Ha’azinu: Do We Hear What’s in the Balance? ~ Tzvi Abrahams
Do We Hear What’s in the Balance?
אָזֶן : ear
מֹאזְנַיִם : scales
אִזוּן : balance
הַאֲזִינוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם וַאֲדַבֵּרָה וְתִשְׁמַע הָאָרֶץ אִמְרֵי פִי Give ear, the Heavens, and I will speak; hear, Earth, the sayings of my mouth.
אָזֶן : ear
The above pasuk gives two forms of hearing: לְהַאַזִין/to give ear and לְהַשְׁמִיעַ/to hear. To give ear is more than just hearing, it means to listen to what is being said — to give ear. Many times we hear things, yet the sounds and words do not penetrate.
The commentaries note the difference in language between the Heavens giving ear and the Earth hearing, and also the differences in language of אֲדַבְּרָה/speaking in connection to the heavens, and אַמִירָה/saying in connection to the Earth. In general, when the Torah uses the form of אַמִירָה/saying, it is a softer form of speaking, as opposed to the use of דִיבּוּר/speaking, which is a harsher way of speaking.
These two forms of hearing are very prevalent in the male/female relationship. Invariably, the man, who has a one-track mind, may hear things, but if he is in the middle of something else, he will not have the ability to pay attention to anything else. The woman, on the other hand, who is a multitasker, will hear everything her husband is saying to someone else, even while she is on the telephone on the opposite side of the room!
This accounts nicely to the correlation in the pasuk between Heaven and Earth, which are male and female respectively. שָּׁמַיִם, which is male, needs to be told to give ear, and is spoken to in the stronger language of דִיבּוּר, whereas for אֶרֶץ, being female, it is enough just to hear without needing to give ear, and is therefore spoken to in the softer form of אַמִירָה/saying.
שָּׁמַיִם has the male aspect of giving, in that they give גֶשֶׁם/rain, whereas אֶרֶץ has the female aspect of receiving, in that it takes the rain to produce fruits. The commentaries explain that the heavenly water that replenishes the Earth is connected to the life-nourishing waters of the Torah, that if the Jewish People are successful in fulfilling their purpose of drawing down Hashem’s Torah into the world, then automatically there will be success in drawing down the water from Heaven. If, however, we fail to give ear to Hashem’s directives, then the heavens will be blocked, the Earth will dry up, and we will be banished from the land. Heaven and Earth are Hashem’s witnesses in that if we do not keep the covenant, they will be the first to exact retribution. As we approach the festival of Succos, the time of drawing water, when the world is judged for rain, all rests on our worthiness, whether we have been attentive in giving ear to Hashem’s Torah.
It is no wonder that the astrological sign for the month of Tishrei is the מֹאזְנַיִם, symbolizing the scales of justice. The Rambam describes how we need to perceive ourselves on Rosh Hashanah as evenly balanced, whereby one more mitzvah or one more aveirah would be enough to tip the scales. Not only are our own scales finely balanced, but the scales of the whole world are, to the point where a single mitzvah or aveirah is so significant that the fate of the whole world rests on our shoulders.
We are all looking for balance in our lives. אִזוּן /balance shares the same root as אוֹזֶן/ear. It is no coincidence that the faculty of balance is found in the ear. Hashem has designed it in such a way in order to hint to us that the way to achieve balance is through the ears, through the listening ear. The banner of the Jew is שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל ה’ אֶ-לֹהֵנוּ ה’ אֶחָד. By listening to the Torah and paying attention to Hashem’s directives, we will be led to the awareness that Hashem is always opposite us, and this will prevent us from losing our sense of balance.
שִׁוִיתִי ה’ לְנֶגְדִי תָּמִיד – זֶה כְּלַל גָדוֹל בְּתּוֹרָה I will place Hashem opposite me always — this is a great principle in the Torah.
The root of the wordשִׁוִיתִי comes from lashon שָׁוֶה, which means “equal.” This now gives us a deeper perspective on the meaning of שִׁוִיתִי ה’ לְנֶגְדִי תָּמִיד. It really means: I will equate Hashem opposite me always. To be equal with Hashem means to place Hashem on the opposite side of the scales. This gives us stability, so that when things in life come flying our way that have the potential to knock us off balance, we will maintain our state of equilibrium knowing that it is all coming from Hashem.
קוֹל דְמְמָה דַקָה יִשָׁמַע — A fine silent voice will be heard.
So in order to place Hashem opposite me, I need to know where he is.
The height of the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur service is the וּנְתַנֶה תֹּקֶף prayer in the Mussaf service, which relates how we are led, one by one, like sheep to judgment. The great shofar is blown and then קוֹל דְמְמָה דַקָה יִשָׁמַע/Hashem is heard in the still, silent voice. Only when we stop and stand still are we able to hear the voice of Hashem speaking to us from within the silence.
אָזְנַיִם לְתּוֹרָה — Handles for the Torah
In the beginning, the Torah was similar to a vessel without handles, meaning that it was difficult to grasp, until Shlomo HaMelech came along and through the wisdom of his many parables we were able to have a better understanding of the Torah and we were able to get a handle on it. No wonder the ears are similar in shape to handles on a vase.
The same Gemara brings the pasuk in Koheles: וְיֹתֵר שֶׁהָיָה קֹהֶלֶת חָכָם עוֹד לִמַּד דַּעַת אֶת הָעָם וְאִזֵּן וְחִקֵּר תִּקֵּן מְשָׁלִים הַרְבֵּה/and furthermore Koheles was wise, and taught knowledge to the people with balance and understanding connecting them through many parables. One interpretation of the word אִזֵּן is “balance,” that through learning and listening to the wisdom of Torah, we acquire balance.
הַשָׁמַיִם מְסַפְּרִים כְּבוֹד אֵ-ל/the heavens relate the glory of Hashem.
The Rambam says that one of the ways to come to know Hashem is through marvelling at the wonders of Hashem’s creation. In the above quoted pasuk from Tehillim, David HaMelech describes how Hashem, the Conductor, orchestrates the movements of all the heavenly bodies in such intricate order and harmony that if one stops to give ear, one cannot fail to hear the heavens declaring Hashem’s glory, as it says, הַשָׁמַיִם מְסַפְּרִים כְּבוֹד אֵ-ל.
In Designer World, Rabbi Katz writes that if your great-great-great-grandfather were to come and pay you a visit, he would be amazed at all the modern technology — the ability of the fridge and freezer to keep things fresh for months, how a microwave can heat up meals in minutes, how, at the flick of a switch, there can be central heating and air-conditioning, etc. In describing the radio, he would hardly believe that a little box could have the power to speak. He would marvel at how transmitters send out invisible signals though the air over thousands of miles, which are then picked up by the radio that converts them into sound. Rabbi Katz then goes on to describe the amazing mechanism of the ear — how it is shaped and designed in such a way to be able to receive sound waves that reverberate against the eardrum and that convert what it hears into electrical signals that are forwarded to the brain.
Rabbi Katz’s message is that just like the radio did not just come into existence but rather had a designer, so too there is a designer behind the ear, and, for that matter, a designer of the whole human body and the whole universe. Only a fool who needs to take G-d out of the picture and deny that there is a Conductor would come up with the ridiculous notion that things just came into being!
אֹזֶן שֹׁמַעַת וְעַיִן רֹאָה ה’ עָשָׂה גַם שְׁנֵיהֶם/the listening ear and the seeing eye, Hashem made both of them.
Not only did Hashem give us an ear to hear and an eye to see, He gave us two of them, one on each side of the head. Just like a measuring scale has two hands in order to weigh things one against the other, so too Hashem has given us two ears to listen and weigh things. If we give ear and pay attention to them properly, then we should achieve the desired effect that they were designed for, i.e., a life of balance.
1 Devarim 32:1.
2 Mishneh Torah, Teshuvah 3:1. See also Kiddushin 40b.
3 Eruvin 21b.
4 Koheles 12:9.
5 Tehillim 19:2.
6 Mishneh Torah, Yesodei HaTorah 2:2.
7 Mishlei 20:12.