Towards the beginning of our poetic and penultimate parsha, the Torah relates that the Jewish people sin and receive a harsh punishment. The other nations of the world, the Torah cautions, are not to view this setback as their own doing nor the doing of their powerless gods — for it was the Jewish God and the Jewish God alone that led His people into their hands. The Torah states as follows:
כִּי לֹא כְצוּרֵנוּ צוּרָם וְאֹיְבֵינוּ פְּלִילִים׃
For their rock is not like our Rock, In our enemies’ own estimation.
With this brief background, we can now turn our attention to the comment of Rashi which we shall be focusing on:
כי לא כצורנו צורם. כל זה היה להם לאויבים להבין שהשם הסגירם ולא להם ולאלהיהם הנצחון, שהרי עד הנה לא יכלו כלום אלהיהם כנגד צורנו, כי לא כסלענו סלעם כל צור שבמקרא לשון סלע:
FOR THEIR ROCK IS NOT AS OUR ROCK — all this the enemies should have understood, — that it is the Lord who delivered them (the Israelites) into their hands, and the victory is neither theirs nor their god’s, for until now their gods could achieve nothing against our Rock, “for not as our Rock is their Rock”. — Every time the word צור appears in Scripture it means “rock.”
Rashi is perfectly in line with all that we have said, that is, until the rather perplexing final line of his gloss here. Why would Rashi need to explain a word as seemingly obvious and clear as “rock?” The word “צור” has appeared previously in the Torah without Rashi feeling the need to comment at all. Indeed, the word “צור” appears in our very parsha five times prior to this instance, and yet in all those cases Rashi is silent. Why does Rashi specifically tell us what this straightforward word means here?
R. Avigdor Bonchek is bothered by this question and proposes a fascinating resolution in the name of Nechama Leibowitz. While still quite simple, the word “צור” can, in fact, have two possible meanings. The more common and straightforward meaning is “rock,” but it can just as well mean “creator,” as in the famous verse “כי ביה ה' צור עולמים” or “for with [the name] yud-hey HaShem created worlds (see Isaiah 26:4 and Rashi to Genesis 2:4).” Due to this sometimes possible secondary meaning of the word “צור,” Rashi felt the need to comment on its use in our verse specifically. Why? Because Rashi first and foremost comments in order to educate. In all the previous instances that the word “צור” appears in the Torah it refers obviously and exclusively to HaShem, and thus makes little theological difference if it is rendered as “rock” or “Creator” since both are fitting, accurate, and true when it comes to HaShem. In the instance of the word “צור” in our verse above, however, it refers to the false and powerless gods of other nations. While certainly it is fair to call the gods of other nations “rock” — as they do indeed give strength to those that believe in them — Rashi had to make certain that it was clear that the Torah would never refer to false gods as “creator.”
While Rashi assists in translating difficult words throughout Tanach on a regular basis, when he takes the time to translate a word that is rather quite simple, the reason is sometimes a little difficult to uncover. As is so often the case, what emerges is well worth the effort.