Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Ha’azinu/ Shabbat Teshuva 5765/ September 18, 2004

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan , Israel . A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University 's International Center for Jewish Identity. Prepared for Internet Publication by the Computer Center Staff at Bar-Ilan University . Inquiries and comments to: Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible,



Reading Ha’azinu – A little-known custom revived [1]

Prof. Yaakov Spiegel
Department of Talmud


In Mishne Torah, The Laws of Prayer (Hilkhot Tefilah u-Nesi’at Kapayim 7.13) Maimonides wrote:

In some places it is customary to read the Song on the Sea daily, after the blessing Yishtabah, then the blessing of the Shema; and in some places Ha’azinu is read; and there are even some individuals who read both songs, all according to the custom.

Let us pause to consider Maimonides’ remarks with regard to this week’s reading, Parashat Ha’azinu.   It follows from what he said that in certain places it was customary to read Ha’azinu every day, some people also reading the Song on the Sea along with it.  Rabbi Nahum Rabinowitz (in Yad Peshutah, his commentary on Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, loc. sit.) commented on this custom of daily recitation of Ha’azinu, attested to by Maimonides, as follows:  “I have not managed to find any ancient sources for this practice.”   Neither, it appears, have sources later than Maimonides been found.  To date, the only source we have discovered is Sefer Orhot Hayyim of R. Aaron ha-Cohen, [2] in Hilkhot Ahar Shemoneh-Esreh, 5:

In some places it is customary (after Shemoneh Esreh) to read David’s prayer, “Incline Your ear” (Ps. 86), and some individuals also recite according to the ma’amadot from Genesis until va-yehulu the appropriate passage for each day, and from Parashat Ha’azinu each day’s passage according to the division Ha-Ziv Lekha.

The subject of ma’amodot, which comes up in the Mishnah and Talmud (Tractate Ta’anit, beginning of ch. 4) is mentioned here.  To explain this concept we shall cite from Maimonides, Hilkhot Klei ha-Mikdash 6.1, which summarizes those texts:

It cannot be that someone’s sacrifice is made and that person does not stand by it.  The sacrifices of the community are sacrifices of all Israel, but it is not feasible for all of Israel to stand in the sacred precinct while their sacrifice is being made.  Therefore, the early prophets established that suitably pious people be selected from Israel to act as Israel’s emissaries, standing over their sacrifices.   These people are called the people of the ma’amad, and they are divided into twenty-four ma’amadot (or shifts).

Further on Maimonides added details.   The delegates comprising the ma’amad would rotate every week, according to a certain order, from which we understand that each ma’amad was present at the Temple approximately two (non-contiguous) weeks per year.  The members of the ma’amad who lived in Jerusalem, or who were close to Jerusalem, would enter the Temple with the Priests and the Levites when the Tamid daily sacrificial offering was made, whereas those who came from further away would gather in the Synagogues in their communities, where they would recite special prayers, as well as read from the Torah the appropriate passage of Creation for that day from Parashat Bereshit.   With the destruction of the Temple and the termination of sacrificial worship, when prayer came to take the place of the sacrifices, at a certain point a seder ma’amadot, or Ma’amadot Service, was instituted.  From Orhot Hayyim as cited above we learn that the Seder Ma’amadot, read every day, included not only the passage from Genesis, but also a passage from Ha’azinu, according to the division of Ha-Ziv Lekha.  Maimonides, however, interpreted this as meaning that all of Ha’azinu was recited each day, independently of the ma’amadot.

The mnemonic sign Ha-Ziv Lekha, denoting an internal division of Parashat Ha’azinu [the mnemonic contains six letters in Hebrew, H,Z,Y,V,L,K, each one the first word of the six Torah portions rishon, sheni, shelishi, etc. into which the Song of Ha’azinu is to be divided. For example, Ha’azinu, Zekhor, Yarkivehu, etc. The seventh aliyah comes after the conclusion of the Song—ed.], is mentioned back in the Babylonian Talmud (Rosh Ha-Shanah 31a).  Rashi, the Tosafists, and other early rabbinic authorities had differences of opinion on the interpretation of this mnemonic device. [3]   Relevant to our discussion is that according to this passage in the Talmud the Levites in the Temple used to recite a passage from Ha’azinu during the Sabbath Musaf service, and the Song on the Sea during the Sabbath Minhah service.   Based on the Talmud, Maimonides ruled as follows in Hilkhot Temidin u-Musafin 6.9:

The songs recited by the Levites:   on the first day they would recite ..., and on the Sabbath they would recite:  “A psalm:   A song; for the Sabbath day,” at the Musaf service they would recite Ha’azinu, dividing it into six sections, Ha-Ziv Lekha, as it is read in six parts in the synagogue, one section each Sabbath.  In six weeks they would finish the song and return to the beginning.   At the Minhah service they would recite, “Then Moses ... sang” and “Who is like You ...” [the Song on the Sea].

At this point it would be well to cite what Rabbi Jacob b. R. Tzvi Emdin (Ya’abetz) wrote in his prayer book, Sha’arei Shamayim, in the preface to Seder ha-Ma’amadot (new edition by S. Weinfeld, Jerusalem 1994, p. 549):

Jacob said, I could not fathom the mind of the redactor (of the Ma’amadot) … His inserting Parashat Ha’azinu appears to have been a mistake, for it is a song for the Sabbath Musaf [the reference is to Rosh Ha-Shanah 31a, as we have written herein] and has nothing to do with the weekdays (even though I have found that Maimonides in ch. 7 of Hilkhot Tefilah wrote that there are some places where it is customary to read Ha’azinu every day, along with the Song on the Sea, but according to that custom it must be read in its entirety, just as with the Song on the Sea) [the material in the preceding parentheses are in the original Ya’abetz source, as well as the parentheses themselves].

Therefore in his prayer book R. Ya’abetz removed the reading of Ha’azinu from the Seder Ma’amadot.   If R.Ya’abetz had seen the Sefer Orhot Hayyim, which was first printed in Florence in 1750, it seems he would not have done so, nor would he have written what he did.   Be that as it may, there are some prayer books that did not follow his lead and that still have a Seder Ma’amadot in them which includes Ha’azinu.

Ha’azinu was retained not only in Seder Ma’amadot.   We have found other late sources that mention the importance of reciting this passage.   Rabbi Zvi Aryeh of Dinov wrote in his book, Agra de-Pirka, par. 115:

It seems to me that there is a special virtue in studying Ha’azinu every day, and that is the quality of saving oneself from heresy and untrue beliefs.  See what we wrote in our book, Agra de-Kallah, in Parashat Va-Yelekh, where we proved this from verses in the Torah.  My teacher Rabbi Jacob b. Tzvi expressed wonderment in his prayer book why the redactor of Seder Ma’amadot included Ha’azinu in this prayer.  See our book, for he (the author of the Ma’amadot) was fully justified, since it is a virtue according to the Torah.

Regretfully, this subject is missing from his book Agra De-Kalah, which did not come down to us in its entirety.   The Lubavitch Rebbe,  Rabbi Yakov Yosef Schneersohn, wrote in Sefer Ha-Zikhronot: [4]

One of the traditions handed down by Maharal is to recite Ha’azinu every day, before prayers, for Maharal viewed this song as having a special quality that purifies the heart and mind.  In Maharal’s opinion, also merchants and craftsmen should recite Ha’azinu several times a day, since it has a special quality bringing success; hence everyone should know Ha’azinu by heart. Maharal also viewed recitation of Ha’azinu several times a year as having the special quality of ensuring long life.

Although Rabbi J. I. Schneersohn lived later than Rabbi Tz.A. of Dinov, he cites an early tradition – the Maharal.   We conclude that this must have been an oral tradition, [5] since we have found nothing pertaining to it in his writings.   It should be noted that traditions from the Maharal circulate among the Chabad hassidic community, and sometimes such a tradition is the only source for a certain custom. [6]   Be that as it may, we have found other references to this among the Lubavich hassidim.   In Sefer Toledot Maharash, written by Rabbi M. M. Schneersohn (Brooklynn 1947, p. 74), the Magid of Mezirech is said to have commanded (his followers) to learn Ha’azinu by heart. [7]   Another source is Sefer ha-Sihot 1936 (Brooklyn 1989).  On page 149 it says that one of the hassidim of the Admor Tzemah Tzedek, in a “private” meeting with him, asked him about matters of education and work, and the Admor replied to him by asking whether he knew Ha’azinu by heart, and told him that he should know it by heart, along with its cantillation.

The Maharal’s source remains unknown, as does the reason for this custom.  In one of his discourses [8] Rabbi M. M. Schneersohn noted that this practice was intimated in the writings of Isaac Abarbanel, in his commentary on Parashat Va-Yelekh:

But G-d commanded that they [Moses and Joshua] write many copies of this poem to give to every person, so that every man and woman would know it and be fluent in it, singing it in thanksgiving, … and He gave the reason for this poem, saying, “in order that this poem may be My witness against the people of Israel,” that is to say, that it be in the mouths of Israel so that they not need to look it up in a sefer Torah, rather this poem will be present in their mouths and it will be a witness against the people of Israel.

We add to this the remarks written by Rabbi Zadok ha-Cohen of Lublin: [9]

A special positive commandment is listed in compilations of the commandments in the Torah, namely to write a Torah scroll; but the words of Scripture, “and teach it...,” is a special commandment which is not listed by them, although I do not know why.  Apparently the special commandment of teaching this poem to every one of Israel ought to have been listed, but since no frame of time was established for it, perhaps it sufficed to do so once in a person’s lifetime.  Be that as it may, it suffices to read this passage once a year, according to the custom established by the Sages.   But in any event, reading this passage would be a positive commandment by the authority of the Torah.

Thus we see that according to Rabbi Tzadok, reciting Ha’azinu is a commandment from the Torah; however, there is some question regarding the appropriate time for performing this commandment.   The above quote continues the preceding discussion, although in a somewhat different direction.

At this point it would be in order to discuss the importance of Ha’azinu, however that is an entire subject in its own right, beyond the scope of this discussion. [10]

In conclusion, we see that the custom of reciting Ha’azinu in the prayers is a little-known practice, which was preserved in part in the recitation of the Ma’amadot (and even in this context some people attempted to cancel the practice), and was “renewed” in recent times in a somewhat different format.


[1] Most of what is said here comes from Rabbi   Mandelbaum,  Sefer Pardes Yoseph he-Hadash, Bne Berak 1998, and from Rabbi J. H. Sofer, Sefer Torat Ya’akov, Jerusalem 2002.

[2] Rabbi from Provence, active approximately seventy-five years after Maimonides.  After the expulsion of the Jews from Provence, settled in Majorca.

[3] For the various approaches, see Encyclopedia Talmudit, under Ha-Ziv Lekha.

[4] Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneersohn, Sefer Ha-Zikhronot, Kefar Chabad 1983, ch. 29, p. 125.

[5] It should be noted that Rabbi Barukh, father of the elder Chabad Admor, is a seventh-generation descendant of the Maharal.   Hence there are quite a number of traditions among Chabad which are attributed to the Maharal.

[6] For example, take what it says in Rabbi J. I. Schneersohn’s Sefer ha-Sihot (in Hebrew), Kefar Chabad 1993, p. 8:  “Among the Lubavich these customs were rigorously maintained, especially those customs that were transmitted from the gaon and tzadik, the Maharal of Prague.  One of the customs is to light a candle for repentance on the eve of Shabbat Shuvah …”  Rabbi M. M. Schneersohn noted there (note 3):  “Thus far, I have not found a source for it.”

[7] This source appears in Rabbi M. M. Schneersohn, Likutei Sihot, part 24, p. 237, Ha’azinu 1982, and was published as well in Sefer Sha’arei ha-Moadim, Yom ha-Kippurim, Jerusalem 1995, p. 123, note 13.   I wish to thank Rabbi Y. Mondschein for calling my attention to this additional source.

[8] See previous note.

[9] Sefer ha-Zikhronot, 3.29, Har Brakhah edition, 2003, p. 308.   My son, Rabbi Assaf (Assi) informed me of this.

[10] Cf. Pardes Yosef he-Hadash and Torat Ya’akov (note 1, above), for further material on this subject.