“May my teaching drop like the rain, may my utterance flow like the dew” Deuteronomy 32:2
A brief look into any Torah scroll this Shabbat reveals an instant surprise. In place of the standard paragraph layout found throughout the Torah, Ha’azinu is written in two distinct columns, like a poem or a song. Only one other place in the Torah shares this poetic layout, Shirat Hayam or Song by the Sea (Exodus 15: 1-19).
Although these are the only sections of the Torah with a poetic layout, several important differences separate the two songs. While the Song by the Sea is sung by the people expressing joy and praise for their miraculous rescue, Ha’azinu is spoken only by Moses and incorporates often harsh and difficult words.
This is what Moses sees as the cycle of the human relationship with God, which moves from dependence to comfort, waywardness to repentance, and more. This is an intense and difficult piece. But not only the content of the songs are different, even their layout is unique.
In contrast to Ha’azinu’s two columns, Song by the Sea has an additional element to its structure. The text of every second line stands alone in the middle of the column. When viewed in its entirety, the song looks much like a solid or woven pattern and in this the 14th-century scholar and Jewish figurehead Rabbi Nissim of Gerona (known as the Ran) found a symbolic message.
Song by the Sea is written like a brick wall, symbolising the strong foundation of a relationship with our Creator when built on kindness and gratitude. Ha’azinu, however, is built like two flimsy stacks of bricks, precariously balanced like a relationship based on mistrust and transgression: one which Moses is afraid could be toppled by the Children of Israel’s lack of dedication.
In the days immediately preceding Yom Kippur, we are confronted with many important questions, including how we will choose to conduct our relationship with God. Will our commitment be like the solid wall of Song by the Sea or will we choose the format of Ha’azinu’s two precariously placed pillars? Let Moses’s wishes in this week’s sidrah, “May my teaching drop like the rain, may my utterance flow like the dew”, guide us to a new year of health, happiness and success.