There are many unique things about this week’s parsha; from the style in which it is written to the very distinctive type of poetic literature (and not to mention the fairly uncommon occurrence of Haazenu being read after Yom Kippur as it is this year). There is another peculiar aspect of our parsha that is less known and that is the division of the aliyot, the seven divisions each one with a separate reader (or at least a separate person to say the brachot).
We are all familiar with the fact that on every Shabbat we have seven aliyot, and we all follow along in our chumash while the reader progresses from one to the next and a new oleh steps up to make new brachot on the relevant section. But who determined the location of these breaks? It seems that in the majority of cases it is simply a matter of custom, and in most cases the choices are fairly obvious. The halachick guidelines that we seem to have are very sparse: no less than 3 verses for every section, one must not start or stop a section within 2 verses of a paragraph break in the actual text and trying to avoid ending or starting on a sour note. In the vast majority of cases there is a clear consensus of customs with only a few exceptions.
When it comes to our parsha we are given exact instructions all the way back to the Gemara. We learn in Mesechet Rosh Hashana that Haazenu was actually recited by the Levites at the time of the Musaf of Shabbat. Each communal sacrifice that was brought in the mIkdash was accompanied by a special song. We are familiar with the song for the daily Korban Tamid as we recite the relevant one each day at the conclusion of shacharit “Shir Shel Yom”. Each holiday had its own song as well (some have the custom to add these to the teffila of a chag) and each Shabbat at Musaf a portion of Haazanu functioned as the song of the korban.
The Gemara tells us that Haazenu was divided into 6 sections with the acronym being HAZIV LACH, each letter representing the first word of one of the verses. The Gemara goes on to say that this division is not only to be used in the mikdash as part of the Korban Mussaf but as well it should be employed when reading Haazenu in the bet knesset [six aliyot in the actual poem (32:1-43) and one afterwards (32:44-52)] . So here we have the only parsha in the Torah where the breaks for the aliyot are actually mandated in the Gemara.
Rav Soloveitchik felt that the rationale for the division in this manner had to do with the style of reading. The rest of the Torah is a series of prose, comprised of verses. The requirement is to read a certain amount of verses, hence the rules mentioned above. In the case of Haazenu we are required to read it as a poem. The divisions represent the best way to divide it into poetic sections. For this reason he was adamant that the divisions be retained even when reading this section of the Torah on Monday or Thursday when we only have three sections. His ruling is opposed to that of the Rama who clearly writes that the HAZIV LACH division needs to be used on Shabbat only. According to Rav Soloveitchik the linkage the gemara makes between the manner in which it was sung in the Mikdash and the manner in which we read it in the Bet Knesset is fundamental and not simply coincidental. One assumes that the division in the Mikdash was the best possible form to use to preserve the poetic nature of the song, and therefore a requirement for all readings of this section.
There are two major questions that are dealt with by the commentaries throughout the generations:
- Why is this division so important?
- What does the acronym actually stand for?
Let us begin with the second issue. It seems that the acronym is problematic because there are various candidates among the verses that would answer to the letters!! There are no less than six opinions on the division (all references are to chapter 32):
It is interesting to note that that one of the positions, the first one, actually violates one of the standard rules of Torah reading, the minimum of 3 verses rule. The third Aliyah has only 2 verses. This is remarkable as the Gemara spends much time and effort in reconciling this rule with the requirements on other days where this is very challenging. For this very reason some explain that the division as listed above was solely for the purposes of the Levites song and not used in the Bet Knesset, where other overriding concerns changed the division.
The Rambam also eludes to the exceptional and rule breaking nature of the division (Teffila 13:5) “Anyone who reads from the Torah should begin and end on a positive note, HOWEVER parshat Haazenu is read… and why is it divided this way? Because these are verses of rebuke so that the people will repent.” The Rambam is of course referring to the standard timing of the reading of Haazenu as the Shabbat between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur (or even a more radical idea that teshuva is not a seasonal mitzvah…).
The variety of opinions as to the exact division led to two schools of thought as to the first question we posed – “why”.
The sections are critical –
Some of the commentaries have used the HAZIV LACH division as a tool in the understanding of the cryptic parshat Haazenu. It is not clear at first glance what the subject of the poem is and what its message is. The commentaries in this camp used the division to indicate references to different historical periods or themes. For instance the Toldot Yitzchak, uncle of Rav Yosef Karo, 1458-1535, sees a progression from things that Hashem did for us as humans, in the desert, in Eretz Yisrael, punishments we received, our refusal to repent and the punishment awaiting our oppressors.
(I think this may be another interesting example of someone reading the text in light of his own personal history. He lost his entire family in the Inquisition and later established himself again as a leading Rabbinic figure in Eretz Yisrael.)
See the Sforno and Rav Hirsch as well who belong to the same camp.
The acronym is critical –
The second school of thought draws the opposite conclusion. If there can be various ways to understand the acronym then it is obviously not the best way to guide us to an exact reading of the correct divisions. They therefore conclude that the actual importance is in the acronym itself. The translation of HAZIV LACH is that the glory or grandeur belongs to you. This is the message that the Gemara was trying to get across. To quote Rabeinu Behaya:
“This poem is a great consolation and a clear promise about our redemption and the downfall of the nations; it is about the revenge of Am Yisrael from their enemies and the forgiving of them for their sins. Maybe this is why the Rabbis gave the sign of HAZIV LACH established by Ezra the Kohen, the prophet who saw in his wisdom that his institution of public Torah reading will remain forever and he established the divisions of this section to explain to us that the glory and grandeur will return to AM Yisrael as it was…”
In this view, the LACH refers to Am Yisrael which will merit rejuvenation. The Maharsha and others understand it as referring to Moshe Rabeinu as a tribute to him in his final words.
Some Kabbalistic interpretations even see the acronym as a name of God Himself.
As we reach the end of the Torah we are reminded of the complexity of it all, both in its content and in its form, and what better way to do that than through the poetry of Haazenu.