The Rock: Framing the Torah

In this week’s Torah Portion, Haazinu, in which we are only a chapter away from the end of the entire Torah, we learn a new name for G-d: Tzur (Rock). In contrast to Shakespeare’s, “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” Jewish tradition makes a big deal out of names. Why do we get this new name for G-d in the final moments of the story? Why this particular name at this particular time?

There are several interesting ways to answer this question. First, perhaps we keep getting new names for G-d because our relationship continues to evolve, and because this is not, in fact, the end of our story together, but a new beginning. The Children of Israel on the cusp of returning to their homeland, and the process is violent – perhaps we need the attribute of a solid, immovable deity in this moment. Finally, my favorite is to note that the Hebrew root of “tzur” is linked to the root “yetizirah” (creation). In many ways the Torah is framed by words that link the end of the 5 books to the beginning – there are several other words mentioned in these final chapters that we haven’t seen since the opening lines of Breisheet (Genesis).

This creates a frame within which we can understand some of the core concepts of the story, including key features of divinity. In this case, linking the very characteristic that links humans to G-d (the ability to create) with an evolving relationship between humans and G-d offers some very nuanced and complex ways of approaching relating to the divine.

Framing is has a very powerful impact on how we experience our world – when we tend to frame choices as losses, we are more likely to make conservative choices, whereas decisions framed as gains will make us more likely to take risks. This is known in psychology as the framing effect (an example of cognitive bias), and is an important feature of how we think and feel. The Torah, in book-ending the narrative with deep aspects of the relationship between humans and G-d, offers an important frame with which to understand what this book is really all about: Human-Divine relationship, and Human-Human relationship. It is not a history text or a science book – it is a spiritual journey that we can use to create meaning in our lives every day.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sukkot Sameach!