Haftarah Parshat Bemidbar
May 27, 2017 / 2 Sivan 5777
For the prophet Hosea, the relationship between God and Israel wavered between fealty and disloyalty. God’s relationship with Israel was compared by him to a marriage between a husband and a disloyal wife. The purpose of his message, obviously, was to encourage a faithfulness in the relationship between God and Israel. To this purpose, Hosea concluded this message with the now often quoted betrothal anthem: “And I will espouse you forever: I will espouse you with righteousness and justice, and with goodness and mercy, and I will espouse you with faithfulness (b’emunah); then you shall be devoted to the Lord.” (2:21-22)
Faithfulness (Emunah) is implicit in the relationship between God and Israel. Rashi comments somewhat enigmatically regarding this verse: “[I will espouse you] in reward for faithfulness, for you believed in the promises made by My prophets [while you were] in exile.” Rashi’s comment raises a number questions. What is the nature of the “faith”? Are Hosea and Rashi talking about the same thing? For Hosea, faith refers to loyalty to God. Rashi, it seems, adds another dimension to this definition. For him, faith is not just the maintenance of loyalty; it also includes trust under adverse circumstances like exile where one’s trust in God might be put to the test.
Rashi’s interpretation is drawn from a midrash from the period of the Mishnah which explicitly expresses God’s appreciation for faith maintained under such conditions: “And you find that the people living in the [various] exilic communities will only be gathered in the future as a reward for their faith… as it is written: ‘And I will espouse you forever: I will espouse you with righteousness and justice, and with goodness and mercy, and I will espouse you with faithfulness; then you shall be devoted to the Lord.’ Behold, [so] great is faith before He who spoke and the world was created, that as a reward for the faith with which they believed, the Holy Spirit rested upon them…” (Mechilta d’Rabbi Yishmael Beshallach 6, Horowitz-Rabin ed. p. 115)
What is faith that God should reward it so profusely? It is trust that God will ultimately come through. It is religiously inspired optimism which edges out despair. It is such a powerful force that it creates a “God infused” individual. This is no small thing. I know that some will treat this idea cynically but it is this kind of God given strength which gives people the strength to overcome adversity. This is a powerful medicine that each of us needs at one time or another. And it is a God given gift – all it requires is a little faith.
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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