Images of God

In Parashat Ha'azinu, God is portrayed in many different lights.

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Reprinted with permission from
The Torah: A Women’s Commentary
, edited by Tamara Cohn Eskenazi and Andrea L. Weiss (New York: URJ Press and Women of Reform Judaism, 2008).

Parashat Ha’azinu troubles us with its extreme, opposing images of deity. Paradoxically, God is envisioned as comforting and frightening: the eternal guardian of Israel who eventually will redeem the people, and the jealous and judgmental deity who threatens to wreak vengeance on those who violate the covenant and turn to other gods. As Moses maintains, God is the giver of life and death, who heals as well as wounds (32:39- 40).
urj women's commentary
Thus, in his song to the Israelites contained in this parashah, Moses includes both a solemn warning that their lives as individuals and a people rest on their observing “faithfully all of the terms of this Teaching” (v. 46) and a final message of hope that God will one day deliver them from their enemies and they will ” long endure on the land” given to them by God (v. 47).

As a contemporary reader I am prompted to ask numerous questions. For instance, why in imagining God as comforter, does Moses use the image of an unmoving, unchanging rock (32:4, [5, 18, 30, 31)? Commentators view the metaphor of the rock as a vehicle for communicating the message that God’s righteousness and loyalty to Israel never waver, or for highlighting the superior, incomparable nature of Israel’s God. However, in spite of how the metaphor is used in the context of the Song, one could just as easily argue that this metaphor imagines God as a cold, unfeeling natural object, incapable of entering into a relationship with anyone or anything.

Moreover, why does Moses describe God anthropomorphically as a warrior whose “flashing blade I And…hand lays holds on judgment” (v, 41)? Where is God’s compassion for God’s people and for their enemies (who, after all, are also God’s creations)? Is it not possible to influence and protect one’s people without ruthless killing or threats of killing? Is the price of our deliverance the death of others?

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Dr. Ellen Umansky is the Carl and Dorothy Bennett Professor of Judaic Studies and Director of the Carl and Dorothy Bennett Center for Judaic Studies at Fairfield University.

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