This week's portion begins with Moshe's poetic plea, " Give ear, O heavens,
and I will speak; and may the earth hear the words of my mouth."
The verb tense differs dramatically from the beginning of the sentence to
the end. Normally a plea is said in the active tense. It is uttered as a
command. "Give ear O heavens." "Listen my people." "Lend me your ear." When
it comes to the heavens, Moshe expresses his appeal in an active manner.
When it comes to the earth however, the expression becomes passive: "May
the earth hear." It is almost as if he is not commanding but submissively
acquiescing. "I cannot command the earth to pay attention, rather, may it
overhear my pleas."
The Ohr HaChaim points out this anomaly and wonders why Moshe tells the
heavens to listen, but he does not include the earth in that directive.
Instead Moshe says that the earth shall hear, almost as if the proverbial
earth is listening in the background to the prophecy he directed toward
their heavenly counterparts.
Rabbi Yissachar Frand, Magid Shiur in Yeshiva Ner Israel, Baltimore, and
noted author and lecturer, tells a story that he heard from a Rabbi in
One day a man walked into the office of his orthodox shul in Dallas. The
man was obviously not an observant Jew. In fact, the Rabbi never saw him in
the synagogue before.
"Rabbi," he said, "I'd like to make a contribution." . He proceeded to hand
over a check for ten thousand dollars.
The rabbi was flabbergasted. He did not know this man, nor had the man ever
seen the Rabbi. Yet, he just handed over a tremendous gift to the synagogue.
"Please, " said the rabbi. "There must be a reason. After all, you are
giving this donation to a rabbi whom you do not know and to a shul in which
you do not participate. Please tell me the reason."
"The man answered very simply. "Not long ago I was in Israel. I went to the
Wall. There I saw a man. He was obviously a very observant Jew. He was
praying with such fervor, with unparalleled enthusiasm and feeling. I just
stood there and listened. I heard his pleas and supplications, I saw him
sway with all his might, I saw his outpouring of faith, love, and devotion
all harmoniously blending as an offering to G-d. From the day I saw that
man pray, I could not get him out of my mind. If this is Judaism, I want to
be part of it. I want to help perpetuate it." Perhaps Moshe is teaching us
the significance of an active, forceful, message and its passive
ramifications. Effective influence may not only come when talking to a
particular individual, rather it may also come when others hear.
My grandfather, Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky of blessed memory, explains that
the word for influence in the Hebrew language, hashpa'ah, comes from the
same root as the word slant or incline, shipuah. There are two ways to
water a garden; one is to douse the vegetation directly. That takes effort
and constant wetting. A better way that is more practical is to build a
slated roof from which the steady flow of rain will irrigate the vegetation.
Moshe teaches us that to the heavens we may have to shout. But we don't
have to shout at the earth. Because when we speak to the heavens with
fervor and enthusiasm, the earth listens as well.
Dedicated by Mark and Deedee Honigsfeld & family in memory of Paul & Bluma