Parashat Ha'azinu

Remember Your Rock, Your Creator

Moshe poetically reminds the Children of Israel of the importance of remembering God who created them.

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For examples of noon-shin-hei, we might compare Jeremiah 23:39 and Genesis 41:51, where Haketav V'hakabbalah (Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg, 1785-1865), explains that this verb means "to loosen one's focus on an idea," which is followed by forgetting (shin-chaf-chet, as in vatishkach). Thus, our verse charts a downward course, in which the people first allow themselves to be distracted from Hashem, and then they forget Him entirely.

Hirsch does not accept Ibn-Ezra's grammatical analysis, especially because the loss of the noon should result in the addition of a dagesh (dot) in the shin. Thus, he posits a different root for teshi, shin-yud-hei, which he connects with shai, a gift of allegiance. Hirsch's translation thus reads:

The Rock had hardly brought you into the world,

And you gave your allegiance--offering to others,

And forgot G-d while He is still forming you.

Haketav V'hakabbalah cites R. Wolf Heidenheim (1757-1832), who agrees that the root here is shin-yud-hei. Unlike Hirsch however, he classifies this root with others in which the shin is dominant, surrounded by other weak letters (such as noon, yud and hei). The prevalent idea in all of these is "to relinquish," so the reading of the first part of the verse is parallel to the second:

The Rock Who bore you, you ignored/ and you forgot G-d Who produced you.

A radically different approach, found in the Midrash (Sifrei, Bamidbar Rabbah) and quoted by Rashi, is to regard the tav of teshi as part of the root, rather than the prefix for the second person in the imperfect tense. The word would thus be based on tav-shin-shin (a word which does not otherwise appear in Tanach), meaning "to weaken." Two possible interpretations, which do not view the verse as structured chiastically, follow:

1. Torah Temimah (Baruch ben Yechiel Michel HaLevi Epstein 1860-1942) understands teshi as a noun. He reads the verse:

The Rock bore you, weak one; but you forgot G-d Who produced you.

2. Rashi, quoting the midrashim above, explains that the Children of Israel weakened the power of Hashem by forgetting Him: whenever Hashem begins to benefit them, they anger Him through their infidelities, "weakening" His power. The Sifrei cites two examples of Israel's fickleness: After the splitting of the Sea, the people sang praise and thanks to Him, but soon thereafter they complained, "Why have you taken us out of Egypt?" (Exodus 17:3); and, at Sinai, the people pledged their complete loyalty to Hashem, yet forty days later they built the golden calf.

The most difficult aspect of this last interpretation is the notion that the people can weaken the power of Hashem. Yehudah Loew ben Betzalel, known as the Maharal of Prague (c. 1525-1609), in his commentary on Rashi, Gur Aryeh, notes that it is not Hashem Himself Who is weakened, G-d forbid, since that is impossible; rather, the effect of His power is weakened by their sins. Although Hashem desires to give, if those meant to receive are unfit, then His power--meaning His manifestation in the physical world--is not realized. This, concludes the Maharal, is a very marvelous notion.

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Rabbi Avraham Fischer

Avraham Fischer is a rabbi at Darche Noam Institutions.