(Hosea 14:2-10 Micah 7:18-20)
September 18, 2004
This Shabbat takes its special name from the first word of the first verse of the haftarah – “Shuva”. The theme of this verse is the central motif of the season: “Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have fallen because of your sin.” (Hosea 14:2) It calls upon us to end our alienation from God and promises God’s warm welcome, if we humans do our part: “I [God] will heal their affliction; generously will I take them back in love, for my anger has turned away from them.” (Verse 5)
The sages pick up on the power of God’s yearning for reconciliation, based on these verses from Hosea: “Said Rabbi Yudah: ‘Return Israel, to the Lord your God,’ even if up until this time you denied God (kofer b’ekar). Rabbi Elezar offers a parable to illustrate: ‘It is a normal occurrence that if a person embarrasses his friend in public and later wants to make amends, his friend is likely to say to him or her: \’You embarrassed me publicly and now you want to make amends privately? Gather together the people who were around when you shamed me and then I will forgive you.\’ God, however, is different. If a person curses and reviles God publicly, God will simply ask him or her to do teshuva and that if sufficient, as it is written: ‘Return to me O Israel.’” (Adapted from the Pesitka as recorded in Menorat Hamaor by Rabbi Israel Elnekaveh, Enelow ed. 3:9)
Elnekaveh records an even more daring example, found in the Sifre, the Tannaitic midrash to Deuteronomy: “’Who is like God on heaven and on earth.’ (Deut. 3:24) God acts differently than people do. With flesh and blood, only a superior official can override the decision of a subordinate but not the opposite. With regard to You, God, who can override your decisions?!… Rabbi Judah ben Bava said: ‘This can be compared with a man who was put in prison. No amount of money can buy his freedom. Here, too, God is different. He tells us: ‘Do teshuva and I will accept you.’ This is why the prophet Hosea says: ‘Return, O Israel’” (adapted from Menorat Hamaor p.11)
Teshuva is such a strong idea in our tradition that God is willing to subvert His own honor in order to allow us to repair our relationship with Him. All it takes is our effort and God will graciously avert even His own decree. What more can we ask in this season of repentance? All we must do is try.
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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