|December 3, 2009
Va-yishlah Ashkenazim: Hosea 11:7-12:12
Key terms: Judah and Ephraim
Judah and Ephraim were the first and second sons of Jacob. In 930 BCE the kingdom of Israel split with ten of the twelve tribes of Israel rejecting Solomon's son Rehoboam as their king. The Tribes of Judah and Benjamin remained loyal to Rehoboam and formed the Kingdom of Judah. The Kingdom of Judah is also referred to as the Southern Kingdom which included Jerusalem. The Kingdom of Israel is referred to as the Northern Kingdom. In prophetic literature the prophets often use the term Ephraim to describe the Northern kingdom of Israel and Judah for the Southern Kingdom. Judah existed until 586 BCE when it was conquered by the Babylonian Empire under Nebuchadnezer. A significant portion of the population was deported and the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed.
Imagine for just a moment that you and your family and most of your friends lived in New York or Paris or in its not too distant suburbs. You make decent livings and some of your friends are wealthy. Others are day laborers. Some of you used to live in the more rural, mountainous North Country but migrated to the city in search of more secure employment. The people in the North also had cities but they are more like Erie, PA or Fort Worth, Texas, that is not the cultural and intellectual hub of a New York, Toronto or Paris. On the other hand great food is grown there and you always look forward to it when it arrives in your local gourmet supermarket.
One day, all of sudden, the North declares itself independent. It's like a state succeeded from the union. Now in order to trade with your neighbor or to visit your friends in the North you have to pay a toll and carry a passport. You're not very happy about that. “Well the heck with them: you say, “they don't have Broadway. They don't have Wall Street. They don't have the Louvre.”
And they know that and respond, “The heck with you. We have our own culture. We have a religion that pre-dates yours. We have Baal, and Astarte and Dagon and we are going to worship them as we please”. And you look at what they are doing and say to yourself. “We were once a family. We shared the same historical experience, the same ancestors the same common beliefs and you have the chutzpah to change them! You're corrupting our ways! My gosh you're eating cheeseburgers! Sacrificing to other God's! You've forgotten how to do business in an honorable fashion and have begun to cheat your friends. I don't understand why you're behaving this way. I heard that you have begun to enter into alliances with foreign powers. Shame, that's never been our way. We know that if we are honest with one another and live ethically we will prosper. Stop it! Please stop it! Return, straighten out. Watch out you're going to pay a big price for your corruption!
Hosea, was born in the Northern Kingdom after it had separated from the South. In this weeks haftarah he calls to the Northern Kingdom, to Ephraim, and pleads with them to change their ways. He makes constant reference to this morning's Torah portion which is concerned with the life of Jacob. Hosea doesn't speak of Jacob as a hero but as the man who tricked his way through life. Just as Jacob the trickster had to be confronted and to wrestle with himself in order to develop into a worthy patriarch so too does Ephraim need to confront itself and change its ways.
The irony of this morning's haftarah is that Ephraim fails to do so and is absorbed into the Assyrian empire just a few decades after the haftarah was written.
Which of course is a daily challenge for us. Can we wrestle with ourselves and resolve our issues in time? Or will we be merged into something “other”, something that obscures the messages we need to learn in order to remain a holy people.
This week's Haftarah commentary was written by
Rabbi Charles Simon,
Executive Director of the FJMC and author of
"Building A Successful Volunteer Culture: Finding Meaning in Service in the Jewish"
Jewish Lights Publishing.
Translation of the Haftarah may be found here: http://www.jtsa.edu/PreBuilt/ParashahArchives/jpstext/
The FJMC weekly haftarah commentary is one of the few haftarah commentaries available on line. The USCJ through its Fuchsberg Center in Jerusalem has also been posting a weekly haftarah commentary for a number of years. We highly recommend it. If you are interested you can find a link on the left side of our weekly commentary and click through.
In 2003 the FJMC commissioned a Sefer Haftarah, a scroll consisting of all the Haftarot which follows the Haftarah order that appears in the USCJ and Rabbinical Assembly Torah translation and commentary Etz Hayim. The FJMC Sefer Haftarah visits a different synagogue in North America every week.This scroll contains vowels and cantillation and allows the haftarah reader to experience the Haftarah in a more personal way. FJMC also produces individual personalized Haftarot for those who wish to recognize a special occasion. Scrolls of Haftarot have been in use since the early middle ages.