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October 8, 2022: Parashat Haazinu – The Rock

This week’s parashah is taken from Deuteronomy 32. Listen in as David studies the Song taught by Moses to the Children of Israel before he was to die, especially the reference to Hashem as "The Rock".

Follow along in the AUDIO PODCAST, by clicking on the play button below, and reading along with the notes, as you listen to today's Parashah:

Last week in Parashat Vayeilech, we unpacked the topic and importance of dissemination of the Torah – from Moses all the way through to today. One topic I intentionally avoided bringing up is that last week’s parashah is a lead-up into this week’s parashah. In Parashat Vayeilech, Hashem speaks of a song (31:19) to write and teach to the Children of Israel to be a witness against them. Now, in Parashat Haazinu, we learn the words of that song.

As a preamble, the song is featured in Chapter 32 of Deuteronomy, with the number “32” representing the letters “לב” (“lamed-bet”) in Hebrew, spelling the word “lev”, meaning “heart”. As Moses says later in the chapter in Deuteronomy 32:46: “Apply your heart to all the words that I testify against you today…”, it is imperative that the Children of Israel apply the words of this song to their hearts.

To summarize this song (in the words of Ramban), it serves as a “true and faithful witness” that relates explicitly all that has occurred to the Jewish nation throughout all of history. It mentions first the kindness that Hashem performed for Israel from the time that He took them as His portion (vv. 8-9). Then it mentions the beneficent acts that He did for them in the Wilderness (vv. 10-12), and that He gave Israel as an inheritance the lands of great and mighty nations (v. 13), and mentions as well the abundance of goodness, wealth and stature that He granted them in the Land (vv. 13-14). It then relates that out of the great abundance of all the goodness just mentioned the Israelites rebelled against Him, worshipping idols (vv. 15-18). And it then mentions His Divine anger which was thereby directed against them (vv. 19-22), to the extent that He dispatched against them, while they were still in their Land, pestilence, hunger, wild beasts and the sword (vv. 23-25), and afterward He scattered them in every direction and throughout each corner of the world (v. 26).

But then, the song takes a turn (vv. 39-43) as Hashem declares that He is in ultimate control, that He “put to death” and “brings to life”, “struck down” and “will heal”, and there is no one who rescues from His hand. That He shall “return vengeance upon [His] enemies” and “bring retribution upon those that hate [Him]”. And ultimately that “He will appease His land and His people”, giving that final assurance to Israel that although they will turn from Him, that He will redeem them.

The parashah opens up with these words in Deuteronomy 32:1:

הַאֲזִ֥ינוּ הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וַאֲדַבֵּ֑רָה וְתִשְׁמַ֥ע הָאָ֖רֶץ אִמְרֵי־פִֽי׃

Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak; and may the earth hear the words of my mouth.”

Here Moses, as already stated in the previous parashah, was calling the heavens and the earth to bear witness against the nation.

What does he mean by witness? In the legal sense, a witness is someone who has firsthand knowledge of a matter and is able to provide accurate testimonial evidence such as in a court case. But how is it possible for the heavens and the earth provide witness against the Children of Israel? Because they represent the entirety of God’s Creation – they are living witnesses that last forever. They are also the critical elements that determine Israel’s prosperity in the Promised Land to which they were about to enter. Remember back in Deuteronomy 17:13-17 (Parashat Eikev), Moses cautioned the nation that if they listened to Hashem’s commandments, if they served Him with all their heart and soul, He would bless their land with abundance; but if not, he would restrain the heavens and there will be no rain.

As such, Moses was calling the same heavens and earth to witness the words of this song he was about to teach them. Moses goes on to say in Verse 2: “May my teaching drip like the rain, may my utterance flow like the dew; like storm winds upon vegetation and like raindrops upon grass.” Here Moses was insisting to the people that they heed all of his 40 years of teachings throughout the Wilderness, including the words of this song, so that they may only receive the blessings of abundance in the Land.

In the next verse (v. 3), Moses sings: “When I call out the Name of Hashem, ascribe greatness to our God.” This is a powerful statement. Just now, Moses insisted that the people listen to his words, and here his first declaration is to reflect on the Name of Hashem by ascribing greatness to Hashem. Why the emphasis on the Name of Hashem? Because by mentioning His Name, all of Hashem’s great wonders and deeds for His beloved people should come to mind. All the promises made to their forefathers, all the wonders in taking them out of Egypt, the great experience with Him they had at Mount Sinai, and all the great works that He did for them throughout the 40 years in the Wilderness.

From here on through the rest of the song, we find Moses refer to Hashem by a few names and titles (other than “Hashem” (“Y-H-V-H”) and “God” (“Elohim”) that are all reflective of His attributes. We see “Righteous” (“Tzaddik”), “Father” (“Av”), “Acquirer” (“Kaneh”), “Supreme One” (“Elyon”), “Maker” (“Oseh”), and “The Rock” (“HaTzur”).

I left the name “Rock” till last as this is the name that I would like to hone in on, it is also the first name mentioned after Verse 3, and also, this is the first time the name is used for Hashem in the Torah. It is also used a total of six times in this parashah, pointing to the relative importance of this particular title above the others. Moreover, all of the other name and titles used in the parashah are true titles that reflect a particular attribute of Hashem, except for “Rock”, as “Rock” is the only name that reflects a physical object in Creation.

On that note, Moses continues in Verse 4: “The Rock, perfect is His work, for all His ways are justice; God, faithful, without wrongdoing. Righteous, and fair is He.” In other words, this name “the Rock” denotes might and strength and is directly tied to Hashem’s capability of giving and withholding sustenance. In doing so, His manner of doing so is “perfect” and “just”, and done in a “faithful” and “fair” manner. The imagery alone of “the Rock” speaks volumes. While the name speaks of God’s Strict Attribute of Justice, the obvious imagery is that He is the Rock capable of crushing wrongdoers. Certainly while this is the case, conversely, He is the Rock that the nation must and can cleave to through obedience. He then becomes a stronghold, a fortress, a mighty tower of deliverance. He becomes their salvation.

Think of all of the many references throughout the Tanach that make use of Hashem’s Name “The Rock”. Just to name a few:

There is none like Hashem: for there is none besides you; there is no Rock like our God.” (1 Samuel 2:2)

Trust in Hashem forever, for Hashem Elohim is an everlasting Rock.” (Isaiah 26:4)

Hashem is my Rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my Rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Psalm 18:2)

Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily! Be a Rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me!” (Psalm 31:2)

He alone is my Rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.” (Psalm 62:2)

As I highlighted earlier in summary of this song, we hear of Hashem’s beneficent acts and His provisions of goodness for Israel. We also hear of His fierce anger that is poured out upon Israel because of their rebelliousness. Hashem as the Rock can either be a Rock of support or a Rock of judgement for the nation.

In Luke 6:47-49, Yeshua taught a parable based on the same premise; he taught: “Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the Rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.

The most critical element of our lives is our foundation – what or rather who we are connected into. The concept of constructing a building is always an excellent analogy for this, as the foundation of a building is the most important feature to ensure that the building can outlast any storm, flood, earthquake or any other natural disaster for decades or even centuries to come. The larger the building, the deeper you must go, with the best possible support for a large building being bedrock, if possible. If we are grounded in Hashem as our Rock, if our supports are connected to Him, if we are cleaving to Him, we have nothing to fear.

In Deuteronomy 32:13, Moses sings of Hashem’s support of Israel: “He would have him [Israel] ride on the heights of the earth, and he would eat the ripe fruits of the field; He would suckle him with honey from a stone, and oil from the hardness of a rock.” If only Israel would appreciate what Hashem could and would do for them – making the difficult possible like extracting honey from a stone, and oil from a rock. The English translation does not do the wording in this verse any justice. Depending on the translation, the Hebrew word used here for “stone” is “סֶּלַע” (“sela”), and “צוּר” (“tzur”) is used for “rock”. However, “sela” is better translated also as “rock”, and is likely translated here as “stone” for stylistic purposes. The only difference between the two is that “tzur” is defined as the hardest type of “rock”, so tightly compacted as in the rock found in the earth’s bedrock or in the mountains (in fact, in Aramaic, the word for “rock” is “tur” and also means “mountain”). As for “sela”, it is the rock that is breakable or refinable from a “tzur”. Furthermore, there is another word for “stone” that isn’t used here, and that is “אֶבֶן” (“even”). I like to think of it as a refined piece of rock, fashioned over time by the elements of wind and water into a smaller handheld stone. Ultimately, “tzur” is the source of “sela” and “even”.

The beauty of this process of breakdown in the “tzur” is that the “even” and “sela” do not become any less brittle, but rather retain the same hardened, compacted rock material of the “tzur”. Really the only key difference is that they are smaller and/or more refined like an “even”.

With that said, there is another way of looking at this. Throughout Scriptures, there are a number of references to the importance of “stones” (“אֲבָנִים” “avanim”, plural form). In Exodus 20:22 [as in my Hebrew Bible, but it may be Exodus 20:25 in English translations], we read of the command from Hashem to Moses: “And when you will make an Altar of stones [“אֲבָנִים” “avanim”] for Me, do not build them hewn…” Before the Tabernacle, this was the original instruction from Hashem about building an altar to Him. Altar in Hebrew is “מִזְבֵּחַ” (“mizbeach”) meaning “place of slaughter”, where one would bring a “sacrifice” or “קָרְבָּן” (“korban”). The root of “korban” is the verb “קָרַב” (“karav”) meaning “to draw near”. Why am I teaching you the etymology of these words? Because they are all microcosms of man. The “korban”, the sacrifice, is reflective of self-sacrifice, requiring the action “karav” of bring oneself into closeness to Hashem. The “mizbeach”, the altar, the place of slaughter, was to be constructed of unhewn stones. Those unhewn stones are also representative of man. In our unhewn forms, we are to come together in a state of oneness and as an extension of the earth in the form of an altar, elevating ourselves to Hashem.

In Isaiah 28:16, we read: "Therefore, thus said my Lord Hashem/Elohim: Behold, I am laying a foundation stone in Zion: a sturdy stone, a precious cornerstone, a secure foundation…" Who is this precious cornerstone? None other than Yeshua the Messiah. Yeshua quoted from Psalm 118:22 in Matthew 21:42, saying: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Later in Matthew 21:44, he added: “And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” Remember what I said earlier about the properties of the “even” stone still possessing the same strong, compacted properties of the “tzur” rock from which it was cut and fashioned over time? Add to that the quality of being a cornerstone that serves as a foundational building block for the structure. Yeshua is that cornerstone, that perfect model of a stone that we are to follow. Taken in conjunction with the parable told by Yeshua of the man that built his house upon the Rock, Yeshua is that cornerstone ensuring a solid foundation built into the Rock that is Hashem. We are to make up the remainder of the stones that complete the structure, a structure greater than ourselves, a structure built with a spirit of humility and unity. What is the structure? The altar is only the starting point of connecting with the concept of humility and self-sacrifice, but the ultimate structure is something much greater than the altar. We are to build ourselves up into a “מִקְדָּשׁ” (“Mikdash”), into a “Holy Place”, into the Temple of Hashem.

If we follow the perfect model set out by Yeshua, we learn to humble ourselves as a lowly stone, cut from the Rock our Creator, smoothed and uniquely shaped by our every day life experiences in this world, but realize that through our connection through Yeshua, we are brought together in a unified manner to form something greater than any one of us can do on our own. Not any ordinary house, but a Holy Place, a Mikdash, fully consecrated to Hashem, filled with His radiant Presence.

This is what Moses was teaching the nation of Israel through his reference to Hashem as the “Rock” throughout the song. Our Rock is so much mightier and greater than anything we can comprehend or imagine. By His words, the heavens and the earth came into existence. By His promises, we are sustained, so long as we cleave to Him with all of our beings. We must recognize this important aspect of our Heavenly Father. In addition, we are cut by Him as stones, brought into this world. We must connect to the cornerstone, to our Master Yeshua to learn how to build ourselves up into a Holy Place for Hashem – our way of elevating our tangible lives in this world, reconstructing ourselves through a state of unity to replicate Him, our Rock.


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