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Parashat Ha'zinu (Deuteronomy 32:1-32:52)

The word from which we derive the name of our Torah portion, Ha’azinu, comes from the first two words which are, “Give ear,” an idiom that means “listen carefully.” This is the opening line of the Song of Moses, or the Ha’azinu, as it is called in Hebrew. Moses says he is teaching Israel this song to “call heaven and earth to witness against them” (Deuteronomy 31:28). Why does Moses call heaven and earth to testify against Israel? Before the detailed creation of man, Genesis 2:4 proclaims, “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth.” As we have discussed in previous commentaries, the Hebrew behind the word “generations,” is toldot, and can equally be translated as “offspring.” Humans are uniquely the offspring of both God (heaven) and physical matter (earth), having been made of dust animated with the very breath of God. Because of this, Moses calls both heaven and earth to be witnesses against their “children.”

However, there is one aspect of this relationship that is emphasized a few verses later. Deuteronomy 32:8–9 reads, “When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. But the LORD's portion is his people.” From these verses our sages derive the concept of the seventy nations, corresponding to the number of people who went down to Egypt with Jacob (see Genesis 46:27). Throughout the Scriptures, the number seventy is used to represent the nations of the world outside of Israel. And although verse nine seems to simply be a statement that Israel is distinct from those seventy nations and belongs to Hashem, there is a more mystical reading that we should explore.

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