Haftarah Parshat Haazinu-Shabbat Shuva
(Hosea 14:2-10; Joel 2:15-27)
September 7, 2013
03 Tishre 5774
The special name for the Shabbat between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur (Shabbat Shuva) derives from the first line of this week’s haftarah: “Return O Israel (Shuva Yisrael), to the Lord your God, for you have fallen because of your sin.” This verse encapsulates the very essence of what this season is about -reconciliation with God. To attain this reconciliation, we must become cognizant of our wrong doings and seek to right our ways.
No other verse in the prophets offers this message as concisely. Perhaps this explains the choice of this haftarah for this Shabbat. The sages, on the other hand, in their interpretation of this verse, use references from other prophets to thrash out the process of repentance more fully. The following midrash uses a verse from Proverbs to express the importance of “viddui – confession”: “’Conceal your faults and you will not prosper; confess and give them up and you will find mercy’ (Proverbs 28:13) Rabbi Shimon, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi in the name of Rabbi Halafta: In the case of plants: if their roots are covered when they are ill, they flourish; but the nut tree: if its roots are covered when it is ill, it will not flourish. A robber on trial before a judge [is like a sick plant]. As long as he denies his crime, he is flogged, but when he admits his crime, he is sentenced. God is different. Before a person confesses, God has already sentenced him. After he confesses, he receives a reprieve. [As we learn from] Rabbi Yehuda who quotes [the verse from Proverbs]: ‘’Conceal your faults and you will not prosper; confess and give them up and you will find mercy’ [This is especially appropriate for this season where Hosea consuls us: ‘Return O Israel (Shuva Yisrael), to the Lord your God, for you have fallen because of your sin.’” (adapted from Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 25:8 Mandelbaum ed. pp. 355-6)
This midrash makes confession before God critical to the process of being forgiven. Confession is crucial to altering bad behavior patterns. Change cannot occur before there is recognition that there is a need for it. Confession or Viddui is the beginning of the process. This explains why openness before God is praiseworthy. God is more interested in the “new and improved” person than He is in punishment. This season is all about creating the “new” us. It is time to get to work!
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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