Two Witnesses

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

This week’s Torah portion is only a single chapter long. The Ha’azinu, the Song of Moses, spans all fifty-two verses of our Torah portion. When reading this parashah, there are several questions that come up. We will only have time to answer a few at this time. 

First, in a Torah scroll the Song of Moses is written in two columns, rather than one. Why does this passage merit this unique rendering? The song opens with the words:

Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak, and let the earth hear the words of my mouth. (Deuteronomy 32:1)

Moses introduces this song by calling upon two witnesses: the heavens and the earth. The Torah sets a precedent that a matter is only established by the testimony of two witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15). By calling on both the heavens and the earth, Moses establishes his two witnesses against the Children of Israel to hold them accountable for their actions. The two columns of the Torah scroll are a reminder of this fact: two witness are being called to the stand; two witnesses are watching the Children of the Most High at all times.

Second, why does Moses ask both the heavens and the earth to listen to him? Why are the heavens and the earth called to be witnesses against humans? Just before giving us the details of the creation of man in Genesis 2, the Torah tells us that man is the combined product of both heaven and earth:

These are the generations [toldot] of the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 2:4)

The word toldot can mean generations, offspring, genealogy, etc. Man was made as a combination of both heaven and earth when the Creator breathed a small portion of Himself into the dust of the earth. Heaven and earth, therefore, are partially responsible to oversee the actions of mankind.

Finally, why does Moses use two separate phrases referring to hearing? He says, “Give ear, O heavens” and “Let the earth hear.” What is the point of these two expressions? According to the Midrash, God has created the world in pairs:

God said to Israel: “My children, all that I have created I have created in pairs; heaven and earth are a pair; sun and moon are a pair; Adam and Eve are a pair; this world and the world to come are a pair; but My Glory is One and unique in the world.” How do we know this? From what we have read, Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one. (Deuteronomy 6:4) (Deuteronomy Rabbah 2:31)

Just as the LORD created the various aspects of the world in pairs, when man was created he was given a pair of ears. We were given two ears and only one mouth, because we are supposed to be “quick to listen and slow to speak” (James 1:19). We were given two ears, and only one heart so that we might hear the LORD’s commandments and follow them with a single heart, as it is written, “Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart” (Psalm 119:34). 

When we proclaim, “Hear O Israel” as we recite the Shema, we testify to the LORD’s sovereignty over our lives. When we pray the Amidah (the “standing” prayer) at mincha (afternoon prayers) and begin by saying, “When I proclaim the name of the LORD, ascribe greatness to our God!” (vs. 3), we are strengthening our resolve to walk in His ways. Just as the heavens and earth are called to witness against us, these two sections of our prayers function as witnesses to our heart. As we speak them, the words travel from our mouth to our ears, our two witnesses. 

Do you struggle to resist your flesh? Then pray. When we pray daily, we speak the words of Scripture from our mouth into our ears. If we are faithful and commit to this daily discipline, the Words of Life will eventually penetrate from our ears into our hearts. How do we know this to be true? Because “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of God” (Romans 10:17). Therefore, may our lips confess the LORD's greatness to our ears, and our ears be witnesses that call us to a life of repentance and faith.