Haftarah Parshat Bemidbar (Hosea 2:1-22)
May 23, 2015 / 5 Sivan 5775
The first two chapters of Hosea contain a prophecy which condemns Israel’s disloyalty to God. Tucked in the middle of this negative message is a prophecy of hope and redemption, promising that the nation will be multitudinous: “The number of the people of Israel shall be like the sands of the sea (k’hol hayam), which cannot be measured or counted.” (2:1)
This promise echoes a similar promise made to the patriarchs in the book of Genesis: “Your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth (k’afar haaretz).” (28:14) These two promises seem quite similar, since the imagery in each symbolically evokes promises of innumerable progeny. The following midrash, from a 9th century Persian collection, compares and contrasts these two metaphors in a very creative way: “It is written in one place: ‘shall be lie the sands of the sea’ and in another place: ‘your descendants shall be like the dust of the earth’. If you compare them to sand, why compare them to dust? And if you compare them to dust, why compare them to sand? If he compared them only to sand and not to dust, I might say: Just as with sand, if you plant something in it, nothing will grow, so Israel when they are afflicted will not have progeny… and if they were only compared to dust, I might say that if they sin, even if they should repent, nevertheless they still won’t be restored. This is why it also says: ‘like the sand of the sea’ – just as the sand – glass vessels are made from it and if they break, they can be restored, so Israel when they sin and then repent, the Holy One Blessed be He forgives them and accepts them in their repentance.’ (Sefer Pitron Torah, Urbach ed. p. 114)
In ancient times they were not able to grow things in sand, nor were they able to mend an earthenware vessel. Still, each of these substances has its virtues, namely, things grow in soil, and sand can be made into glass which is repairable. It is these physical qualities which this midrash turned into tangible spiritual blessings. The darshan turns these two variations on the same blessing into a blessing of both perpetuity and return. May God bless us that our progeny should continue to carry His message to the world with pride and dignity and may also bless us with the ability to fix ourselves so that we may be able to reconcile ourselves with Him and His will as well.
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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