Ha'azinu: The Five Songs in Tanach

This shiur provided courtesy of The Tanach Study Center In memory of Rabbi Abraham Leibtag

"Shirat Ha'azinu" is one of five 'songs' found in the Tanach. We begin this section by demonstrating that each song marks the end of an important time period. As we will see, this analysis can greatly enhance our appreciation of "Shirat Ha'azinu."

The Five 'Songs'

For the purpose of this shiur, a 'song' is defined as a parsha in Tanach written on the Torah scroll in a special pattern.

Two songs, Ha'azinu and Yehoshua, exhibit the pattern of:

--   -- --   -- --   -- (pattern A)

Three others: HaYam, Devorah, & David, exhibit the pattern of:

--                              -- -- --                              -- -- --                              -- (pattern B)

The following table summarizes these five songs and the respective time period that each one concludes:

Shemot 15:1‑19 "Shirat HaYam" Yetziat Mitzrayim (the Exodus)
Devarim 32:1‑43 "Shirat Ha'azinu" Bnei Yisrael in the desert
Yehoshua 12:1‑24 "Shirat Yehoshua" Defeat of the 31 kings
Shoftim 5:1‑31 "Shirat Devorah" Complete conquest of north
Shmuel II 22:1‑51 "Shirat David" Establishing the Monarchy

Although all five songs mark the conclusion of certain time periods, it appears that the songs following pattern A, i.e. Shirat Ha'azinu and Yehoshua, mark the end of historical periods which fell short of their original expectations. On the other hand, the songs following pattern B - Shirat HaYam, Devorah, & David - relate to more ideal situations.

One could suggest that the structure of these two patterns reflects this distinction: 'pattern B' reflects a 'stable' existence, while 'pattern A' symbolizes a more 'shaky' reality.

Yehoshua in Contrast to Devorah

Even though Yehoshua conquered the entire land, his conquest was far from complete. The simplest proof is the pesukim immediately following this "shira":

"And Yehoshua had become old, and God said to him, you have grown old, but there is MUCH MORE LAND which needs to be conquered" (See Yehoshua 13:1‑5. See also 18:1‑3,23:1‑16).

Even though the tribes of Yehuda and Yosef were successful in their conquest, the remaining tribes who were to settle in Eretz Canaan (see Yehoshua 18:1-6) had not captured their respective areas.

The primary area not conquered at that time centered around EMEK YIZRAEL (the Jezreel Valley), which sat on the major trade route from Egypt to Mesopotamia. It was not until the time of Devorah that the area was finally conquered, through the joint effort of the surrounding tribes. In the war of Barak and Devorah in Emek Yizrael, Israel's enemies in the north were defeated, thus geographically uniting the twelve tribes.

This explains the importance of SHIRAT DEVORAH and why it is written according to pattern B.

Later, during the time of the Judges, Israel lost control of this area. Only during the period of David did this area come back under Jewish control. David expanded his sphere of occupation to the north, east, and south, thus creating a political environment characterized by a stable monarchy and secure borders. His song - SHIRAT DAVID - also follows pattern B, as it thanks God for His assistance in achieving the most complete conquest of Eretz Canaan.

Shirat HaYam and Shirat Ha'azinu

We now turn our focus to the distinction between the two 'songs' found in Chumash - Shirat HaYam and Shirat Ha'azinu.

Shirat HaYam marks not only the completion of the Exodus, but also our total independence from Egypt. Recall that Bnei Yisrael were granted permission to leave Egypt just for a few days in order to worship their God in the desert (see Shmot 12:31-2). Therefore, when Pharaoh drove them from his land after "makat bechorot," he expected them to return after just a few days. Thus, only after "kriyat Yam Suf" did Bnei Yisrael achieve TOTAL freedom.

Hence, Shirat HaYam marks the conclusion of the first stage of the redemption process, as promised in Brit Bein HaBetarim (see Breishit 15:13-20).

The generation of the desert, after receiving the Torah, should have conquered the Land within the first year. Had this come true, i.e. had Bnei Yisrael not sinned, then the next "shira" should have been the idyllic one - that of the conquest of the Promised Land with Moshe as their leader. Instead, that generation and the next consistently angered Hashem. Forty years later, as Bnei Yisrael finally prepare to enter the Land, their situation remained far from the ideal. Therefore, the ideal "shira" that should have been sung is now 'replaced' with a more 'realistic' one - "Shirat Ha'azinu," tailored to God's pessimistic forecast of what will happen after Bnei Yisrael enter the Land.

We can now better understand the pesukim towards the end of Parshat Vayelech which introduce this "Shira":

"...God told Moshe, you will soon die, and this Nation will go astray after the foreign gods in their midst, in the land that they are about to enter. They will forsake Me and break My covenant that I made with them. Then My anger will flare up at them, and I will abandon them ('hester panim')... then they shall say: 'Surely, it is because God is not in our midst that these evils have befallen us'... Therefore, write down this 'shira' and teach it to the people... in order that this 'shira' may be My witness against the Nation, when I bring them into the Land.... For I know the very nature of this people (the way they will act) even before I bring them into the Land..." (Devarim 31:16‑21)

Moshe later repeats this pessimistic prognosis to the people, prior to teaching them this song:

"[Moshe charged the Leviim, saying... ] Gather for me all the leaders, and I will speak to them these words... For I know that after I die you will act wickedly and leave the path which I have commanded you. Misfortune will thus befall you in later generations, because your evil actions will anger God. Moshe then recited this "shira" to the entire congregation..."   (See Devarim 31:28‑30)

Thus, the period of the 'forty years in the desert' ends on a very tragic note. It appears inevitable that Bnei Yisrael will fail to meet the challenge of establishing God's model nation in the Land. Despite this bleak forecast, "Shirat Ha'azinu" remains as an eternal reminder for Bnei Yisrael that the time will ultimately come, should they perform proper teshuva, when a new song will be sung ["v'nomar l'fanav SHIRA CHADASHA..."], a song of praise and recognition of God as the source of our victory, a song similar to "shirat David.