Haazinu Hashamayim vadebera, vatishma haaretz imrei pi, Give ear, O heavens, let me speak; Let the earth hear the words I utter” (Devarim 32:1). In beautiful poetic language, Moshe Rabbeinu, nearing the end of his life, invokes the imagery of heavens and the earth to bear witness to the covenant between G-d and the Jewish people. This eternal covenant is part and parcel of the natural world[1].

The heavens and the earth proclaim the glory of G-d. “Ki shem Hashem ekra, havu godel leloheinu”, I call on the name of the Lord, acclaim greatness to our G-d” (Devarim 32:4). We see the greatness of the Creator through the beauty and complexity of nature. It is for this reason that one must say a bracha for so many of the phenomena of nature: thunder, lightning, comets, mountains, hills, seas, rivers, and deserts. When we are awed by the beauty of nature – visiting the Grand Canyon, Banff National Park, even Niagara Falls – we call out and bless G-d’s name.

We take our cue from the natural world. Calling out in G-d’s name is the mission of the Jewish people. When Avraham was first told he would be the father of a great nation, he called out in G-d’s name: “Vayikra bshem Hashem” (Breisheet 12:8). The Rambam – after opening his monumental code of Jewish law with four chapters dealing with issues of metaphysics – begins the legal section of the Mishne Torah with the laws of Kiddush Hashem and Chillul Hashem, the sanctification and G-d forbid, the desecration of G-d’s name. Chillul Hashem is only the sin for which repentance is not possible in one's lifetime. Neither repentance, nor Yom Kippur, nor suffering can fully atone for this most grievous of sins.

“G-d came down in a cloud—and stood with him [Moshe] there, vayikra bshem Hashem, and he[2] proclaimed the name of the Lord” (Shemot 34:5). This refrain is said over and over and over again as we begin the Yamim Noraim season with selichot reaching a crescendo on Yom Kippur. The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 16b), in a daring derasha, interpretation, claims that it was G-d who called out, teaching Moshe that the path to forgiveness is through emulating the 13 attributes of G-d. We call out to G-d by being merciful, kind, patient, and forgiving.

Yet this teaching is based on a verse from the book of Shemot, dealing with the aftermath of the sin of the golden calf.

The verse in our parsha is part of nature’s song and witness to our covenant with G-d, and has little to do with atonement.

Our Talmudic Sages invoke this verse in requiring one to make a bracha before the study of Torah (Brachot 21a). The Torah is a description of G-d, it is no less than the “Name of G-d” and through its study we proclaim His message to the world at large. We are so fortunate to have so many opportunities to study Torah, to heed G-d’s call to us and share it with others. What a wonderful blessing.

But Torah study is not the only way to call out to G-d. It is based on this verse that our Sages (Yoma 37a) derive the obligation to answer “barcuh shem kevod malchuot leolam vaed, blessed is the name of His glorious kingdom forever and ever, upon hearing the kohen gadol cry out to G-d in prayer. And though we may lack a Temple, the ultimate house of prayer, our Sages placed this verse in the introduction to the shemoneh esrei of mincha. While some connect to G-d through Torah study, others do so through prayer.

Yet there is a third interpretation of this verse, namely that a zimmun, after a meal, requires a minimum of three: Ki shem, when one calls out to G-d, havu, two must respond (Brachot 45a). We call on G-d’s name through eating. Judaism sees the physical world as a means towards holiness, elevating our animalistic instincts to serve our Creator, calling out that we can serve G-d with our bodies.

We call somebody by their name when we want to speak with them. The tone of voice we use will be dependent on what we want to say and on what type of interaction we seek. It is no different with G-d.

The various interpretations our Sages offer for this verse reflect different ways in which we can “speak” or connect to G-d. Some connect intellectually through study, others emotionally through prayer, and others by elevating our physical being. We have many opportunities to call out in G-d’s name, making this world and the heaven and the earth even more beautiful than it was at the time of Creation.


[1] In a similar vein, the word for Jewish law, halacha, means to walk. By using the term halacha and not misphat or din, law or justice, we signal that Jewish law should be most natural to observe.

[2] This interpretation follows Rashi that it was Moshe who called out in G-d’s name.