up emotionally and spiritually healthy, he needs to know of that primal relationship, even though that is usually not the motivation behind the care he receives from his parents. His relationship with his parents is generally marked by love and pride on their part, which override attention to his less admirable qualities. But within the course of a lifetime, it is not uncommon for a child to act at times in such a way as to relinquish all but the primal bond between him and his parents.

What is true within the family is equally true within the nation. God’s foremost desire is to conduct a relationship with the Jewish people built on love and commitment. But they often stray very far from this ideal and when they do, God punishes the Jewish people, sometimes very severely. Things can and unfortunately do get very bad, but regardless, the song of Ha’azinu reassures us that the relationship will never die.

{This essay is based on Chapter Eight: The Bitter Song in Rabbi Francis Nataf’s newly published book, Redeeming Relevance in the Book of Deuteronomy: Explorations in Text and Meaning (Urim Publications, 2016). Harry Glazer provided editorial assistance}


Previous articleBULLETPROOF – ISIS, UNESCO & CoverGirl. You Can’t MAKEUP This Stuff [audio]
Next articlee-Edition: October 14, 2016
Rabbi Francis Nataf ( is a veteran Tanach educator who has written an acclaimed contemporary commentary on the Torah entitled “Redeeming Relevance.” He teaches Tanach at Midreshet Rachel v'Chaya and is Associate Editor of the Jewish Bible Quarterly. He is also Translations and Research Specialist at Sefaria, where he has authored most of Sefaria's in-house translations, including such classics as Sefer HaChinuch, Shaarei Teshuva, Derech Hashem, Chovat HaTalmidim and many others. He is a prolific writer and his articles on parsha, current events and Jewish thought appear regularly in many Jewish publications such as The Jewish Press, Tradition, Hakira, the Times of Israel, the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Action and Haaretz.