Torah Thoughts: Parashat Haazinu 5779
By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
Nature is a Witness of God
This week we read Parashat Haazinu. Although it is not the last parasha of the Torah, it is the last one we read during a Shabbat, because the Torah’s very last one, Vezot Habracha, is only read during the festival of Simchat Torah.
Most of Haazinu is a poem that Moses said before he died. The poem opens with the following words, “Listen, O heavens, and I will speak! And let the earth hear the words of my mouth!” (Deuteronomy 32:1).
Why did Moses choose the heavens and the earth as the witnesses for his words? According to Rashi, who follows the Midrash Sifrei, Moses was afraid of picking human witnesses. He thought, “I am made of blood and flesh, tomorrow I can die. If the people Israel comes tomorrow and says – We have never accepted the covenant” – who will be able to oppose them? Therefore, Moses had the heavens and the earth as witnesses, because they are eternal witnesses.
Apart from being a poetic Midrash (perhaps only a poetic explanation could work for a poem!), I believe there is something deep and beautiful behind this explanation. It is the idea that nature, represented in the Midrash by the heavens and the earth, is a witness to God’s covenant with the people Israel. And, more generally speaking, nature is a witness to God Himself.
According to this view, held by many sages of different times, nature is not only what we have around us, or the place where we live. Nature is a witness to God’s creation and, at the same time, it is also God’s creation itself!
There are many good reasons to take care of nature and the environment. Ecological, ethical, social and economic reasons could be given to the question about why we should take care of our planet. From the religious stand point, we can say that nature is not only God’s creation, but also a witness to His covenant. As Moses thought, the heavens and the earth will be eternal witnesses to his song and the whole Torah. Every time we see the earth and the heavens we should remember our relationship with our Creator.
This is an appropriate Shabbat to think about our relationship with nature. It is the Shabbat prior to Sukkot, a festival in which we are invited to live in close contact with nature and admire it. Being in a Sukkah and using the four species (the Lulav and Etrog set) are good ways to getting closer to nature. Let’s then prepare for this nature-oriented festival by thinking about how nature is an eternal witness to God and His creation.