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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Ha'azinu

Parashat Ha'azinu

A Concentric Circle Sandwich

Rabbi Yossef Carmel12 Tishrei 5766
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As we will not be coming out with a separate Sukkot edition, we thought it would be nice to find a Sukkot-related concept within the parasha. We didn’t have to look too far but hopefully and will try to look inward.

The Song of Ha’azinu promises to take a look at Jewish history (Devarim 32:7) and does just that. Included is the following pasuk, which we will try to translate reasonably: "He (Hashem) found him (the Israelite nation) in a wilderness land and in a howling place of desolation; He surrounded him (y’sov’veihu), He taught him wisdom, He watched over him like the pupil of His eye" (ibid.:10). Different commentaries explain the wilderness to refer to the spiritual wasteland of Egypt and/or the physical desolation of the Sinai Desert, Bnei Yisrael’s home after the Exodus. The latter was a place where Bnei Yisrael showed trust in Hashem, both physically, by entering a place without food, water, or shelter, and spiritually, by accepting His Torah.

What does "y’sov’veihu" mean? Rashi brings three explanations: 1) He encircled them with special, Divine clouds; 2) He arranged them in a circle in the desert (or a rectangular perimeter, if you prefer); 3) He arranged them in a circle around Mt. Sinai. The first reference, to the clouds, is, according to a prominent opinion (Sukka 11b) that which we commemorate with our sukkot.

After Rashi finished explaining the whole pasuk, Rashi goes back to explain y’sov’veihu a second time, based partially on Targum Unkelus, as follows. He had them dwell around the Divine Presence, which was in the middle of the encampment, in the Mishkan, and placed them under four banners, in four directions. Why does Rashi tack on this additional explanation, without introducing it as an alternative explanation?

It is likely that Rashi’s new explanation is not an alternative but is complementary. The clouds that surrounded Bnei Yisrael protected them from dangers that might infiltrate from beyond the encampment. Yet, they had an additional effect. They insulated Bnei Yisrael in a way that enabled them to focus on that which they encircled from within. They were privileged to surround the Mishkan, which "housed" the Divine Presence and allowed Hashem to live within the people. Thus, the miraculous, external, physical Divine protection facilitated internal, spiritual introspection.

The sukka does a similar thing. We leave our homes and go outside where flimsy walls protect us from the elements and the neighbors. This reminds us that just as in the desert, we are really protected by Hashem. We should focus on the spiritual legacy that we have within, as we are joined spiritually by the ushpizin and even the tzeila d’m’himnuta, a level of extra Divine Presence. And although we do not find a Mishkan in our midst, we can look to the Heavens (as we cannot in our homes) to see "Hashem’s palace" and the place from which, according to some, the Beit Hamikdash will descend.

More on the topic of Ha'azinu

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