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Bemidbar 5771

Haftarah Parshat Bemidbar
(Hosea 2:1-22)
May 28, 2011
24 Iyar 5771

Parshat Bemidbar (Hosea 2:1-22)

Hosea’s message opens with a blessing: “The number of the people of Israel shall be like that of the sands of the sea, which cannot be measured or counted; and instead of being told, ‘You are not My people, they are called Children of the Living God.’” (2:1) This blessing follows a very harsh admonition in which God counsels Hosea to marry a harlot and name his son “lo ammi – not My people” in order to register His disapproval of people’s misbehavior and disloyalty: “And He said: ‘Call his name lo ammi: for you are not My people and I will not be yours.’” (1:9)

The rabbinic sages recognized this anomaly, noting that this passage counts among those biblical passage that, while juxtaposed in the biblical text, are “as distant from each other as east from west”. These same sages explained the juxtaposition with a parable: “This is like a king who became angry with his wife. He sent for a scribe to write her a get (a divorce). Before the scribe managed to arrive, the king reconciled with his wife. Can I let this scribe leave without employing him? So he said to him: ‘Come write for me that I double the worth of her ketubbah (her wedding contract). This explains why the blessing follows immediately after the prophet’s reproach.” (Adapted from Sifre Bemidbar 131)

The sages’ analogy is apropos and may not be far from the intended literary meaning of the prophetic message. In this parable, the king’s wife, representing Israel, has wronged the king (God). His estrangement from his wife has kindled his anger, prompting him to divorce his wife. Yet, his reconciliation with her reinforces his love for her, making their relationship even stronger, hence the doubling of the ketubbah. Hosea uses very similar imagery. He uses the image of a failed marriage to illustrate the strains in the relationship between God and His people. Still, he envisions a reunion between God and His people which will erase the bitterness of the past. This idea is embodied in the closing line of the haftarah: “And I will espouse you forever: I will espouse you with righteousness and justice, and with goodness and mercy, and I will espouse you with faithfulness; then you shall be devoted to the Lord. (2:22)

The juxtaposition of these two alternatives is the core of the message. Surely, love, loyalty and faithfulness should win out.

About This Commentary

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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