Haftarah Parashat Vayetze
November 25, 2017 / 7 Kislev 5778
This week’s haftarah is spread over three chapters, each with a unique message. The contrast between chapters 13 and 14, however, is particularly stark. Chapter 13 is a social and religious critique of the Northern Kingdom, Israel, where Hosea mounts a blistering attack on their abandonment of God and His commandments. But in chapter 14, the final chapter of the book, Hosea’s prophetic message calls for repentance, reconciliation and blessing.
In chapter 13, Hosea uses images from the natural world to dramatize the price of Israel’s disloyalty: “Assuredly, they shall be like the morning clouds, like the dew (tal) so early gone, like chaff whirled away from the threshing floor, and like smoke from a lattice.” (13:3) Like these natural phenomena, the life of the people will be ephemeral; here one day and gone the next, without leaving a trace.
In the next chapter, however, the image of dew is turned on its head and becomes a symbol of God’s blessing upon the people’s reconciliation with Him: “I (God) will be to Israel like dew (tal); He shall blossom like a lily; he shall strike root like a Lebanon [tree].” (14:6) Here dew represents the divine blessing which will nurture the people when their relationship with God is restored.
The following midrash seizes upon this seeming contradiction: “Said the Holy One Blessed be He to the prophets: ‘Go and offer comfort to Jerusalem.’ Hosea went to comfort her. She (Jerusalem) said: ‘What is in your hand [to offer]?’ He said: ‘I will be like dew to Israel’ (Hosea 14:6) She replied to him: ‘But didn’t you say yesterday: ‘Therefore they shall be as a morning cloud, and like the dew that passes away’ (13:3) and now you say this? Which should I believe? The first one or to the second?’ [Then,] all of the prophets went to offer her comfort and they returned with her retort to the Holy One Blessed be He. The Holy One Blessed be He replied to them: ‘Let us go and offer her comfort'” (adapted from Yalkut HaMekhiri Hosea, Greenup ed. p. 209)
The prophets come to offer God’s comfort, but Jerusalem is unconvinced. Is God’s favor a blessing, or is it really a curse? Is it something reliably nourishing and replenishing in an otherwise barren environment, or is it something transitory, that sets us up for repeated disappointment?
The midrash seems to indicate that, ultimately, it is up to us. Blessing or curse is determined by our choices; in what we think and do. By choosing God, Jerusalem chooses blessing and life, and in return, God is compelled (as it were) to reciprocate. In essence, choosing God is our greatest blessing. This is as true today as ever.
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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