For the week ending 1 October 2011 / 2 Tishri 5772

Parshat Ha'azinu

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Almost all of Ha'azinu is a song, written in the Torah in two parallel columns. Moshe summons the heavens and the earth to stand as eternal witnesses to what will happen if the Jewish People sin and do not obey the Torah. He reminds the people to examine the history of the world, and note how the Jewish People are rescued from obliteration in each generation - that G-d "pulls the strings" of world events so that Bnei Yisrael can fulfill their destiny as His messengers in the world. G-d's kindness is such that Israel should be eternally grateful, not just for sustaining them in the wilderness, but for bringing them to a land of amazing abundance, and for defeating their enemies. But, this physical bounty leads the people to become self-satisfied and over-indulged. Physical pleasures corrupt the morals of the people. They worship empty idols and powerless gods, and indulge in all kinds of depravity. G-d will then let nations with no moral worth subjugate Israel and scatter them across the world. However, their only purpose is as a rod to chastise the Jewish People. When these nations think that it is through their own power that they have dominated Israel, G-d will remind them that they are no more that a tool to do His will. The purpose of the Jewish People is fundamental - that man should know his Creator. Neither exile nor suffering can sever the bond between G-d and His people, and eventually in the final redemption this closeness will be restored. G-d will then turn His anger against the enemies of Israel, as though they were His enemies, showing no mercy to the tormentors of His people. G-d then gives His last commandment to Moshe: That he should ascend Mount Nevo and be gathered there to his people.


The End Of The Song

“And Moshe spoke the words of this song into the ears of the entire congregation of Yisrael, until their conclusion” (31:30)

If you own a CD player or cassette machine, try the following experiment: Turn up the volume until it won’t go any further. (Before you do this, take out the disk - this experiment will not work if you have perforated eardrums.) Nothing is playing on your CD now, right? So what you are hearing is — nothing. Right? I doubt you’ll hear nothing. You’ll hear noise. A lot of noise. Noise, however, is a subjective term. One man’s music is another man’s jumbo jet. You could say that you are listening to electrons singing. Every transistor, every resistor, every IC has its own ‘song.’ When you apply a current to it, it sings.


There was a famous film in the sixties in which a photographer unwittingly photographs a murder. While analyzing ‘proofs’ of a park scene, he sees something under a tree that he can’t quite make out. He goes back to the darkroom and proceeds to make larger and larger enlargements of this little piece of film. In the end, his trained photographer’s eye detects a human body under the tree, but to the audience in the cinema the picture looks like a pointillist abstraction filled with dots. Film is made up of silver crystals. If you blow-up a negative enough, the image will yield to the background fabric of the film itself: The ‘noise’ of the photograph. Or is it its ‘song’?

The Song Begins With A Bang

When Bell Labs built a giant antenna in Holmdel, New Jersey, in 1960, it was part of a very early satellite transmission system called Echo.

However, two employees of Bell Labs, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson had their eye on the Holmdel antenna for quite a different purpose. They realized that it would make a superb radio telescope.

At first, they were disappointed. When they started their research, they couldn’t get rid of a background "noise". It was like trying to tune into your favorite radio program and it being obscured with static. This annoyance was a uniform signal in the microwave range that seemed to come from all directions. Everyone assumed it came from the telescope itself.

They checked out everything, trying to find the source of this excess radiation. They even pointed the antenna right at New York City. There’s no bigger urban radio ‘noise’ than the Big Apple. It wasn't urban interference. It wasn't radiation from our galaxy or extraterrestrial radio sources. It wasn't even the pigeons. Penzias and Wilson kicked them out of the big horn-shaped antenna and swept out all their droppings.

The source remained constant throughout the four seasons, so it couldn't have come from the solar system. Nor could it be the product of a 1962 above-ground nuclear test, because within a year that fallout would have shown a decrease. They had to conclude it was not the machine and it was not random noise causing the radiation.

What was it then that they were hearing?

Eventually they came to the staggering conclusion that what they were hearing was the very first moments of the creation of the universe.

The Song That Has No Beginning

The discovery in 1963 of the cosmic microwave background of the Big Bang was proof that the universe was born at a definite moment.

In the 1950s, there were two theories about the origin of the universe. The first was called the Steady State Theory. It had been put forward by Hermann Bondi, Thomas Gold and Fred Hoyle and held that the universe was homogeneous in space and time and had remained like that forever — in "a steady state." This was essentially what Greek culture had posited: the universe was kadmon and had always existed.

The rival, and at the time, more controversial theory, sought to incorporate the expansion of the universe into its framework. Edwin Hubble had shown in 1929 that galaxies are moving away from one another at remarkable speeds, implying that the space between galaxies is constantly expanding. A few physicists led by George Gamow had taken this notion and argued that the separation between galaxies must have been smaller in the past.

If one extrapolated this idea to its logical conclusion it meant that at one point in time the universe had been infinitely dense. Using the laws of physics Gamow and his colleagues were able to show that the point — which was also infinitely hot — corresponded to the moment of Creation. Everything in the universe had emerged from this incredibly dense and hot state in a cataclysmic event astronomers call "the Big Bang."

The conflict between the theories was resolved by Penzias and Wilson in 1965 when they discovered that the mysterious radio signal was cosmic radiation that had survived from the first moments of the universe. It was proof of the ‘Big Bang’.

We know when that ‘Big Bang’ happened. In the Talmud, Tractate Rosh Hashana, we find “Says Rabbi Eliezer, the world was created in Tishrei.” As we say in the prayers of Rosh Hashana, “This is the day of the beginning of Your works, a remembrance of the first day.”

And The Song Remains The Same

A CD player playing nothing. Electrons singing. A giant blow-up of a photograph. The song of silver crystals. And the most distant and cold whisper of the Song of the world’s creation.

There is no silence at the center of the things. Descend beneath the superficial descriptive level of any medium, be it in sight or sound, or listen to the center of the universe itself and you won’t find silence. You’ll find song. That song is the sound of every rock and bird, of every electron and star doing the bidding of its Creator.

“And Moshe spoke the words of this song into the ears of the entire congregation of Yisrael, until their conclusion” (31:30)

In this week’s Torah portion, the penultimate one of the Torah, there is a song, Ha’azinu, which marks the completion of the Torah. On a deeper level, the whole Torah is called a song. One of the qualities of a song is that it always returns to the same place. It’s a circle. A circle has no beginning and no end. Wherever you start is the same place where you finish. It’s beginning is its end, and its end is its beginning.

The Holy Zohar says that G-d looked into the Torah and created the world — and the world only reaches its completion with the completion of the Torah. The Torah is the beginning of the world and the completion of the world. It’s like a song. The beginning is the end — and the end is the beginning.

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