May 19, 2007
This week\’s haftarah opens its message on a positive note: \”The number of the people of Israel shall be like the sands of the sea, which cannot be measured or counted; and instead of being told: \’You are Not My People,\’ they shall be called \’Children of the Living God\’. The people of Judah and the people of Israel shall assemble together and appoint one head over them; and they shall rise from the ground – for marvelous shall be the day of Jezreel! Oh, call your brothers \’My people\’ and your sisters \’Lovingly Accepted\’\” (Verses 1-3) However, immediately afterwards, the prophet continues from the first chapter, his tirade against the people\’s disloyalty to God. This curious juxtaposition was noticed by Rabbi Joseph Kara (12th century France), who commented: \”Thus is the manner of [biblical] reproof, everywhere you find reproof, you find consolation at its side.\”
This same tact is found later in the prophecy. Hosea, who is famous for using the metaphor of a failed marriage to describe Israel\’s disloyalty to God, eventually returns to the hope that the relationship between God and His people will ultimately be repaired. He describes the restored marriage in these words: \”And in that day, declared the Lord, You will call [Me] Ishi (my Man) and no more will you call Me Baali (my Master). (Verse 18) Rashi comments that this verse implies that the relationship between God and Israel will become one of love and not one of servitude.
The following midrash turns this outlook into a theological expression: \”Thus opened Rabbi Tanhuma bar Aba: \’For your plans are not like My plans, nor are My ways like your ways – declared the Lord\’ (Isaiah 56:8) [This means that] the qualities of the Holy One Blessed Be He are different than the qualities of flesh and blood. Flesh and blood when they declare a verdict, they do not rescind it. The Holy One Blessed Be He willingly rescinds His verdicts. Similarly, there is nary a prophet who does not strike (chastise) Israel, who does not turn and give them a bandage and cure them (offer a remedy to the sin). The mouth which said about Israel: \’You are not My [God\’s] wife\’ (Verse 4) turned around and cured this troubled relationship: \’And in that day, declared the Lord, You [Israel] will call [Me] My Man.\’ (Verse 18)\” (adapted and abridged from Pesikta Rabbati 48, Ish Shalom ed. p. 173a)
The prophet\’s message is, on the one hand, an angry one, brought on by Israel\’s disloyalty. This alienation, however, is qualified. God yearns to restore His lost intimacy and closeness with His people. God\’s response should not remain exclusively a divine one. It should become a model for human relationships as well.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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