Friday, September 17, 2021

Parashat Ha’azinu

The haftarah that we read this Shabbat is one that is not read every year, but only when there is a Shabbat between Yom Kippur and Sukkot, i.e., when Parashat Ha’azinu is not read on Shabbat Shuva. This year, therefore, I have the opportunity to share some thoughts about this not-so-common haftarah, found in the 22nd perek of Sefer Shmuel Bet.

This chapter is actually quite unique, as it is the only one in all of Tanach that is repeated a second time, as we also find it in sefer Tehillim, in the 18th perek of the Book of Psalms (with slight variations). Furthermore, although found in Sefer Shmuel, a book that chronicles the events of that era, it is written in a poetic form and called by Chazal, “Shirat David,” the poem (or song) of David (much as the parsha of Ha’azinu is referred to as “Shirat Moshe”). Interestingly, this song of David, found at the end of Sefer Shmuel, forms a “bookend” to the entire work, as the book opens (in the second perek of Shmuel Alef) with Shirat Chana, the beautiful song of thanksgiving to Hashem offered by Chana, the mother of Shmuel HaNavi.

The fact that David composes his song of thanksgiving to God should not surprise us. He was, after all, the “sweet singer of Israel,” “ne’im zmirot Yisrael,” as he is called in the very first pasuk following this ode (Shmuel B; 23:1). As we know, he also authored the bulk of Sefer Tehillim, a collection of poetic prose in praise and thanks to Hashem. And it is precisely this point that I find both fascinating and illuminating.

King of Israel is a complicated position. Besides for the additional mitzvot incumbent upon the Jewish king, he is also expected to create a delicate balance between being seen by his people as a representative of the Divine, but never as His replacement. The people must consider his successes as revelations of Hashem’s guiding hand and not of the king’s military genius. In effect, the king was expected to be a dominant figure and powerful leader, but never to take sole credit for his accomplishments. David HaMelech is considered the ideal Jewish king NOT because he was perfectly sinless, but because he was humble enough to confess those sins. He was the ideal king because he succeeded in every military confrontation with the enemy and yet wrote songs of praise and thanksgiving to God in recognition of the fact that victory was not his, but was His. It is difficult to point to any other king—or, for that matter, any other political leader throughout history—who embodied these two contradictory qualities.

When, during his lifetime, did David write this song is a discussion between parshanim. While Rashi suggests that David wrote it at the end of his life, after he had overcome all of his enemies, Don Yitzchak Abarbanel feels that he wrote it toward the beginning of his reign, but he sang it throughout his life, whenever he experienced a victory. While we may often think of David’s actions as king, focusing on one event or decision in his life, this haftarah reminds us of his true greatness: a full commitment to God and a desire to let people understand that it is He, Hashem, who guides them and protects them.

Is there any question, therefore, why we will close this haftarah reading—as we do every haftarah reading—with the bracha of “Magen David?” Nor need we ask why, each and every day, we pray that Hashem will bring the Mashiach, with the words “Et Tzemach David Avdecha!”

We pray to see the fulfillment of both brachot in our time.

Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel of Fort Lee, and now lives in Israel.

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