On the evening after the Yom Kippur fast, the Rebbe Rayatz asked his father, the Rebbe Rashab, "What is the divine service that is required of us now? The Rebbe answered, now we begin to do teshuvah (coming close to G‑d).

How can we do teshuvah with happiness? In the Talmud, it describes how this week's portion, Ha'azinu, was one of the songs sung by the Levites in the Temple. (Rosh Hashanah 31a) It was sung each Shabbat during the Musaf prayer, the "additional" Shabbat offering. The Rambam and Rashi write, "During Musaf, the Levites would sing Ha'azinu, dividing it into 6 portions, one each Shabbat. After finishing six weeks, they would begin again from the beginning."

The Targum (the 1st translation of Torah into Aramaic), calls the portion Ha'azinu, "Tooshb'chata", from the word "shevach" (meaning "praise") because it describes the revealed kindnesses that the Holy One Blessed be He shows to His nation. It is one of the ten songs that we know from Torah sources that are sung by the Jewish people. The first was sung by Adam; the last will be sung as we exit this last and longest exile to the true, lasting and complete redemption.

Ha'azinu is a unified work relating the sequential happenings of the Jewish nation….

When you read the portion you will see that it is not all praises but rather the majority of the verses deal with rebukes for misdeeds and warnings about punishments. The Rambam in his "Laws of Prayer" says, "We read this portion in order to cause the nation to return to their Jewish traditions". Why then is it called and included in our traditional "songs"? Rebuke and songs are opposites! According to the Levites' division of Ha'azinu into 6 sections, on some weeks there was no praise at all of G‑d. How can it be called "praise"?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe states that we find the answer if we look a little more deeply at the structure of the song. Ha'azinu is a unified work relating the sequential happenings of the Jewish nation. The song opens with the kindnesses of G‑d to His nation: "Found in the desert…they were the apple of His eye…" (Deut. 32:10) and yet later describes the Jewish nation "turning its back" on the Almighty. (ibid. 32:15) Next is a description of the consequences for denying G‑d: "I will hide my face from them". (ibid. 20:23) The song concludes telling of the final redemption. (ibid. 32:43)

The structure of the song teaches that even the rebuke is but a segment of the journey of the Jewish nation, guided by G‑d, to arrive at the complete goodness that is imminently arriving. Therefore, even the not so positive parts (some of which we are experiencing now) are just expressions of G‑d's kindness that is leading His nation to the redemption. Difficult yes, but bearable because we know where they are leading. This teaches us how to face even life's difficulties with happiness.

This inside view of the Song of Ha'azinu also explains why it is read during the High Holidays period on the Shabbat before or after Yom Kippur. What is the difference between doing teshuvah on a weekday and teshuvah on Shabbat? teshuvah on a weekday is acknowledging and regretting one's sins - called "lower teshuvah" - derived from bitterness and a broken heart. The teshuvah of Shabbat is called "higher teshuvah", teshuvah of happiness, based on not wishing to allow anything to come between our Creator and ourselves. This is what is expected of us on this Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

Translated and adapted from Shulchan Shabbat, by Menachem Brod.

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