Remember Your Rock, Your Creator
Moshe poetically reminds the Children of Israel of the importance of remembering God who created them.
Provided by the Orthodox Union, the central coordinating agency for North American Orthodox congregations.
The panoramic poetry of Ha'azinu embraces all of the Jewish past, present and future. Israel is warned that sin will be punished through the scourge of the other nations, but that Hashem will never completely abandon His Chosen People. Rather than referring to specific incidents, the poem's use of the imperfect tense alludes to repeated events, thus making it supra-historic--beyond the limits of history.
The multiple layers of meaning in Ha'azinu invite a variety of interpretations. The following is one such example (Deuteronomy 32:18):
tzur y'lad'cha teshi, vatishkach e-l m'chol'lecha
Although the second part of the verse is the subject of some discussion by the commentaries, a straightforward translation is possible:
. . . and you forgot G-d Who produced you.
This speaks of how the Children of Israel, unmindful that they are indebted to Hashem for their very existence, forget Him and embrace any of the various "new gods" that each era generates. The imagery is reminiscent of a child who neglects his parent. Time and again, we have been guilty of this type of ingratitude.
It is the first part of the verse that we will analyze here. Typically, the poetry of the Tanach (Bible) is chiastic, meaning that the two parts of the verse say essentially the same idea in different words. A number of commentaries understand the first part of our verse this way, as we shall see. Still, it is possible that the first part of the verse contains a different idea.
tzur, usually understood as "rock," is often identified with Hashem, the Rock of existence; it would then parallel e-l (G-d) in the second half of the verse.
The Sifrei (Tannaitic legal commentary) and Ibn-Ezra (12th century Spain), however, quote the verse from Isaiah 51:1, "look to the rock from which you were quarried," there, tzur refers to the Patriarchs. According to this interpretation, the people first ignore their noble origins, and this leads to forgetting Hashem.
Most commentaries, starting with Rashi and Ibn-Ezra, say that tav-shin-yud derives from the root word noon-shin-hei, which means "to forget" or "to release." Both the noon and the hei are weak letters grammatically and drop out, the hei in this case replaced by a yud. Ibn-Ezra gives other examples of this kind of substitution: tav is the prefix for the second person in the imperfect tense. The resultant word, t'shi, becomes teshi.