Haftarah of Parshat
Bamidbar - 5761
Hoshea the Prophet
"And I Will Betroth You unto Me Forever…" (Hoshea 2:21)
In the second chapter of the Book called by his name, we find the Prophet Hoshea working between clashing extremes. One such pair is "Onesh," Punishment and "Sechar," Reward. Another is "Lo Ruchama," She who is denied G-d's Mercy, and "Ruchama," She who has regained G-d's Mercy. Still another is national rejection by HaShem, "Lo ami atem," You are not My People; the other end of that extreme is re-identification of Israel with G-d, "Ami Atah," You are My People.
These appear against a central motif of the faithless wife, on one side; on the other, the faithful and loyal wife and young bride.
Analysis of Chapter by Sections
Hoshea speaks of the distant future, the time of the "Mashiach," when the Jewish People will again be called "My People" and "Sisters who have regained G-d's Mercy."
The Children of Israel are urged to chastise their Mother Israel, who has reduced herself to the level of the unfaithful wife. She behaves impudently, adorning herself for her false "lovers," endangering herself and her children. Convinced that her "lovers" will protect her and supply her with all her needs, she abandons her original husband.
HaShem threatens that He will punish faithless Israel, until she says "I will return to my first 'Husband,' for it was better for me then than now."
He will withhold her physical sustenance from the earth and the sky.
He will eliminate the spiritual holidays and delights that used to be part of her lifestyle.
He will punish her severely to atone for all the years that she behaved disloyally.
HaShem will restore the relationship of intimacy between Himself and Israel, and turn all the harsh punishments into great blessings.
RASHI raises the following question, to which he offers three answers:
The first Chapter ended on a note of punishment; yet, suddenly, at the very beginning of Chapter 2, we find tremendous blessings issuing from the Prophet's mouth! What is the link between the chapters?
Answer 1) "Our Rabbis have explained in Masechet Pesachim that Hoshea felt that he had sinned by suggesting to G-d that He exchange sinful Israel for another nation (this suggestion is not recorded in the Book of Hoshea itself, bit it is part of the Rabbinic tradition that Hoshea did in fact make such a suggestion). To atone for that sin, he here prayed to G-d that He bestow these blessings upon Israel. Thus, the introductory verse at least of Chapter 2, is more a Prayer than a Prophecy."
Answer 2) "In the Midrash 'Sifre D'vei Rav' on the Torah Section 'And Israel dwelt in Shitim,' we learned, 'Rebbe (Rabbi Judah the Prince) said, 'There are sections in the Bible as different from each other as the East is from the West, as here, 'for you are not My People' followed immediately by 'And the number of the People of Israel will be as the sand of the sea' - What is the connection between these two seemingly opposite ideas?
One can compare it to a parable of a King and his wife where the King got angry at his wife and decided to divorce her. He sent for a scribe to come and write a writ of divorce (a 'get'). By the time the scribe was about to arrive, the King had reconciled with his wife and no longer wished to divorce her. Then the King thought, 'I don't want the scribe to think that I am confused or indecisive,' so he told the scribe to write a document stating that the King wishes to double the amounts stated in her 'Ketuvah' (the document in which certain financial obligations between the husband and the wife are specified)."
Answer 3) "According to the simple interpretation, this is the explanation of the proximity, 'For you are not My People and I will not be on your side' means 'I will make it appear as if I am not on your side and I will exile you among the nations. There you will grow and prosper, and there you will have a change of heart, and return to Me, as it was said by Moshe (Devarim 30) 'And you will have a change of heart among all the nations among whom He pushed you away…;' 'And HaShem your G-d will return your captivity…;' here also we can similarly explain the proximity of 'And the Children of Yehudah and the Children of Yisrael will be gathered together…' "
"And the Children of Yehudah and the Children of Yisrael will be gathered" - RADAK (Rabbi David Kimchi) explains that this must refer to the time of the "Mashiach" because then we will see the return from Exile of Yehudah and (according to the opinion that the Ten Tribes will return) Yisrael, while at the time of the return from Babylonia, only the Tribes of Yehudah and Binyamin returned.
"And they will place at their head one individual" - This refers to the "Mashiach."
"For great is the Day of Yizre'el" - RADAK explains the word 'great' here as referring to the length of the time since the "breaking of the bow of Israel in the Valley of Yizre'el;" that is, the length of the present Exile has been very great.
Metzudat David disagrees, and explains the word "great" as indicating the honor of the day on which HaShem will bring back and unite the People of Israel at the time of the "Mashiach."
Metzudat David explains that this "Passuk" is addressed to the People of the Kingdom of Yehudah at that time (of the "Mashiach"). "Say to your brothers in the Kingdom of Yisrael (The Ten "Lost" Tribes) that, even though when they were exiled, HaShem said about them that they were "Not My People," now they are welcomed back into the fold, and they are included in 'Ami,' My People, and the "sister Ruchama," refers to the women of the returning Ten Tribes.
As explained in the Introduction, here the individuals making up the Jewish People are told to chastise the collective Mother Israel for allowing "herself" to fall into a state of degradation. She has persuaded herself that she is "better off" with her new "lovers."
"The day of her birth" - The reference, according to RADAK, is to the time preceding Israel's birth as a nation, when they were still slaves in Egypt.
"Thirst" - The reference may be to the thirst for Torah; that HaShem would return them to Pre-Torah status.
"And I will not have compassion upon her children" - Metzudat David quotes the Talmud, where it is stated that when the sin is great enough, even the righteous are drawn into the general punishment.
RADAK mentions two possibilities as to the identity of these "false lovers." One is that the reference is to "Ashur and Mitzrayim," upon whom Israel relied for military help in time of danger, instead of relying on G-d. During peace, those nations could pretend to be real allies, because there were no problems anyway, but when real danger presented itself, they were of no more help than a "broken reed."
The other possibility is that the reference is to the sun, the moon and the stars, upon whom Israel depended, and ultimately worshipped, because they felt that as providers of light, heat, and astrological signs, they were real gods, and abandoned the Creator of those elements of Nature.
These are indeed false lovers, as indicated by use of the expression "me'ahavai," those who pretend to be my lovers, rather than "ohavai," those who really love me.
RADAK explains that HaShem says that He will, and indeed He did, as it were, "block their path with thorns," so that they could not escape the sword, and their false allies/"lovers" failed them in their hour of need.
"And she will pursue" - RADAK explains the pursuit in terms of the two possibilities of the identities of the false "lovers;" Ashur and Mitzrayim, or the stars and the Signs of the Zodiac. If the first, their pleadings for military assistance did not help them; if the second, their attempts to obtain the services of those false "gods" and their associated false "prophets" to intervene on their behalf, also failed completely.
"And she will say, 'let me go back to my "First Husband," for it was better for me then.' " - RADAK explains that "She" (Israel) will not say this until a long time into their last Exile, as it says, "When you have suffered, and all these punishments happen to you, at the End of Days, then you will return to HaShem your G-d."
"And she did not understand" - RADAK explains the reason that she did not understand was that she was misled by her leaders and by the False Prophets into believing that I had nothing to do with all their blessings. But in fact, I had everything to do with providing them.
So Israel "got fat and self-satisfied and kicked at the Torah," and donated all their gold and silver to the cult of Baal.
"Therefore I will return" - RADAK explains the meaning as follows: "Therefore, says HaShem, I will turn all your blessings into curses; the produce of your fields and vineyards will be reduced to nothing, and the profits from your business ventures will disappear as if they had been stored in a room with a hole in the floor."
Here, the RADAK continues, the word "Ve'hitzalti" means that "I will take away," as when Rachel and Leah say to Yaakov (Bereshit 31:16), "all the wealth that HaShem 'hitzil me'avinu,' " meaning all the wealth that HaShem took away from our father, "is ours and our children's."
"And no one will be able to save her from my hand" - RADAK introduces the idea of "tama zechut avot;" that is, the merit of the forefathers has run out. By this, he explains that "no one" is meant to include the "Avot," the forefathers of the Jewish People, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov; not even they can save the Jewish People! The reason is that the behavior of their descendants has been so undeserving that even the "merit of the forefathers," that might have seemed an inexhaustible supply of good that could have accrued to the benefit of the descendants, will be exhausted!
"… her feasts, … and all her appointed seasons." RADAK quotes Rav Saadiah Gaon as explaining that "feasts" refers to the "Shalosh Regalim," Pesach," "Shavuot," and "Sukkot," while appointed seasons refer to Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur and Shemini Atzeret. Here, Shemini Atzeret is grouped with Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, High Holy Days that are associated with Judgment and Atonement, because it is on Shemini Atzeret that the world is judged for its supply of life-giving rain.
"and decked herself with her earrings and with her jewels" - This continues the metaphor of the faithless wife, who beautifies herself for her lovers.
"…I will allure her…" - RADAK explains that the reference is to the Jewish People doing "Teshuvah," Repentance, in the "desert" of the Exile. The "alluring" and "seduction" refer to when someone convinces another to change his ways, so will HaShem, as it were, put into their hearts of the Jewish People the idea of returning to Him. As it says (with reference to the first recorded heart-transplant), "And I will remove the heart of stone from their body and replace it with a heart of flesh."
Metzudat David says that Hoshea continues the metaphor of the wayward wife - her redemption comes when her husband leads her into a "desert," a secluded place, with no other influences, and speaks soothingly and persuasively to her, convincing her to return to him.
"And I will give her, her vineyards from there,…" - RASHI, quoting Targum Yonatan, explains the reference to "vineyards" as referring to "leaders." And the overall meaning to be that HaShem will use the "Galut," the Exile, as a purifying place for the Jewish People, where new leaders will be developed.
And he explains the expression "Valley of Achor," using the idea that "Achor" connotes sadness and depression, as follows: "from the depth of the travails of the Exile," the Jewish People will be moved to return to HaShem.
RADAK explains the idea of the transformation of the "Valley of Achor to a Gateway of Hope" by reminding us that when the People of Israel first entered "Eretz Yisrael," the Land of Israel, their progress came to a screeching halt at the Valley of Achor, where Achan took personal items from the "Cherem," the forbidden booty of war, and HaShem temporarily abandoned the Jewish army. Here HaShem says that when the time of Redemption comes, there is no need to fear that anything like that will happen, that will cause Him to even temporarily abandon the Jewish People (we must hope that we have not now betrayed HaShem to the extent that He is re-thinking our rights to His protection in the Land of Israel).
"…that you will call Me your husband, and no longer call Me your Master,…"
RASHI explains that the word "Ishi," my husband, the beloved husband of my youth, has the connotation, when referred to HaShem, of worship out of love, rather than worship from the motivation of fear, as "Baali," my Master, does.
RADAK adds the idea that the name "Baal" has a double meaning; namely "husband" and the idol called "Baal;" therefore, the name "Baal" will no longer be used, even in the appropriate meaning, lest usage of the name arouse thoughts of the idol.
"And I will remove…" - RADAK comments that this is an example of HaShem acting in the manner of "HaBa litaher, mesayin oso;" that is, if one wishes to become purified, he is assisted from above.
RADAK quotes Rabbi Saadiah Gaon, who explains "from her mouth" as referring to the People of Israel, while "by their name" refers to the nations of the world, who, at the time of the "Mashiach," will also come to the worship of HaShem.
"…a covenant with the beasts of the field…" and "the bow and the sword and war altogether I will remove from the Land" - RADAK relates these beautiful prophecies to the prophecies of Yeshayahu in Chapter 11 of his Sefer. Although actually, this would probably be the earlier prophecy to speak in these terms, since Hoshea preceded Yeshayahu.
In any case, there is a well-known dispute between the RAMBAM and the RAMBAN as to the meaning of these promises. According to the RAMBAM, they are not to be taken literally, but rather the promise of a covenant with the animals of the field refers to the enemies of Israel, who will forever forswear war against the Jewish People. According to the RAMBAN, there will actually be a change in Nature, and the world will return to the way it was at the time of Creation, in the Garden of Eden.
"…And I will
betroth you unto Me in righteousness and in justice, and in lovingkindness
and in compassion."
When the Jewish People neglect righteousness and justice, HaShem holds back on lovingkindness and compassion. We see the neglect in Amos (5:7), "You who turn justice to wormwood, and cast righteousness to the ground," and the holding back in Yirmiyahu (16:5), "for I have taken away My peace from this People, even My lovingkindness and compassion."
But when they return to doing justice and righteousness, as it says in Yeshayahu (1:27), "Zion will be redeemed in justice and those who return, in righteousness," HaShem will return lovingkindness and compassion to them.
And HaShem will sew these four attributes together into a crown, and place it on the head of Israel. Perhaps the placement of this "crown" will represent the return of their "Jewelry," to the People of Israel, that they had been commanded to remove after they worshipped the Golden Calf at the foot of Mt. Sinai.
As we read in Shemot (33) first that the Children of Israel, after having heard G-d's anger against them, felt themselves that they were no longer entitled to the "Jewelry" and in Shemot (33:4) it says, "And the People heard this bad news and they went into mourning and no one put his Jewelry on." HaShem made this curse official when He said in the next verse, "…and now, take off your Jewelry, and I will know what to do with you." And finally, it says there Shemot (33:6), "The Children of Israel stripped themselves of their Jewelry , at Mt. Chorev."
And perhaps also, it is because the removal of Jewelry is mentioned three times there, and it is also mentioned here in Hoshea 2:15, when the wayward People of Israel put on its jewelry for the wrong reason, as it says, "And she decked herself with her earrings and her jewels," that HaShem says in these "p'sukim"/verses that He will betroth Israel to Himself three times.
RADAK explains the three-fold occurrence of "And I will betroth you unto Me" as corresponding to the three Exiles into which Israel has gone over its long history; namely, the Exile of "Mitzrayim," Egypt, the Exile of "Bavel," Babylonia, and the Exile in which we currently and for the last two thousand years have found ourselves. Each time that HaShem redeems us from one of those Exiles, the aspect that is missing from that Redemption is added to the Final Redemption. Thus, when we were redeemed from Egypt, it was not a permanent Redemption, for we were exiled again. Therefore, the aspect of "permanence" was added to the final Redemption.
Similarly, when we were redeemed from "Bavel," it wasn't because we had adopted the characteristics of "Justice" and "Righteousness," "Kindness" and "Compassion." Because we were still pretty much in the Galut mentality, and came back as desecrators of the Shabbat, married in many cases to non-Jewish women, maintaining our fellow Jews as slaves and appropriating their property. Therefore, HaShem says that before the final Redemption, we will do "Teshuvah," as Moshe says twice to the People of Israel in his final address to them at the Plains of Moav on the eve of their entry into the Land of Israel (Devarim 4:30 and 30:2), "And you will return to HaShem your G-d."
And then HaShem will be able to say (Hoshea 2:21), "I will betroth you unto Me in Righteousness and Justice, in Kindness and Compassion."
"…And you will know HaShem."
RADAK and Metzudat David explain that at that time, the time of the Final Redemption, there will be a tremendous increase in the "Knowledge of HaShem," Who will return His Divine Presence to the world, and a far greater understanding of Torah will be found among young and old alike.
Hoshea 2:23 - Hoshea 2:25
In the final "p'sukim" of this Chapter, Hoshea closes powerfully with a mighty resonance according to RASHI and with a similar dialogue, according to the RADAK. And we'll close with the Metzudat David.
RASHI says that HaShem will call to the heavenly stream of water, that is called the "Peleg," that is suspended by an Utterance, (referred to in "Tefilat Geshem," the Prayer for Rain that is said on Shmini Atzeret), to pour water into the heavens, and the heavens will respond by pouring rain onto the earth. And the earth will respond by producing grain, wine and oil for blessing for Yizrael/Israel and for the whole world.
RADAK explains the meaning of "answering" in these "p'sukim" as that HaShem brings His Will into synchronization with the "will" of the heavens, which is to drop rain, and with the "will" of the earth, which is, according to the plan of Creation, to produce grain, wine and oil for a blessing.
Metzudat David says that HaShem will, as
it were, plant the Jewish People in its own Land, in contrast to being
planted in the Exile. He will pour His Mercy and Compassion upon the nation
that He previously called "not pitied." And He will once again say to
the nation that He once called "not My People," You are My People,
and that People will respond, "You are my G-d."
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel
Rabbi Frankel is an Educational Coordinator at the OU