Monday, September 2, 2013


Deuteronomy 32:1-32:52
by Ellen Dannin for Jewish Reconstructionist Communities

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

The Torah constantly puts us between a rock and a hard place . . . literally.

Take Ha'azinu, for example. A few years ago I first noticed something interesting about rocks while reading Ha'azinu, Moses' farewell poem. It is a poignant piece of literature, because it is impossible to read it without knowing that it is given in the shadow of his death. Even worse than his death, Moses is to be left behind as the children of Israel - the same people who have plagued his life through forty years in the desert - get to enter the Promised Land. Ha'azinu's gracious song of praise to God is a remarkable act under the circumstances.

Those circumstances become even more ironic, for hidden within that song, Moses seems to be twitting God. Moses refers to God as the "Rock." The parsha begins with Moses extolling God, saying, "The Rock! - His deeds are perfect, Yea, all His ways are just." (Deuteronomy 32:4) Again, this seems bittersweet, but when in context it seems mostly bitter.

Recall that the reason Moses could not enter the Promised Land was because of a rock. When the people cried for water at Kadesh, God told Moses to take his rod and before the eyes of the community order the rock to give water. So Moses took the rod as he was commanded, went to the rock in front of the community and struck it to bring forth water. God immediately told Moses that because he had not trusted enough to affirm God's sanctity, Moses cannot enter the Promised Land. (Numbers 20:6-13). Fair enough. God had said to order the rock and did not say to hit the rock. Moses did not follow orders. Others who had not followed orders precisely were struck dead immediately. This is a relatively mild punishment.

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