Shabbat Parshat Vayetze - 5760
"And Yaakov Fled to the Fields of Aram " (Bereshit 12:13)
An Introduction to the "Haftarot"
What are the "Haftarot?"
The "Haftarot" are selections from the Prophets that are read on special occasions (Shabbat, the Holidays, Fast Days) after the public reading of the Torah. The origin of this practice is traced, according to the opinion of the "Levush," cited by Rabbi Moshe Weissman in his work "The Midrash says - on the Weekly Haftaros" to a time that the Jews in Eretz Yisrael were forbidden to read from the Torah. Rabbi Weissman cites Tosfos Yom Tov on Megilla 3:4 as explaining that "the ban was made by the Emperor Antiochus in the period of the Chashmonaim." A portion from the Prophets related in one or more ways to the Section of Torah that "would have been read" was selected by the Rabbis and substituted in its place.
After the decree against reading the Torah was lifted, the Rabbis allowed the practice to remain in effect. Possibly the most important reason they did this was that by preserving the practice, whereby the Rabbis had selected a portion of the Prophets that they thought was linked to the Parshah, this would shed light on how the Rabbis understood the meaning of the Parshah.
An interesting aspect of the "Haftarot" is that over the centuries, differing traditions have developed among the various Jewish communities as to what portions of the Prophets should be read on a given occasion. Among these communities are the Ashkenazim (Northern and Western Europe) and the Sephardim (Spain, Portugal, Southern Italy, North Africa, and the Arabian Countries). Sometimes the Italian Jewish Community had its own tradition which differed from the others. Sometimes the differences are substantial, and there is no overlap; other times it is simply where the "Haftarah" begins and ends, as is the case on this Shabbat, where the Sephardic tradition begins the "Haftarah" earlier in Hoshea than the Ashkenazic tradition. There is an overlapping piece, and the Ashkenazim continue past where the Sephardim stop.
Rav Yissachar Yaakovson, in his work "Chazon HaMikra," cites a thought of Dr. Yoseph Carlebach on the subject of the difference between a work of the "Neviim," the Prophets, as compared to the Five Books of Moses. The latter is typified by the multiple occurrence of the expression, "And the L-rd spoke to Moshe, to say " This expression implies that here Moshe, who was indeed the "Master of the Prophets," was acting purely as a conduit, or pipeline, for the literal "words of Hashem." This is unlike the works of the other Prophets, who are presented by Hashem with certain content to deliver, generally (Yonah is an exception) to the Jewish People, and this content is filtered and refracted through the lens of the personality and "style" of the individual Prophet. Hence, Yechezkel does not sound like Yeshayahu, and Yeshayahu does not sound like his contemporary, Hoshea.
Who was Hoshea?
Hoshea "belonged" to a group of "Minor Prophets," called that only by virtue of the quantity, not the quality of their prophetic legacy. This group was called the "Trei Asar," which means in Aramaic the number twelve. And, believe it or not, there were a dozen prophets included in this group. As a group, they rebuked the Jewish People about their continuous idol-worship and, possibly worse, for their worship of Hashem with the proper outward trappings, but with none of the required inwardness, reducing their great religion to a mockery and a meaningless shell of ritual. They also harshly criticized the people for their lack of social justice, whereby they trampled upon the rights of the underprivileged. And yet another great theme was their reliance on foreign nations for their salvation, rather than upon Hashem, Who had stood by them always and saved them from Egypt, the Seven Nations, Amalek and on and on.
Hoshea is a Prophet of extreme emotion. He portrays Hashem's legitimate anger against His People as that of a "she-bear who has lost her young, who rips open the heart of her enemy, and as a young lion, devouring its prey." (Hoshea 13:8) Yet, on the other hand, his Book is called the Book of Love, because it contains such expressions as "I will be like the dew for Israel" (Hoshea 14:6), "And let us know; let us pursue the goal of knowing Hashem as the dawn, and it will come to us as the rain, the late and the early rain, entering the earth." (Hoshea 6:3) And then the expression of engagement recited daily as we put on the "Tefilin shel Yad," near the heart, "And I will betroth you unto Me forever, and I will betroth you unto Me in righteousness and justice, and with kindness, and with mercy, and you will know Hashem." (Hoshea 2:21-22)
A Link to the Parshah
The major link between the the "Haftarah" and the Parshah is clearly the first verse in the Haftarah in the Ashkenazic tradition, and in its middle according to the Sephardic tradition, "And Yaakov fled to the field of Aram " Yaakov was forced to flee from the wrath of his brother, Esav, to Aram where he will dwell in the idolatrous house of his father-in-law, Lavan HaArami, HaRamai, the deceiver. He will completely reject the worship of idols which he is surrounded by and will observe the commands of the Torah, as he will say to Esav, "Im Lavan garty, ve-Taryag (same letters as "garty") Mitzvot Shamarti." He will work for his beloved for seven years and have his bride switched by Lavan, the "White" Liar, and his wages will be switched time and again and, at the end, Lavan will try to send him away empty-handed. And during all this period of working for Lavan, Yaakov tried to discharge his duties faithfully, enduring the heat of day and the extreme cold of night, absorbing Lavan's losses. Yaakov will say to Hashem, "I do not deserve all the goodness which You have done for your servant " (Bereshit 32:11).
Yaakov stands in stark contrast to the Jewish People, his descendants (!), who are easily swayed to idol-worship, cheat the poor, and attribute none of their success to G-d.
A key element in the Haftarah is the Section beginning "Return, O Israel unto the L-rd your G-d, for you have stumbled in your sin." The Prophet declares the tremendous power of Teshuvah, for even if a person commits a sin on purpose, if he or she does Teshuvah, the deed will be viewed by Hashem as accidental.
Why was Hoshea selected as the Prophet who would give the "Teshuvah Drashah" to the People of Israel?
Rabbi Weissman cites a Midrash which first notes that Hoshea ben Beeri was a member of the Tribe of Reuven. It then proceeds to answer the question posed by focusing on the events surrounding the sale of Yoseph by his brothers. At a critical moment, just before the sale, Reuven is absent. Where was he? According to the Midrash, he was engaged in Teshuvah for his sin of involving himself, for the sake of his mother, in his father's private affairs. And the Torah itself testified that Reuven wanted to pull Yoseph out of the pit and return him to his father.
For his pure intentions, Reuven was rewarded with having one of his descendants, the Prophet Hoshea, deliver the Message of Teshuvah to the Jewish People.
One of the concluding blessings recited upon the conclusion of the "Haftarah," which has particular relevance to our times, is the following, "Have mercy on Zion (Yerushalayim), for it is the central dwelling place of our lives, and save the downcast in spirit, soon and in our days. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who gives joy to Zion and to her children."
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel
Rabbi Frankel is an Educational Coordinator at the OU