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Torah Commentary
Haazinu (September 29, 2012)

Benjamin J. Zeidman, Assistant Rabbi

AS I CONSIDER our Torah portion this week, I turn to the Sages in curiosity. What did they have to say about Haazinu? Sometime between the year 450 CE and 800 CE, in Deuteronomy Rabbah 10:1, they handle an issue seemingly mundane and elevate it to the heights of holiness. How serious is an earache? Something often to be pushed aside, pain in the ear couldn’t be so important as pain in the arm or in the leg, right?

The Rabbis of old step in to say, “No!” In fact, the ear must be healed, even if it is Shabbat. Why? Because without the ear, we cannot focus on the holy words of Torah. Here are the words of Deuteronomy Rabbah:

The law for a Jew who has an ear ache: How is it that it is permissible to heal it on Shabbat? Thus taught the sages, “Any potential danger supersedes Shabbat. This affliction of the ear, if it is dangerous, then heal it on Shabbat.” The Rabbis said, “Seek to not have pain in your ears, for it is not just one of your limbs, incline your ear to Torah and you will inherit life.” As it is written (Isaiah 55:3):

“Incline your ear and come to Me;
Hearken, and you shall be revived.
And I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
The enduring loyalty promised to David.”

Rabbi Hanina bar Papa said, “Anyone who turns his ear from hearing Torah, his prayer is rejected.” As it is written (Proverbs 28:9), “He who turns a deaf ear towards Instruction (Torah), his prayer is an abomination.”

Rabbi Levi said, “The ear is to the body as the fumigating vessel is to garments. Just as you are able to treat many clothes by putting them over one fumigating vessel, so too the 248 limbs that are in a person: it is because of the ear that they are all living. From where do we learn this? From “Hearken, and you shall be revived.” (Isaiah 55:3)

The Holy One said, “If you incline your ear to the Torah, when you come to speak with words of Torah, everyone will be silent before you and will hear your words. Just as you inclined your ear to hear words of Torah [so too will they].” From where do you learn this? From Moshe our Teacher. As he inclined his ear to Torah, when he came to speak with words of Torah, the elyonim (heavenly beings) and the takhtonim (earthly beings) heeded his words. As we read this week (Deuteronomy 32:1):

“Give ear, O heavens, let me speak;
Let the earth hear the words I utter!”

All this from the ear. When we heed our tradition and when we seek to learn, we not only enliven ourselves, but also we serve as role models to others that they might do the same. Then, when it comes time for us to teach, others will be silent and heed us.

(Translation of Deuteronomy Rabbah 10:1 by Rabbi Ben Zeidman, Tanakh translations: JPS)

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