Parshas Haazinu: Music and Emunah

This week’s Parsha is named Haazinu, meaning ”listen in”. This is an apt title, for much of the Parsha comes in the form of a seventy line song which tells of Hashem’s kindness- both in the past and the future. It begins by recounting the mercies that Hashem bestowed upon Israel, before going on to warn the Israelites about how they would rebel once more, and Hashem would hide His face from there. Eventually, though, Hashem would reconcile with his people once more,  and avenge the Israelites.

The song’s theme is a oft-repeated tale. It speaks of repentence, of reconcilation, of atonement. These topics are at the front of our mind right before- and hopefully after- Yom Kippur, the day of atonement which coincided with the reading of Parshas Haazinu. Reading the seventy-line song, we think about our own journey through life. Our own struggles, and pifalls, and repentance. We think of the wonderful miracles we’ve seen; not just when we were taken out of Mitzrayim, but the small, everyday miracles. We think about the mistakes we’ve made; the things we shouldn’t have done, the people we didn’t treat correctly. And we think about the terrible times, when seemingly, Hashem wasn’t there. We think about those awful, heart-rendering times, which were totally devoid of Holiness. When we didn’t know where we’d find the strength to go on. When we couldn’t find a reason to go on. And yet, we did, and we’re here today. Hashem did eventually show mercy.

It’s such a relateable song. And that’s why it’s important. Not just because it’s in the Holy Torah. Even if it weren’t, it would still be Holy. Why? Beause it stirs feelings of Holiness within us. It gives us emunah, it gives us faith, when we read it. No matter who had written it, these feelings would still be evoked, if to a lesser extent. This is  because of the nature of the song. It’s intended to do this to us, and it succeeds.

A song is a very powerful thing. Music is very powerful, and words are very powerful. Combine the two and you have something very special (of course, melodies alone are also important, but that issue is not relevant here). Like any other powerful tool- be it speech, money, or a weapon- it can be used for very good reasons, or very wrong ones. Music can lead one off the derech, away from G-d and all that He loves, or it can pull one towards Him, and inspire one to serve him out of love. How can we tell whether a song is good or bad for our neshomo, our emunah? The secret is in this week’s Parsha.

Haazinu. Listen in. That’s the secret. Listen to the song, then ask yourself a handful of questions. Could I listen to a shiur now, and concentrate on it? Do I yearn to daven or perform a mitzvah, having listened to this song? Do I feel close to Hashem? Or am I thinking about material pleasures, worldly things? Am I thinking about this world, or olam haba? Is this the sort of song I’d expect my rabbi or rebbetzen to enjoy? With these kinds of short questions, one can determine if their song is like Parshas Haazinu; relateable, soul-enriching, full of emunah; or if it’s something best avoided.

Songs are by no means evil or to be shunned at all costs. One of the halachic exemptions for hilchos kol isha (the prohibition against hearing a woman sing) is that of a religious song. This leniency isn’t followed by all, but it provides an insight into just how songs can be used in a Torah observant way. There’s no denying that niggunim and zemiros, for example, are extremely good for one’s neshomo and help one daven and feel close to Hashem. Not everything we hear has to be as Holy as a Shabbos table song or Parshas Haazinu, but we can use these examples to help us examine the true nature of what- and who- we’re listening to.

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