Adapted from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. I, p. 415; Vol. IX, p. 204; Vol. XX, p. 266
Two Prophets, Two Modes of Expression
The word haazinu, generally translated as "listen," literally means "give ear." In that vein, our Sages1 compare Moshe's call:2 "Listen O heavens, and I will speak; earth, hear the words of my mouth," with Yeshayahu's prophecy:3 "Hear O heavens., listen O earth."
They explain that Moshe was "close to the heavens, and far from the earth." Therefore, he was able to address the heavens at close range. Yeshayahu, by contrast, despite the personal growth he had attained,4 was still "close to the earth, and far from the heavens." And thus he used wording that reflected his level.
A Reflection of Spiritual Reality
The sages of the Kabbalah explain that there are four spiritual worlds: Atzilus, Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah. Atzilus refers to existence at one with G-d. Although this realm contains entities whose existence is limited and defined, they do not feel separate from Him. Even as they exist as defined entities, they feel themselves as no more than an extension of G-dliness. In the worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah, by contrast, there is a sense of individual identity and self.5 Therefore, Atzilus is referred to as the "heavens," while these other realms are referred to as "earth."
Moshe Rabbeinu is described as a neshamah d'Atzilus,6 an individual whose perception paralleled that of the world of Atzilus. Even though he existed in a physical body, he perceived everything as an extension of G-dliness. This is possible because the limitations of space do not apply to the spiritual realms,7 which are separate and removed from our material universe. As one lives in this world, one can feel the direct awareness of G-d and the closeness to Him which characterizes the world of Atzilus. This was Moshe's spiritual rung; he could speak to the heavens with familiarity, for he was on that level himself.
Yeshayahu, by contrast, saw G-d from afar. The angels whom he describes proclaim:8 "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the L-rd of Hosts," and as explained in Chassidus, kadosh, "holy" also has the implication: distinct and separate. Within the world of Beriah, even the loftiest angels feel separate from G-d, for they have a sense of self. As such, it was the earth which Yeshayahu addressed from close range.
Fusing the Material and the Spiritual
Questions arise: Why did Moshe address the earth as well as the heavens? And why did Yeshayahu address the heavens as well as the earth? Why did they not confine themselves to speaking to the realm closest to them?
The answer to these questions depends on a fundamental tenet of Judaism: we must relate to both earth and heaven. For material and spiritual reality are meant to be connected, instead of being left as skew lines. Judaism involves drawing down spiritual reality until it meshes with worldly experience (Moshe's contribution), while elevating worldly experience until a bond with the spiritual is established (Yeshayahu's contribution).9
Indeed, the two initiatives can be seen as phases in a sequence. By revealing the Torah, Moshe endowed every individual with the potential to become "close to the heavens." Yeshayahu developed the connection further, making it possible for a person to experience being "close to heavens" while "close to the earth" involved in the mundane details of material life.
Two Phases in Time
Parshas Haazinu is always read either on the Shabbos before Yom Kippur, in the Ten Days of Teshuvah, or on the Shabbos following Yom Kippur, before the holiday of Sukkos.
Herein lies a connection to the above concepts. Our Sages10 describe the days preceding Yom Kippur with the verse:11 "Seek G-d while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near." At this time, everyone has the potential to feel close to G-d, and therefore the AriZal says:12 "If a person does not cry during the Ten Days of Teshuvah, his soul is not complete." Reading Parshas Haazinu before Yom Kippur highlights the fact that each of us is "close to the heavens."
After Yom Kippur, our Divine service takes an earthward turn, following the motif alluded to in the verse:13 "And Yaakov went on his way." Yaakov symbolizes the entire Jewish people. "Going on his way" refers to tending to personal matters, and in this way fusing spiritual truth with ordinary experience, as in the verse:14 "Know Him in all your ways."
In particular, there are two phases to this motif: a) observing mitzvos as they are enclothed in material entities this is the message of Sukkos,15 and then b) a further stage of descent, when after the holiday season is completed, we return to worldly reality. Reading Parshas Haazinu after Yom Kippur underscores that being "close to the heavens" is only a starting point for our Divine service, which must be continued throughout the coming year.
Two Phases in Development
In a more particular sense, "the heavens" can be seen as an analogy for the Torah. The Torah is G-d's word, and through its study, a person comes "close to the heavens," nearer to spiritual truth. Mitzvos, by contrast, are often associated with the earth, for their observance involves worldly matters.
In the first stage of a person's spiritual development, he should be "close to heaven," submerged in Torah study. Afterwards, he must realize that "study is not the essential; deed is."16 Each of us must then shoulder our part in the mission of making this world a dwelling for G-d.
These two stages are reflected in the development of mankind as a whole. In the present era, our Sages explain that study takes precedence over deed.17 In the Era of the Redemption the culmination of our human experience deed will take precedence.18 For in that era, man's Divine service will have established a complete connection between heaven and earth, and we will perceive the G-dliness which permeates every element of existence.
See Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah, ch. 7, which describes the spiritual refinement a prophet must attain. And among the prophets themselves, Yeshayahu was considered on a high level. See Chagigah 13b.
In this vein, we can appreciate the distinction between Moshe's revelation of the Torah, and the "word of G-d" spoken by other prophets (see Rambam, Commentary to the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 10:1), the seventh and eighth of the Thirteen Principles of Faith).The Torah's fundamental contribution is the revelation of G-d's truth. The thrust of prophecy, by contrast, is to exhort mankind to fulfill the truth of the Torah (see Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 9:2, Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XIX, p. 177ff).
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