Haftarah Parshat Bemidbar
May 26, 2012
5 Sivan 5772
The opening verses of this week’s haftarah (2:1-3) are a hiatus from the bleak message found in the first chapter of the prophet’s message and its continuation in the second chapter (2:4-15) where the nation of Israel’s idolatrous portents are portrayed as those of a disloyal wife. In a startling reversal, the prophet blesses the nation: “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 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!’”
The fact that these blessings seemingly interrupt a larger prophecy was not lost on the rabbinic sages who sought to glean a message from this literary peculiarity: “Rabbi Akiva said: ‘We learn something from the fact that passages are juxtaposed one next to the other.’ Rabbi [in disagreement] said: ‘Many passages that are juxtaposed are distant from each other as the east is from the west.’ For example: You say: ‘You are not My people’ (Hosea 1:9) and [then] say: ‘The number of My people shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or counted.’ (2:1) What does one verse have to do with the other? A parable: [This can be compared] to a king who became angry at his wife. He sent for a scribe (sofer) to come and write for him a get (a bill of divorcement). Before the scribe could arrive, the king reconciled with his wife. Said the king, How can I let the scribe leave without having done any work? So the king said to the scribe: ‘Come write that I double the amount in my wife’s ketuba (wedding contract}. This is what we are to learn from the juxtaposition of these two verses.” (adapted from Sifre Bemidbar 131 Horowitz ed. pp. 169-70)
Rabbi Akiva sees an immediate connection whenever two passages are adjoined. Rabbi disagrees and notes that two adjoined passages may not be related at all. It is hard to know from the passage which of these two sages is the author of the parable, but the author of the parable offers it in order to connect these seemingly opposing verses in Hosea. He wants us to note that relationships, including the one between God and Israel, have ups and downs, some of them quite serious. This, however, does not mean that there can be no reconciliation. The relationship between God and Israel, might at times, seem to be at a breaking point. This interpretation wants us to know that even when the relationship seems to be at its nadir, God’s love for His people will be reinvigorated and come back stronger than ever. There is always hope and always the ability to restore our relationship with God. God’s will is there. Ours should be 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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