Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Parshat Haazinu

A Short Lesson in Biblical Poetry

The Bible is a holy book for Jews believe it to be the word of God. Therefore, the rabbis from ancient times up until today, have taken great care in interpreting every word, often asking about the appearance of superfluous words.

For example at the giving of the Torah, God tells Moshe to tell Israel: "So shall you say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel" (Shemot 19:3). The Rabbis ask about the need for the repetition, as "saying to the house of Jacob" is exactly the same the same as "telling the sons of Israel".

They give a beautiful answer explaining that education begins at home, and therefore, if the Torah was to be passed faithfully to the sons of Israel, it first needs to be practiced faithfully in the house.

Nevertheless, if we were to study Biblical poetry, we would see that it is full of parallelisms. In fact, this week's parsha, is one long poem, with many examples of parallelism.

The first passuk states: "Listen, O heavens, and I will speak!" and then continues "Let the earth hear the words of my mouth" (Devarim 32:1). "Listen O heavens" parallels "Let the earth hear", while "I will speak" parallels "the words of my mouth".

The next passuk continues: "My lesson will drip like rain; my word will flow like dew" (ibid 2). "My lesson" parallels "My word" and "drip like rain" parallels "flow like dew".

The whole parsha continues in this manner.

While it is absolutely right to examine all these metaphors and to seek the message of each expression, we must never take the pesukim out of their context to understand that this is merely the way poetry was spoken in Biblical times. Therefore, as with the giving of the Torah, The Torah used this parallel device, for dramatic effect.

Perhaps we can re-interpret the question the Rabbis asked. Rather than them asking why the particular parallelism exists, perhaps they are really asking about the order of the parallelism and the choice of words. For example concerning: "So shall you say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel", maybe they are asking why "house of Jacob" preceded "sons of Israel", and not why two expressions were used.

Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat Ha'azinu entiled: "Remembering the Days of Old" appears at

Another Sedra Short on Parshat Ha'azinu entiled: "The Witnesses" appears at

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