R' Avraham Shimon Halevi Ish Horowitz z"l (1876-1943; Mashgiach
in Yeshivat Chachmei Lublin in Poland) used to urge his students
to study this week's parashah, Ha'azinu. After all, the Torah
commands (31:19): "Write this song for yourselves, and teach it
to Bnei Yisrael, place it in their mouth"- i.e., this song must
be fluent and regular on the lips of Israel.
He would say: If the Jewish people would remember the words of
this song, which has within it the entire course of events in
This World and the World-to-Come, there would be no room for the
filth of This World to enter the heart. "Please, my students,
learn this song with the explanations of the Sages and the
masters of the Divine inspiration," he would repeat. "Sing this
song with a pleasant tune, for every nation has a national
anthem, and we, the holy nation which Hashem has chosen, have
been given the anthem of Ha'azinu."
Through the words of this song, reiterated R' Horowitz, one can
attain faith in, and also understanding of, the way G-d directs
the world toward the ultimate tikkun / completion. The words of
this song include everything from the giving of the Torah to the
resurrection of the dead - everything that will happen to us over
time. In the words of the Sages in the midrash Sifrei: "This
song is great, for it includes the present, the past and the
future; This World and the World-to-Come." (Naharei Eish)
"Listen, heavens, and I will speak; and may the earth hear
the words of my mouth." (32:1)
"Hear, heavens, and listen, earth . . ." (Yishayahu 1:2)
The midrash notes that the word "listen" ("ha'azinu") implies
that the listener is standing nearby, while the word "hear"
("tishmah") implies a listener who is farther away. Thus, Moshe,
who was "closer" to the heavens than to earth, said "Listen,
heavens . . . and let the earth hear." The prophet Yishayahu,
who was closer to earth than to heaven, reversed the pairings of
the verbs and nouns.
R' Moshe Feinstein z"l explains: "Heavens" refers to the
nation's leaders, while "earth" refers to the common man. In
Moshe's time, the leaders were righteous, and Moshe could speak
to them and entrust them to carry his message to the people. In
this sense, Moshe was close to the "heavens."
However, Yishayahu lived in a generation whose leaders were
evil. (One example of this was Yishayahu's own grandson, King
Menashe, who placed an idol in the Bet Hamikdash and killed his
grandfather rather than listen to his rebuke.) Yishayahu could
not take his message to the leaders; he had to speak directly to
the common-folk. Yishayahu was close to the people--the "earth"-
- and he spoke to them.
"May likchi / my teaching drop like the rain, may imrati /
my utterance flow like the dew." (32:2)
What is the difference between a "lekach" / "teaching" and an
"imrah" / "utterance"? Also, why is one likened to the rain and
the other to the dew? R' Shaul Broch z"l (Hungarian rabbi; died
There are two kinds of derashot / Torah lectures that one can
give. One type of derashah is intended to teach people and to
rebuke them. The other type of derashah is intended simply to
relate pleasant Divrei Torah and to demonstrate the beauty of the
A derashah which conveys mussar / rebuke is not enjoyed by all
equally. It is like rain, which farmers appreciate and travelers
resent. This type of derashah, therefore, is referred to as a
"teaching [which] drops like rain." ("Dropping" likewise
connotes a harsh action.)
Why is this type of derashah called a "lekach"? The Hebrew
root which shares the same letters as lekach means, "to acquire."
One who gives rebuke is referred to as acquiring souls, as we
read in Mishlei (11:30), "A wise man acquires souls."
The word "imrah" nearly always refers to softly spoken words.
(See Rashi to Shmot 19:3). Thus it refers to the other kind of
derashah, which "flows" gently and is beloved by all, like the
"The Rock! - complete is His work." (32:4)
The midrash turns the words of this verse around and states
enigmatically, "Man's work is complete before Him; therefore, He
delays the reward of the righteous and the misfortune of the
wicked." What does this mean?
R' Akiva Sofer z"l (1878-1959; rabbi and rosh yeshiva in
Pressburg and later in Israel) explains: Chazal state that the
reward for mitzvot generally is not paid in this world, but only
in the World-to-Come. Why? R' Sofer's ancestor, the Chatam
Sofer, explained that this is based on the halachic principle
that a hired worker is deemed to earn his entire pay when his
work is completed, not penny-by-penny as he works. A tzaddik's
work is never done, since he always plans to perform more
mitzvot; accordingly, he cannot be rewarded until he passes on
and his work is finished. A rasha's evil work also is never
done, since he plans to perform more sins.
In this light we can understand the midrash: "Man's work is
complete before Him." This means, man's work must be complete
before Him before He rewards or punishes man for it. "Therefore,
He delays the reward of the righteous and misfortune of the
wicked." In contrast, He does not delay the misfortune of the
righteous or the reward of the wicked-Chazal's state that a
tzaddik is punished for his sins in this world while a rasha is
rewarded here for his mitzvot-since each one considers this
aspect of his "work" to be complete already.
"And He will atone for admato / His Land and His people.
"Moshe came and he spoke all the words of this Song . . .
He said to them, `Apply your hearts to the words that I
testify against you today, with which you are to instruct
your children, to be careful to perform all the words of
this Torah'." (32:43-46)
Why, immediately after completing the Song of Ha'azinu, did
Moshe warn Bnei Yisrael once again to be careful to perform all
of the words of the Torah? R' Eliyahu Hakohen Ha'itamari z"l
(Izmir, Turkey; died 1729) explains:
The word "admato" / "His Land" has the same Hebrew letters as
"dalet amot" / four cubits. Thus, the verse, "He will atone for
admato / His Land and His people," alludes to the gemara's
statement (Ketubot 111a) that when one walks four cubits in Eretz
Yisrael, all of his sins are forgiven. The gemara there likewise
states that if one is buried in Eretz Yisrael, it is as if he is
buried under the altar (apparently a good thing).
These statements can lead a person to become complacent. "Why
observe the mitzvot? I will live as I see fit and the mitzvah of
living in Eretz Yisrael will guarantee my atonement." No! says
Moshe Rabbeinu. True, "He will atone for His Land and His
people." Nevertheless, "Apply your hearts to the words that I
testify against you today," instruct your children regarding
them, and "Be careful to perform all the words of this Torah."
Why? Because, says the next verse, "Through this matter shall
you prolong your days on the Land to which you cross the Jordan
to possess it." If you sin, you will be expelled from the Land
and will not attain the atonement you took for granted.
The Etrog of the (Post-) Shemittah Year
Rambam writes (Hil. Shemittah Ve'yovel 8:11), "If one buys a
lulav from an am ha'aretz during the shemittah, he [the seller]
should give him [the buyer] an etrog as a gift. If he does not
give it to him, he [the buyer] should pay for the lulav and etrog
as a unit [in order not to buy the etrog outright]." (An "am
ha'aretz" in this context means a person who is not meticulous in
his observance of the agricultural laws.)
Although Rambam states that this halachah applies _during_ the
shemittah year, it is more likely to apply today in the year
_after_ the shemittah. The reason for this is that the status of
an etrog, i.e., whether it is considered to be produce of
shemittah, is determined "batar lekitah" / by the date of its
harvesting. For example, an etrog that was harvested during the
year 5761 is produce of shemittah, while an etrog that is
harvested during 5762 is not produce of shemittah even though
most of its growth occurred during shemittah. (This rule is
unique to etrogim. The status of all other fruits is determined
"batar chanatah" / by the date their buds appeared.)
In Rambam's time and place, most people probably obtained
etrogim close to home; therefore, the etrog that was used during
the shemittah was likely to have been harvested during shemittah.
Today, however, especially in the United States and Western
Europe, the etrog used during shemittah is almost certain to have
been harvested before the shemittah to allow time for shipping.
It is the etrog used after the shemittah - this year - that
likely was harvested during the shemittah.
Why is it forbidden to purchase an etrog of shemittah outright
from an am ha'aretz? Because money given in exchange for produce
of shemittah is considered to attain the holiness of shemittah
and is subject to many restrictions on how and when it is spent.
In order not to place this "stumbling block" before the seller,
it is preferable not to buy an etrog outright.