|December 2, 2011 / 6 Kislev, 5772|
The prophet of this week's haftarah, Hosea ben Be'eri, lived in the 8th century BCE among the 10 tribes that constituted the Northern Kingdom of Israel. It was to his fellow Israelites, then, that his prophecies were directed.
The haftarah for Parashat Va-yetzei consists of the last 2 chapters of Hosea's writings. Alternately referring to the ten northern tribes as "Ephraim" (using the name of the leading tribe of the ten to refer to the entire kingdom) and "Samaria" (the name of the capital city, just as we might today use "Washington" as a stand-in for the United States), Hosea lights into his countrymen for abandoning their only source of salvation - God - in favor of "molten images" (Hos. 13:2) made by the hand of humans and worshipped through rituals as disgusting and degrading as kissing these silver and gold idols. Hosea insists that it is God Who must be worshipped, God Whose word is true, God to Whom the people must turn, if the people are to be saved.
To buttress his argument, Hosea references the history of the people as proof of God's love of them and actions on their behalf. God was there, Hosea proclaims, when Jacob fled from his brother Esau to go to live in Aram (the story we read in this week's parashah, which is the connection our Sages used in bringing this text as the haftarah). God was there for the Exodus and watched over the people "in the desert, in a thirsty land". (Hos. 13:5) But when the people forget God, when they become arrogant in their contentment, God destroys them, like a lion or a leopard or a bear devouring prey. God even has the power to save them from death, Hosea insists, if only they would remember God.
The conclusion of the haftarah - which is also the conclusion of Hosea's book - is his prescription for what the Israelites must do in light of their apostasy. It is "Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God". (Hos. 14:2) And if that ringing cry sounds familiar, it is because these last nine verses of this week's haftarah are the opening nine verses of the haftarah we read on the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur; in fact, it is the first word - "Shuvah" - of this passage that gives that Shabbat its distinct name, Shabbat Shuvah. Hosea urges the people to rely on God and God's mercy rather than the military might of Assyria, to speak to God asking for forgiveness rather than bringing more sacrifices, to acknowledge sin and guilt in their actions rather than brazenly insisting that "our handiwork is our god" (14:4) If only they will return to God, God will take them back and make their lives sweet and prosperous! If only they will reject idols and rely wholeheartedly on God, Go d will heal them and use the Divine power to give them ease! If only!
As it happens, we know the end of the story. Rejecting Hosea's prophetic utterances, the Northern Kingdom continued to rely on diplomatic and military maneuverings, which led to their defeat and exile at the hands of the Assyrians in 721 BCE. The result: we never see these "ten lost tribes" again in Jewish history. But the words of our prophet Hosea continue to ring true for us. A month and a half after Shabbat Shuvah, we are reminded once again of that truth.
This week's Haftarah commentary was written by
Rabbi Joel Schwab. Rabbi Schwab has served as the religious leader of Temple Sinai in Middletown, NY for 28 years. He co-founded and served as the first chair of the Jewish Family Service of Orange County and is on the Board of the Jewish Federation of Orange County. He was the first rabbi to serve as the president of the Middletown Interfaith Council, has remained active on the council and is now the chair of the Interfaith Clergy Group. He has been on the Board of the only homeless shelter in Orange County for over 20 years and is the Board president. He is a member of the Human Rights Commission of Orange County by appointment of the County Executive. As the senior rabbi in the county, Rabbi Schwab is the convening chair of the county Klei Kodesh, the organization of rabbis and cantors in the area. Rabbi Schwab also serves as the Jewish chaplain at the Mid-Hudson Psychiatric Center.
The opinions expressed in this Unraveller are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the FJMC.
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