Give ear, Heavens, and I will speak, and listen Earth to the words of my mouth … (Devarim 32:1)
If anyone has the right to poetic license, it is Moshe Rabbeinu. However, as Rashi explains, Moshe, by invoking Heaven and Earth and charging them with the role as witnesses to the covenant between G-d and His people, was being far more than poetic:
“Why did he call Heaven and Earth as witnesses against them? Moshe thought: I am human–tomorrow I shall be dead. If the Jewish people will ever say, “We never accepted this covenant,” who will come and refute them? Therefore, he called Heaven and Earth as witnesses against them–witnesses that endure forever.” (Rashi)
But when was the last time Heaven and Earth spoke up for or against anyone? Hence, Rashi adds:
“… If they should act worthily, the ‘witnesses’ can give them their reward: the vine will yield its fruit, the ground will give its increase, and the Heaven, its dew. If they transgress, then the ‘hand of the witness might first be against them’: ‘And He will restrain the Heaven, so there will be no rain, and the earth will not give its increase and you will perish quickly …’ (Devarim 11:17)–through the attacks of other nations.” (Rashi)
What Moshe is alluding to is found in the Talmud:
Punishment comes only to the world because of Israel. (Yevamos 63a)
The Nefesh HaChaim spends an entire section to reiterate the same point, bringing in all the relevant sources. The Jewish people may be a tiny nation at any given point in history, having little, if any influence on the World Below. However, by virtue of the special souls they possess, the Jewish people have great influence on the World Above, which, ultimately, determines the direction of the World Below. This is what the second verse is saying:
My doctrine shall drop as the rain … (Devarim 32:2)
“This is what they will testify: In your presence I declared that the Torah which I gave to you is life to the world like the rain.” (Rashi)
The fourth section of Nefesh HaChaim explains in great detail why learning Torah is so powerful. Very soon, again, when we begin the Torah all over again, we will be reminded by Rashi that the word “bereishis” actually means “for reishis” (i.e., for Torah, which is called “reishis”–the first), G-d made creation. Furthermore, the Talmud elucidates on the verse:
And it was evening and it was morning, the sixth day [ha-shishi]. (Bereishis 1:31)
“Ha-shishi … The letter heh [preceding the word shishi] is extra at the end of the creation process to say that [G-d] made a condition with them (all of creation): If the Jewish people accept the Five Books of Moshe, [then it is good; if not, then you will resort back to null and void].”(Shabbos 88a)
Hence, all of creation rides on the intensity of the relationship between the Jewish people and Torah, because that relationship is indicative of the one between G-d and the Jewish people (since, as the Zohar points out, “taking Torah” is considered “taking G-d”). Yet, how many people learn enough Torah (given the potential personal opportunity to do so)?
This is a very important part of the cheshbon hanefesh (accounting of the soul) that one is supposed to be doing during these days of teshuvah. For, as the Talmud points out:
A person only transgresses when a spirit of insanity enters them. (Sotah 3a)
And nothing works better to keep “insanity” in check than the pristine godly clarity of Torah. And as the Maharshah points out on this section of the Talmud, it is for not properly preparing ourselves against potential sin that we are held accountable on Yom HaDin–the Day of Judgment–and all the days of our lives.
Remember the days of the world; understand the years from generation to generation. Ask your father and he will tell you, the elders, and they will say to you. (Devarim 32:7)
Last year we spoke about the importance of staying in touch with history. It is very easy to lose perspective on life when one lives only within his or her own “slice” of time. All historical events look different when viewed within their overall historical context, and they often provide valuable insight into life and the future when viewed as a continuation of the past. Hence, the mitzvah to “remember the days of the world.”
Rashi explains what each section of the verse refers to:
:”Remember the days of the world … What He did to previous generations who provoked Him …
… understand the years from generation to generation … The generation of Enosh over whom He caused the waters of the ocean to flow; the generation of the Flood whom He drowned by a flood … so that you might be conscious of what can happen in the future …
Ask your father and he will tell you … These are the prophets who are called ‘fathers’ …
… The elders, and they will say to you … These are the Sages.” (Rashi)
A sefer called Mei HaShaloach offers a different interpretation of the same words, as follows:
“Remember the days of the world … This refers to Parashas Bereishis until the section, ‘And He completed …’ (Bereishis 2:1)
… understand the years from generation to generation … That is, the two parshios of Noach–the ten generations from Adam to Noach, and the ten generations from Noach to Avraham, and how G-d dealt with them.
Ask your father and he will tell you … This refers to the sections concerning Avraham Avinu, that is, Lech-Lecha, Vayaira, and Chaye Sarah.
… the elders, and they will say to you … This refers to the sections about Yitzchak and Ya’akov, which includes until the end of Sefer Bereishis; understand how great was G-d’s involvement with them. This is why it says corresponding to Avraham “vayagedecha” as opposed to “vayaged lecha,” because Avraham Avinu woke up the world and set it straight, and gave each person the ability to praise the greatness of G-d on his own … Vayagedecha implies that each person was able to speak of the wonders of G-d on his own.” (Mei HaShaloach, Volume One, Ha’Azinu)
The difference between the two versions is striking. According to Rashi, it is the Mesorah–the Oral Tradition–as handed down from prophet to prophet, and then from Sage to Sage, that keeps the Jew in touch with his history and more important, his destiny. When the Jew turns his back on the prophets and the Sages, then he, de facto, turns his back on his raison d’être as well, and that can only spell trouble.
The Mei HaShaloach does not disagree with this, for this idea is part-and-parcel of traditional Jewish belief. However, he adds that even in such cases as when prophets cease to receive prophecy, and elders are not available to ask, the Torah itself reveals this message in the stories and narrations about the beginning of world and Jewish history–if one plays close attention, and approaches Torah with a sense of awe and willingness to learn.
In fact, the Zohar has its own interpretation:
Ask your father and he will tell you … This is the Holy One, Blessed is He, and He will reveal to you the depths of wisdom including why the world is as it was created. The six days [of creation] are the foundation of creation, and they were only established for you, that you should come along and keep the Torah. For, as we know, the whole world was created on the condition that the Jewish people accept Torah. (Zohar, Ha’Azinu 298b)
G-d is willing to reveal the “depths of wisdom” to you, but, as the posuk says, only if you ask–only if you really want to know.