The Song of Moses and Yom Kippur

This Week’s Torah portion speaks of Israel and the Nations, rebellion and atonement

By David Shishkoff | | Topics: Bible, Weekly Torah Portion
Photo: Mendy Hechtman/Flash90

The Torah portion “Ha’azinu” (Hear/Listen) contains Moses’ epic song/poem dramatizing God’s past and future dealings with Israel and all mankind – in Deuteronomy 32:1 through 43.

This song seals the entire Torah. In it Moses explores the depth of waywardness in Israel and the nations and the consequences. But not only that, Moses explores the greatness of God’s redemption and atonement. This is perfect preparation leading up to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonoment.

Moses’ masterpiece juxtaposes the character and deeds of God vs. the character and deeds of His people.

Dr. Yohanan Stanfield is an Israeli Bible researcher whose 268-page doctoral thesis at Hebrew U. examined this very chapter and its echoes in Isaiah. We bring here excerpts from a lecture he presented:


“The song starts with a call to all creation to hear the story that is about to be presented (Hear, O’ heavens, and let me speak, and listen, O’ earth, to the words of my mouth – verse 1) and ends with a call to all mankind to rejoice because of what God has done as portrayed in the song (Rejoice, O’ nations, His people – verse 43).”

“The song starts with a description of the corruption of Israel (He [the people] acted corruptly towards Him [God]… – vs. 5) and ends with a description of God’s atoning for that sin (…and He [God] atoned His land, His people – verse 43).”

“… the song is framed in a way that directs the reader to the heart of its message – the story of God’s greatness in His relations with His people Israel and exemplified in His turning them from a rebellious people into a redeemed people.”


Israel and the Gentiles in the song

“… God formed a special relationship with Israel as a people (‘ʿm’ – עם). Now, the people has been unfaithful in this relationship by turning to ‘strangers’ (זרים – v. 16), making the One who took them as His own jealous. As a result, He will turn His face from them and make them jealous by taking those who up until now have NOT been in the same kind of relationship with Him as His people. In this sense they have been a ‘non people’ [‘ʿm’ – עם v. 21]. The song states that the Lord will cause Israel to regret their unfaithfulness to Him by means of a special relationship that He will form with others [gentiles]… and this will cause Israel to see their own foolishness and desire what should be theirs. Out of all the interpretations of this it is Shaul/Paul who in Romans 10:19 and 11:11 faithfully reflects the thought of the poem…”

“Verse 36 is pivotal. The Lord will intervene for His people (For the LORD will vindicate His people, and will have compassion on His servants…). This intervention comes when the Lord sees that His people have come to the place of hopelessness (…When He sees that their strength is gone...). ”

The Vally of Tzin in the Negev Desert.

“Where the enemy could entertain the thought that his hand was lifted up and strong to bring success (verse 27), it will be God’s uplifted hand that will take hold of judgement and bring just reckoning and retribution (vs. 40-41). And where Israel has sinned and rebelled in a way that deserves destruction (verse 26) the Lord will atone and save (verse 43)… ”

“The enemies, those nations who sought to destroy Israel, will find that they have been setting themselves against the representative of the Lord (however far that representative fell from his call!). On the other side the very distress that Israel brought himself into by leaving the Lord will be the place in which the Lord will show that He alone ‘puts to death and gives life, wounds and heals‘ (verse 39). He will show that the people’s nature and behavior leads to His anger and their destruction, but He is faithful to Himself and will atone… it seems that the gentiles are now under the Lord’s judgement and Israel restored.”

“But the final verse of the song (43) brings the gentiles and Israel together in a surprising way… O’ gentiles [Nations], rejoice with His people… The gentiles are now given a positive place in acknowledging the Lord and His salvation…”

There are three clear and rare, shared word forms between Deut. 32:10-11 and Genesis 1:1 – earth, formless/wasteland, hover – that form a clear link between Israel’s formation as a people and the Creation of the world.

“The question, of course, is – why? It seems that Israel is being presented as a microcosm, a representative… ”

“From Israel’s ‘creation’ to Israel’s sin and the atonement that God provides, we find that by forging links with the beginning of the Torah we are presented with God’s way of solving the wider situation brought about in Genesis.”

“… So, the song closes the Torah with a severe portrayal of sin, Israel’s and the worlds, and yet this is only to present the solution that the Lord will give – atonement. [for he will avenge the blood of his servants; he will take vengeance on his enemies and make atonement for his land/earth and people – v 43 ].”



“On the first level, the focus is the history of the relationship of Lord with His people Israel and the various roles that the gentiles play in the story of that relationship. On the second level, the story… becomes the story of the Lord’s relationship with the whole world. The way the Lord deals with Israel becomes a paradigm of the relationship of the Creator with His creation.”

“On both levels the focus is really on God, His being, His character and His deeds. All these highlight man’s sin and need, as demonstrated in Israel’s sin and need, and the ONLY real solution for that sin – God’s atoning action.”


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