The leadership of Moses is bookended by his songs: the Song of the Sea, and the Song of Moses. Moses first led his people in song after leading them through the split sea. The Song of the Sea, therefore, is appropriately triumphant and celebratory. In Parashat Ha’azinu, Moses sings a very different song. He is now at the end of his leadership, and is preparing for his own death, before the Children of Israel enter the Promised Land. The Song of Moses is a haunting and powerful warning about the necessity of staying true to our covenant with the Divine.
Moses’ final song begins with a call to the heavens and the earth to act as witnesses, and then states (Deuteronomy 32:2): ‘May my teaching come down like the rain, my word distill like the dew, like showers upon young growth, like raindrops upon grass.’ It is a beautiful image: Torah nourishing the world like the rains, linking the witness above (the heavens) to the witness below (the earth).
In Sifrei D’varim (306:31-32), the Midrash claims that the Torah is compared to nourishing waters due to the fact that the same rains yield different results. First, the Midrash describes the rains bringing different flavours: ‘May my teaching come down like the rain: Just as rain is one, and falls upon and the trees and grants each its own flavour – to the grapevine, according to its nature; to the olive tree, according to its nature; to the fig tree, according to its nature – so too words of Torah are all one, and yet they yield Scripture, Mishnah, Halachah, and Aggadah.’ It is one of the wonders of our tradition that one single verse of Torah can give us a library of literature, from the legal to the legendary. It is no small wonder that we are able to reread the Torah every year and discover ever more from its depths. In the words of Ben Bag-Bag (Pirkei Avot 5:26): ‘Turn it and turn it, for everything is within it.’
The Midrash continues with a second lesson: ‘Like the showers upon the young growth: Just as these showers descend upon the grass and cause them to grow, some green, some red, and some white, so too words of Torah produce teachers, worthy people, sages, righteous people, and pious people.’ One Torah yields a great variety of teachings, and also a great variety of learners. The aim of the Torah is not to make us uniform; it is to nourish us to be the best students of Torah we can be, and to contribute to our communities with our own talents and passions.
Moses’ personal Torah is a Torah of leadership. He led us from slavery in Egypt to stand just outside the Promised Land, ready to enter our future. At the end of his life, he displays his leadership again, through his song, teaching us that the Torah will yield ever-increasing fruit, and that we will all be nourished differently through the very same words.
Natasha Mann is a rabbinical student at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in LA and a member of New London Synagogue