Haazinu: The Rock

hero image
Rock Formation
23 Sep 2009

I hope we read Haazinu this Shabbos and next Shabbos and the Shabbos after that. When that happens, it will be a throwback – or more precisely, a return to the good ole Beis Hamikdash days – a time that reading Ha’azinu was a weekly occurrence: A simple Tamudic section explains: [Rosh Hashana 31a]

It has been taught: R. Judah said in the name of R. Akiba: On the first day [of the week] what [psalm] did they [the Levites] say? .. The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, .. On the second day what did they say?.. On the seventh day they said, A psalm a song for the Sabbath day. At the (musaf) additional sacrifice of Sabbath what did they say? R. Anan b. Raba said in the name of Rab: [Haazinu divided into six sections] Haziv Lach . .. As these sections are divided here, so they are divided [when read on Sabbath] in the synagogue.

In other words, the Levite song for the mussaf offering was Ha’azinu, week in and week out. Why davka Haazinu?

Simply put: Shabbos – the concept, and Haazinu – the song are deeply connected.

Consider: Within Haazinu may be found a panorama of Jewish History: Creation, nation formation, entering the promised land, getting “fat” and straying, being kicked out, incurring God’s wrath, [happily delivered by the all-too-willing nations of the world], and ultimate return. Along the way, the plundering nations receive their just desserts, we are restored and the whole world recognizes God and his special relationship with the Jewish people [it’s not about us, it’s about Him]. Not bad for 43 pesukim.

Shabbos is the great unifier. All the details of the material/physical world ultimately climax into the time warp known as Shabbos. What Shabbos does in space, Haazinu does in time; in it may be found the ultimate unification of the myriad details of history. Both represent ultimate purpose – sof ma’aseh b’machshava techila.

Among its incredible lines, a poignant one stands out:

Hatzur tamim pa’alo ki chol derachav mishpat; keil emunah v’ein avel tzaddik v’yashar hu

He is the Rock, his work is perfect; for all his ways are justice; a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is He.

Some might be familiar with this verse. It forms the core of tzidduk hadin, the ritual where the mourner, following the burial of his relative, at the very onset of aveilus (mourning), courageously declares his unwavering confidence in God’s perfect world precisely at the moment that his personal foundation has been shaken. Quite literally, this statement speaks to the bedrock of a Jew’s emunah. [pun intended]

Here’s what is so interesting. As a simple noun, the word tzur (rock) is rare in the Torah. Through the first 52 parshiyot, it occurs a total of 3 times. In our section alone however it appears 5 times. More remarkably, it always means rock the thing; never do we find God metaphorized as The Rock – until now.

So why The Rock and why now?

Three approaches:

1. On a basic p’shat level, rock implies stability and strength [think Prudential – get a piece of the rock] . Moshe on the last day of his life is beckoning this particular metaphor to remind Klal Yisrael that even as human beings are temporal [even Moshe our greatest leader walks off the stage], you must know that the Rock, that Hashem can and will always be there to rely upon. Try not to worry vot vell zayn, what will be. Place your faith in Hashem and go along for the ride. Caught between a colossal economic meltdown and a historic election, these are comforting words for many seeking security.

2. Deeper still, says Rabbeinu Bechayei is the invocation of the rock, for in that noun is found Moshe’s great disappointment. At the rock or with the rock, Moshe’s dream dies. Even after 515 prayers, he will not enter Eretz Yisrael. Moshe declares that Hashem [who refuses 515 heartfelt Moshe prayers] and his justice is perfect and beyond reproach. Not just any name of God, but the very name that evokes painful memories, serves as the ultimate faith statement that Hashem, the Rock behind [the judgement at] the rock is perfect in all ways.

3. Deeper and more far reaching is a final Rabbeinu Bechayei approach. The word tzur bears an etymological resemblance to formation or creation. In describing man’s formation the Torah uses the word vayitzer: [Bereishis, 1:7]

And Hashem Elokim [vayitzer], formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

Similarly, the Talmud in explaining Chana’s famous remark that there is no Rock like God declares: [Berachos 10a]

It is in the capacity of a human being to draw a figure on a wall, but he cannot invest it with breath and spirit, bowels and intestines. But the Holy One, blessed be He, is not so; He shapes one form in the midst of another, and invests it with breath and spirit, bowels and intestines. And that is what Hannah said: There is none holy as the Lord, for there is none beside You, neither is there any zur [rock] like our God. What means, neither is there any zur like our God? There is no artist [zayyar] like our God.

Thus Tzur is connected to formation and even to artistry [tzayar]. Putting it all together, Moshe – on the last day of his life reflects upon [every] man’s purpose. Hashem, in His primordial creation, engineered us with the capacity for perfection. Hatzur Tamim Pa’alo – God’s original creation, His yetzirah, Adam could have had it all.

Moshe continues:

Shicheis lo- The corruption belongs to him .. they are a perverse and crooked generation.

That is – Man corrupted himself. In the process, Man bequeaths to the world generations that are twisted. Moshe then reflects:

Is it with Ad-noy that you deal this way? base people lacking wisdom. Is He not your Father, who made you His? He made you and gave you a base.

In other words: Is this the appropriate quid pro quo for the great gift of life that God has bestowed upon us? As such, Moshe lays down a challenge to each and every Jew, commensurate to his level:

My dear Jews as I leave this world, let us remember that we are programmed for greatness. The Divine Artist formed us with greatness in our midst and with a beautiful picture in mind. Use your gifts properly.

As we start the new year, still bathing in the Yom Kippur afterglow, God’s artwork has been restored. We are still fresh and clean. Let us use this moment to recommit ourselves to illuminating the great canvas known as life with a beautiful self-portrait of our radiant neshamas.

Good Shabbos, Asher Brander


Rabbi Asher Brander is the Rabbi of the Westwood Kehilla, Founder/Dean of LINK (Los Angeles Intercommunity Kollel) and is a Rebbe at Yeshiva University High Schools of Los Angeles

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.