Haftarah Parashat Vayelekh
September 15, 2018 | 6 Tishrei 5779
Hosea 14:2-10; Micah 7:18-20; Joel 2:15-27
The sages of the rabbinic period often sought out meaning in texts by paying attention to the positioning of paragraphs in a chapter. On the face of it, for moderns, this seems unusual since paragraphs and chapters are normally placed in a sequential order. The works of the biblical prophets were not usually organized this way. One prophecy in a prophetic work was not necessarily related to the other. This fact did not hinder sages from being inspired by the positioning of prophecies.
This week we read a haftarah specially chosen for the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Its opening words provide the name for this Shabbat – Shabbat Shuvah: “Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled in your iniquity.” (Hosea 14:2) This verse follows immediately after a prophecy recounting the destruction of the northern kingdom on account of its sins: “Samaria shall bear her guilt for she has defied her God. They shall fall by the sword; their infants shall be dashed to death and their women with child ripped open.” (14:1) The juxtaposition of the opening verse of the haftarah with its noble and inspiring call for change and reconciliation with God contrasts radically with the horrible and incontrovertible verse describing Samaria’s fate in the previous verse.
This association inspired the following rabbinic message: “Rabbi Elazar related in the name of Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachman: [This reference is like] a country which rebelled against the king. The king sent a general to destroy it. The general was expert and cool-headed. He said to them: ‘Take some time and consider what the king did to such and such a city and to such and such a province.’ This was Hosea’s intention. He said to Israel: ‘My children, do penitence, so that the Holy One Blessed be He will not do to you what he did to Samaria. Israel responded: ‘Master of the Universe, if we repent, will you accept us?’ God replied: ‘Didn’t I accept [even] Cain’s repentance [who murdered his brother], so why wouldn’t I accept yours?’ (Adapted from Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 24:11 Mandelbaum ed. p. 358)
In this parable, Hosea, the prophet, obviously represents the cool-headed general. According to the thinking of these sages, the role of the prophet is to give people the opportunity to weigh their actions and make wise choices. It is not easy to be discerning and pay attention to what is happening in our lives and what is happening around us. Sometimes, we need a nudge to make us aware of the implications of making the wrong move. This season reminds us that it is never too late.