Sign In Forgot Password

Parshas HaAzinu - A Little Piece of Heaven on Earth      12 Tishrei 5779

09/21/18 10:51:22


This past summer San Diego experienced much warmer than usual weather for a prolonged period with very little relief. In addition to the unseasonable heat, there was an elevated degree of humidity that I had not previously experienced here. As uncomfortable as it was for most of us this summer, San Diego’s humidity didn’t come close to the typical humidity of Charleston, South Carolina, where we used to live. Nevertheless, the weeks of heat we experienced this summer reminded me of something I caught myself doing. A friend of mine from Charleston, named David Rosenberg, drove his car with his windows open and the air conditioning blasting. I could never understand the explanation given by my friend, who told me that he enjoyed the natural breeze while driving, but since it was warm he also needed the cool, artificial air of the a/c. I never fully appreciated this dichotomy until recently when I found myself in a similar but different situation. I will explain.

As is typical in San Diego with desert-like conditions, the change of air temperature drops considerably, morphing from very hot, dry heat to an extremely pleasant, cooler afternoon. I try not to run the air conditioning, but this summer it ran almost non-stop. The few days when the temperature cooled down in the evening, I rushed to shut the air conditioning off and open the windows to let in some cool fresh air. It then occurred to me that I wasn’t only turning off the a/c because of the electric bill but simply because it felt more natural. I was (and still am) getting a sense of being tired, feeling the ‘artificialness’ of the filtered, processed air conditioned room, preferring instead to breathe in the natural, crisp, cool air that we all take for granted living in San Diego. Man has done many things to create an artificial environment that mimics the handiwork of God. Nevertheless, as much as man works to control temperature and humidity, it is never quite up to the level of what Hashem creates. God’s heating and cooling systems are of the natural brand; man uses the artificial kind. Nothing that is artificial is as good as the real thing, and when we compare the two we would all choose the natural over the artificial.

When Hashem created the world, everything came from heaven, but man was given permission to do things on the ground. Hashem created the world Yeish May’Ayin, ‘something from nothing’, while man creates Yeish MiYeish, something from something. The artificial things that we craft are the by-products of what God gave us to work with. We often find the distinction between heaven and earth not only during creation, but also at other times such as Matan Torah, the plagues against the Egyptians, and towards the final parshios of the Torah. Something from the natural or even the supernatural comes down to the artificial and most definitely the superficial.

In this week’s Parshas HaAzinu the Torah states in Devarim 32:1אהַֽאֲזִ֥ינוּ הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וַֽאֲדַבֵּ֑רָה וְתִשְׁמַ֥ע הָאָ֖רֶץ אִמְרֵי־פִֽי “Listen, O heavens, and I will speak! And let the earth hear the words of my mouth!”

The Gerrer Rebbe, in his Chidushei HaRim, explains why there is double meaning in listening and talking. In this verse both words “listen” and “talk” are mentioned. He explains that if you want to listen, Hashem will send you words, but if your ears are not bent on listening, then there are no words. The sages tell us that all who are endowed with Yiras Shamayim, (fear of heaven) - something belonging to the spiritual nature - will have words accepted by the people. If, in Heaven, those words are accepted on the loftiest of levels, then surely, on earth, in the physical part of our existence, those words will be accepted.

Rashi, regarding this verse, teaches that: “I give warning to the people of Israel, that you (heaven and earth) be witness in this matter, for I have told them that you will be witnesses. And why did He call to witness against them heaven and earth? Moshe said: ‘I am flesh and blood; tomorrow I die. If the Israelites will say: We have not taken upon ourselves the covenant, who will come to contradict them?’ Therefore, He called to witness against them heaven and earth: witnesses that exist forever.” Furthermore, the heavens and the earth will control the reward and punishment. If the Jews keep to the bris, the covenant, rain will come down from heaven and the land will produce. But if the Jews rebel and turn away from accepting the Torah, then the heavens will dry up and the fields will not yield their fruit. Rav Alexander Levinson, in his sefer ‘Ayal TaArog, posits a difficult question: Does Hashem really need witnesses regarding whether or not the Jews accepted the Torah? In addition to understanding that the heaven and earth are acting as messengers of God in carrying out reward and punishment, Rav Levinson answers that the Rabbis taught that man can be a partner with God in the creation of the world. When we do something good, something positive, which helps the world exist, we help to bring the world to Shleimus (completeness) and wholesomeness. But if we do something harmful or evil, we are destroying ourselves and the entire world along with us. Every Mitzva builds the world; every sin tears it down.

With this, we can explain the words ‘heaven and earth are witnesses’. Heaven and earth bear witness to the mitzvos or Aveiros - the good or the bad acts that we do - and will testify against us. When a person sins, he brings destruction upon himself; performing a mitzva brings blessing, thereby rectifying and solidifying the world. Hashem gave us the ability to follow the guidance of Hashem, continuing the creation begun by God.Artificial cooling and heating complement the original heating and air conditioning that took place during the six days of creation. Having the windows down while the air conditioning blows is the synthesis of heaven and earth, complementing creation.

The Sadigere Rebbe, Reb Avraham Yakov, relates how heaven and earth refer to the body and the soul representing the spiritual and the physical. It is through the combination of both body and soul that this song of HaAzinu emphasizes the importance of Torah learning and Mitzva observance.

Sun, May 24 2020 1 Sivan 5780