Sometimes a puzzle can give way to wisdom and understanding which is so profound, that one wonders how the puzzle was, at first, even puzzling.
Such may be the case with the strange opening verse of this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Ha’azinu (Deuteronomy 32:1-52). We read, “Give ear O heavens, let me speak; Let the earth hear the words I utter.” Many commentators have pored over the parallel structure of this verse, and asked why the duplication, what is the contrast between heavens and earth, why the heavens are mentioned prior to the earth, and more.
Yet, the 18 th century Italian commentator, Chayim ben Attar, in his landmark explanation of the Torah, Or HaChayim– the Light of Life (and a double entendre on his name), offered the following explication: “On a moral-ethical plane perhaps Moses addressed the two components man is made of, the spiritual and the physical components. Moses called the spiritual part, ‘heaven,’ and the physical part ‘earth.'”
Ben Attar added further that it is often difficult for a human being to engage and to encounter his or her spiritual dimension, as it is concealed. Hence, one has to make an effort, as if speaking to the heavens. Contrarily, the bodily, physical elements of a human are accessible and easily connected, and readily hear the words one may speak.
Thinking back to yesterday, Yom Kippur, when our spiritual and physical dimensions joined in a confluence of prayer and fasting, and perhaps we were successful in either hearing messages from the heavens or expressing thoughts from our earthy domain, our verse comes to unify the varied components of our beings. Ben Attar would assert, in truth, on Yom Kippur, we were neither fasting without praying, nor praying without fasting, but our inner heavens and earth were working together.
And, hence the puzzle is no longer puzzling. “Give ear O heavens, let me speak; Let the earth hear the words I utter.” As we entered Yom Kippur for Kol Nidre, we were body and spirit, separate, seeking a soulful reunion. And, as we retired from Yom Kippur, our selves had reunited, and heavens and earth came together, hearing messages, as one.
For a Shabbat of Shalom, and a New Year of Blessings,
Rabbi Douglas Kohn