We have all heard the expression “The sky is falling!“ Wikipedia explains that it is an idiom derived from the story of Henny Penny, in the fable known as “Chicken Little.” This well known fable’s famous quote has passed into the English language as a common idiom, indicating a hysterical or mistaken belief that disaster is imminent.
We have also heard the expression ”That is music to my ears!” which means “It is exactly what I want to hear!”; just as music is pleasant to one’s ears, so too are the words being spoken into one’s ears.
There is yet another expression we have all heard, “…standing on shaky ground” or “on dangerous ground”; which is taken to mean “…on an unstable or questionable foundation” or “founded on a risky premise”.
These three expressions come into play in this week’s Perashat Haazinu. This Perasha is known as a song – “שירה” because it was written as a poem. In it, Moshe summons Heaven and Earth to bear witness to the warnings he made to the Israelites if they violate the covenant between G-d and them. Moshe wanted Heaven and Earth as witnesses, which would outlive him and outlive later generations that could reproach the Israelites in the future – were they to deny they had ever accepted the covenant. It is in the form of a song, since the nature of a song is to be pleasantly heard while internalizing its message, so that we could learn it and sing it by heart. In a sense, Moshe wanted his message to be “music to our ears”.
Its content however, is far from pleasant. Additionally, “the sky would be falling down” if the Israelites did not follow the covenant or violated it, and they would be standing on “shaky and dangerous ground”. In the Chicken Little story, an acorn falls on the chicken’s head and he mistakenly assumes that the “sky is falling”. Based on his mistaken assumption, the chicken goes on to bring the whole farm to mass hysteria and eventually, a sly fox invites all of the farm’s animals into his fox hole – supposedly to “protect them” – and ends up eating them! In the case of Haazinu, there are no mistakes; “Fire will be kindled from above and blazed to the lowest depths… it shall consume the earth and its produce, and set ablaze what is founded on mountains”. What a song!
The similarity between Haazinu and Chicken Little, however, is only between the fox and the fox hole. When calamities come as per Haazinu and it appears that the “sky is falling down”, there will be many sly foxes around trying to lure the Jews into entering their fox holes “for protection”. We have seen that in history as well as in our own time; many people and their nations have acted as our “friends,” when in fact they were really nothing more than that sly fox of the story.
The difference between Haazinu and Chicken Little is very clear. In Haazinu, the calamities are not a mistake or accident, as is the case in Chicken Little. Instead, they are a result of the violations of the covenant and the pact where Heaven and Earth are bearing witness. These witnesses take the lead in administering the calamities experienced throughout history. Therefore, do not look at the sly fox and his fox hole for safety. Rather, safety will always be found in the covenant itself and in the reverence of Heaven and shelter under the Wings of the Divine Presence.
Shabbat Shalom and Tizku L’Shanim Rabbot,
Rabbi Elie Abadie, M.D.