Letter and Spirit

For the week ending 12 October 2019 / 13 Tishri 5780

Parshat Haazinu

by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
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Ha’azinu – Rock of Creation

The song of Ha’azinu begins with reference to G-d as Tzur, the Rock. According to the Sages, tzur contains a dual idea: the One who is strong [like a rock], and tzayar, the One who forms and shapes. A rock is the natural symbol of something firm and strong, immutable and unconquerable. But the verb that stems from the root tzur expresses two ways of exerting the strength represented by the noun tzur.

As a verb, tzur usually means to besiege a city — to exercise power through restrictive confinement. But tzur also means to shape or to form. Thus, tzurah is a shape. For all shaping and forming entails the permanent and firm limitation of the material within the demarcation lines of the desired purpose.

The noun tzur expresses two related concepts: unchanging stability and the hardness that overcomes all other material. As applied to G-d, He is immutable and has the power to overcome everything absolutely. What He has ordained to exist finds in Him its eternal support and every form that He intends it to take is realized with absolute certainty.

Here, the name Tzur is used not in relation to Creation, but in relation to Israel. In this context, the name expresses a dual certainty. Israel knows that G-d is the everlasting support of its existence in history. It is G-d’s Will that Israel should exist — therefore, Israel will never perish. However, it is also G-d’s Will that Israel should exist in a certain way, which He revealed to Israel in His Torah, and which is emphasized in this song. Israel can never release itself from these immutable demands. Indeed, the heaven and earth are called upon as witnesses to these demands. Whatever turns of fate Israel will endure, they will all service only one purpose: to bring about the ultimate realization of G-d’s objectives for and through Israel. They are nothing but the formative hammer blows of G-d’s power which shapes His world.

Tzur, the verse continues, “His work is perfect, for all His ways are justice.” This dynamic formative activity expressed in the name Tzur is “perfect.” Not only is the product perfect, but the work — the creative activity, the action-in-progress — is perfect. Man’s unfinished work is incomplete. Human activity is made up of a range of incomplete actions that are joined together, complementing and correcting one another with difficulty, trying to reach completion. By contrast, G-d’s formative activity — at every stage of the process — is finished and complete. At every moment it is complete and finished and perfectly in accordance with the requirements of the moment.

All His ways, not only the ultimate goal, are justice: they carry out justice and they realize at every moment what is right for those affected by His ruling. He is Tzur Olamim, the Rock Whose justice is perfect and immutable.

  • Sources: Commentary, Devarim 32:4

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