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'The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His paths are justice' (32:4)
'G-d - His way is perfect. The promise of G-d is flawless; He is a shield for all who take refuge in Him… Who is a Rock except for our G-d?' (Haftara - Sam. II 22:31-32; also Psalms 18:31-32)
The final Song of Moses is the principal focus of the Parasha, which for Haftara purposes is paired with the Song of David. But though both are songs, their contents appear to contrast, rather than compare. They seem to have very little in common. The Song of David expresses intense gratitude, joy, and happiness in being saved time and time again from pursuers and ill-wishers. The final Song of Moses is very different. It is a grim warning of the suffering and calamities that await the Israelites when they 'stray from the path' which G-d 'commanded' (31:29).
What, therefore, have the Parasha and the Haftara in common, apart from being Biblical songs, and occurring near the respective ends of the narratives of Moses and David?
In reply, there are two words which characterize both Songs. They are zur and tamim.
Zur translates literally as 'rock', but when used a euphemism for G-d, refers to His being a 'strong-as-a-rock' source of strength (Radak to Sam. II 22:2). It also denotes His being as unchanging in nature as a rock in keeping His promise of eventual redemption no matter how far the Israelites stray (S'forno to 31:4).
Tamim means exact and fair (Rashi to 31:4). In this context, the Kli Yakar (to 31:4) notes Kohelet's contrast with human nature, where one seeks to justify one's misconduct with elaborate rationales and excuses: 'G-d has made people straightforward, but they seek many intriguing justifications' (Eccl. 7:29). David did not behave that way. When told by the Prophet Nathan: 'You are the man!' he acknowledged with due humility: 'I have sinned to G-d' (Sam. II 12:13). He did not attempt 'many intriguing justifications' for the circumstances in which he came to sleep with Bathsheba, which a reading of the previous chapter suggests he could have made. Thus he declares in the Haftara: 'I was perfect with Him' - he had been 'exact and fair' with Him, even though he did not keep 'exactly and fairly' to His standards. He knew he was in the wrong, and he did not attempt to argue by means of legal and moral technicalities.
Consideration of these two key words gives a different perspective of these two passages, and links them together. The Israelites were to enter the Promised Land, and they would in due course find themselves face to face with the idolatrous culture of the indigenous pagans. How would they react? Would they reject all it would have to offer? Would they consider that culture carefully and learn from its positive points only? Or would they take the other extreme and throw overboard their Torah teachings and assimilate with the Canaanite tribes?
The answer to these questions is given by the Parasha. The final Song of Moses records that only G-d is 'the' tzur - the source of their strength. And His standards are tamim - consistent; not complicated by ingenious, but false rationales to serve the exigencies of the moment and the situation. And Song of David exemplifies these very qualities - David does not claim he was perfect, but that His standards - tamim - underlay his conduct even when he made a serious mistake - 'I have sinned to G-d'. And though He punished him with the deaths of his unnamed infant son, his eldest son Amnon, and his patricidal third son Absalom, and tribal rebellious activity against his 'Judean factor', He remained zur - The Rock - a consistent source of strength of to David, which he declared with:
'G-d lives! My Rock is my source of strength… He is a tower of salvation to His king and does kindness to His anointed one, to David and to his descendants, for ever' (Sam. II 22:47,51).
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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