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  • Writer's pictureLeann Shamash

The Poem

Updated: Oct 7, 2022

"Put this song in their mouths," it is written in Parshat Ha'azinu. This closing parsha contains a long poem that declares God's love, but also chides the nation of Israel and warns of the Hebrew's continued disobedience. It is a beautiful poem, but also difficult to read as its poetic language speaks of terrible events. Why a poem? It is thought that a poem might be an easier way for people to remember God's message.

It is said in Talmud* that the Torah is one long poem. While there are poems in Torah, most of the Torah is not written in the style of a poem, so, how is it deemed poetry? The Netziv, a 19th century commentator,** says it is because of the richness of the prose and the many ways that we can read texts that are veiled and nuanced, as we do when we listen or interact with the language of a poem. A poem invites interpretation and partnership.

Torah is the poem of partnership. The Torah cannot be read without a partner community to listen, to read and interpret. Without people, Torah is much reduced. Without the poem that is Torah, we are much reduced.

As we go forward to Yom Kippur, may you have an easy fast and may this year be sweet and healthy.



A poem paints ideas

with a delicate brush;

short, sweet scenes

postcards of suggested meaning.

The poet's words

are few;

dealt carefully,

each short image

begging interpretation.

But poetry is nothing

without a listener;

it is merely a pile of empty words.

Without a reader

it sits


a rejected lover,

a spurned friend,

a lonely person

in a cold room



So it is with Torah.

It was once

wisely said that


is a long poem

whose chosen words

s t r e t c h from

the heavens;

a gift

sent from the Shechinah

to humankind.


whose images




whose laws are

carved into mountains

hardened by time;


But those words


lose their meaning,

become as the dust of earth



Without you, who listen.

Without you, who ponder.

Without you, who wonder.

Without you, who interpret.

Without you, who debate.

Without you, Torah's partner.

Without you.

Without me.

Without us

there is no Torah.

The long poem that is Torah

waits for you to respond.

Waits for your eyes to gaze upon her words.

Waits for your ears to hear her poem.


the listeners and the words of Torah,

we are two hands that reach for each other

across the heavens,

in the deep blue darkness of the night,

but also over the sparkling yellows of the new day.

Hands joined in partnership,

in learning.

We hold tight to one another,

and as long as we grasp

we will both live.

We will both grow strong.


clasp The Hand held out to you.

Go forth and listen.

Go forth and react.

Go forth and be a partner.

Go forth and study.

The Hands of God detail by Michelangelo in 1509

From the public domain

The poem in Ha'azinu is written in two clear columns.


Give ear, O heavens, let me speak; Let the earth hear the words I utter!

May my discourse come down as the rain, My speech distill as the dew, Like showers on young growth, Like droplets on the grass, may my words be received eagerly; cf. Job 29.22–23.

For the name of יהוה I proclaim; Give glory to our God!

Deuteronomy 32:1-3


*Apparently, Moses was commanded to teach the Torah to the Jewish people. The Gemara answers: The verse is referring to the song of Ha’azinu (Deuteronomy 31) alone and not to the rest of the Torah. The Gemara asks: But the continuation of that cited verse: “That this song may be a witness for Me among the children of Israel (Deuteronomy 31:19), indicates that the reference is to the entire Torah, in which the mitzvot are written.

Nedarim 38a (From Sefaria)

**For more on the Netziv and Torah as poetry, please see:

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