Moshe gave Klal Yisroel rebuke many times in Sefer Devarim. He does so again in Parshas Ha’azinu. However, this time, the rebuke that he gives is unique, as it is a “shira”, a “song”; It is described as a shira in the Torah. It is also written in a Sefer Torah as a shira, with the same unique format as shiras Az Yahsir (with a large empty space down the center of the Torah).
Why would Moshe choose to rebuke through a song?
There was once a boy who lived in Bnei Brak. As a younger boy, he had seemed to lack the ability to learn Torah well. He had always struggled in class, which only exasperated the issue. Then, one year, incredibly, he turned things around and started to do very well in Yeshiva. When asked what changed, he revealed the following, true story:
I was terrible at learning and always got the worse grades. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that I therefore was always nervous to take tests in Yeshiva, as I barely ever received a passing grade. There was one custom at Yeshiva that I dreaded more than anything else: At the end of the 7th grade, my entire class would go to the home of the Gadol HaDor, R’ Ahron Leib Shteinman z”tzl. There, he would give us a bracha and give the class a light, oral test on what we had learned that year. For many boys, this was the highlight of their excitement; a chance to have a conversation with the Gadol HaDor in front of the whole class! But, for obvious reasons, I did not feel the same way.
On the fateful day that we visited R’ Ahron Leib, he went around the room asking each boy a simple question on the material we had all learned that year. Although some boys needed minor cues, all boys were able to answer the question, at which point, R’ Ahron Leib awarded them with a candy. When it was my turn, he asked a question that was probably simple, but I had no idea what the answer was, even with his cuing. My mind was racing to find a solution, but I couldn’t find one. I stayed silent, unable to answer.
Understanding that I needed an easier question, he asked me something much less difficult. Again, I furrowed my brow, trying as hard as I could to remember the answer, however, I couldn’t. I didn’t know what to do with myself. Finally, he asked a question that virtually anyone could answer. When I gave the correct response, he gave me a bright smile and handed me a candy.
At the conclusion of our visit, when our class was leaving, the most amazing thing happened! He asked me to stay behind. When my curious classmates exited his home, he closed the door and said to me, “the Torah does not value results; it values effort. You put more effort into answering questions in learning today than anyone else. After all, you worked on not just one question, but three. Therefore, I would like to give you an additional two candies – one for each question you put effort into. I waited until your classmates left simply because I didn’t want them to be jealous of the one student who put in more effort than the rest. You should be very proud of yourself”.
Those words straightened me out for the rest of my life. From that moment forward, I felt like I was walking on air. I no longer got discouraged when I faced a Gemara that I did not know; After all, R’ Ahron Leib had taught me that the results did not matter. Rather, I stayed focused on simply putting in all the effort I could and giving it my absolute best; as R’ Ahron Leib had taught me, this was the most important ingredient of all. After a while of doing so, sure enough, Hashem helped me become much better at learning and helped me reach to where I am today. But, most importantly, due to what he taught me, I have been enjoying learning ever since that day, more than anything in the world. It never could have been done, without R’ Ahron Leib coaching me in such a sweet, positive way”.
Yes, Moshe spent the last moments of his life, all of Sefer Devarim, giving tochecha - rebuke. However, his intention was not to chastise his beloved nation Klal Yisroel without purpose, but rather, to bring about positive change out of them and prevent them from doing the wrong thing. After all, that is the only allowable purpose for the mitzvah of rebuke (see Vayikra 19:17).
Moshe Rabbeinu, our greatest teacher, realized that although the generation that he led could handle and would improve most from strong rebuke, he wanted to address - and to teach us that there is - another method of rebuke that is sometimes better suited to bring out the best Avodas Hashem out of another yid: to do it through a positive way, i.e. a shira.
It is no coincidence that although Moshe gave rebuke for basically the entire Sefer Devarim, at the very end, he gave it through a song.
Our sages teach us that our lives in galus are a microcosm of our ancestors’ time in the desert – ma’aseh avos siman l’banim*.
By Moshe choosing to give his final rebuke through a shira, he is alluding to the fact that especially at the end of our long exile – the period that we currently find ourselves in - the best way to get through to most people to improve in their Avodas Hashem, will often be to do it through song and positivity. Yes, even in today’s generation rebuke and coaching others is necessary, however, the delivery is everything.
May we always remember this vital concept when dealing with others and thereby truly bring out the best from others**.
*- Note that right before Klal Yisroel entered Eretz Yisrael, after journeying for 40 years in the desert, they had a tremendous test of immorality with the daughters of Moav. In parallel to this, many meforshim explain that this explains the unprecedented tests that this generation is faced with in regard to guarding one’s eyes and immorality. The reason why we are being faced with these incredible tests specifically now, right as we near the end of galus, is due to the fact that ma’aseh avos siman l’banim; just as they faced a test of immorality right before reaching the end of their journey and entering Eretz Yisroel, so too, we are being faced with this test right before we go to Eretz Yisroel to greet Moshiach.
**- There is a special application that this concept has for chinuch with children. R Keilish from Waterbury once went to a Pesach program. One day, on Yom Tov, his 6 year old son was in the hotel elevator when suddenly there was a malfunction and the elevator froze between floors. His son quickly pushed the emergency call button. However, instead of the hotel employee who got the alarm helping to ease the fears of the young boy and calling for help, he reacted quite differently. Apparently, throughout Pesach, many young boys had pushed the elevator emergency button often, and therefore, the hotel employee thought this was yet another prank. Instead of helping, he began yelling through the elevator intercom “stop pushing the button!”. The little boy was panicked. With no other choice, he continued pushing the button. The employee continued to yell back “stop being a troublemaker! Stop pushing the button!”. Finally, after the boy began crying uncontrollably, the employee realized there truly was an emergency, and called for help.
R’ Kalish remarked, “so often, when a boy doesn’t act the way that he should, that boy is simply pushing the ‘emergency help button’. He is in desperate need of love, attention or help. But instead of us interpreting his actions as a cry for help, we too, often act like that callous hotel employee; We tend to get annoyed, and, in a desperate ill-motioned attempt to get them to stop acting in a way that we do not appreciate, we too yell ‘stop pushing the button’. We mistakenly think that the child is trying to make trouble, while in reality, that kid is often simply crying out for help, whether he realizes it or not.
We should internalize this fact. If a kid misbehaves, remember this lesson. Guiding and correcting children with positivity and understanding should always be our default response.