Haftarah Parshat Haazinu – Shabbat Shuvah (Hosea 14:2-10; Micah 7:18-20)
September 23, 2017 / 3 Tishre 5778
Shabbat Shuvah – The Shabbat of Repentance is named for its haftarah which begins with the words “Shuva Yisrael – Return O Israel”. The exact nature of “Teshuvah” is a significant question, apparently without a distinctive answer. The word literally means “to return” but to where and to what very much depends on the interpreter.
Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, popularly known by name of his book Sfat Emet (19-20th Poland) presents a particularly interesting take on this question based on a verse from this week’s special haftarah which, on the face of things, is not directly related to the question at all: “I will be to Israel like dew; he (Israel) will blossom like the lily; he will strike root like a Lebanon tree. His boughs shall spread out far, his beauty shall be like the olive tree’s, his fragrance like that of Lebanon.” (Hosea 14:6-7) The plain meaning of these verse (pshat) speaks of God’s love for Israel. His blessings will cause Israel to thrive and be fruitful.
For the Sfat Emet, these verses represent God’s will which has flowed into the world like dew and rain. The purpose of human beings in the world is to take the divine will and use it to create a world representative of His will: “For the essence of Teshuvah – Repentance – is to repair the mission for which we as people were sent into the world. As it written: “For as the rain or snow falls from heaven and does not return there, but soaks the earth and makes it bring forth vegetation, yielding seed for sowing and bread for eating, so is the word that issues from My mouth: it does not come back to Me unfulfilled but performs what I propose, achieves what I sent it to do.” (Isaiah 55:10-11) The Holy One Blessed be He gave over to each person things that need to brought to fruition in order that they might bear fruit and only then return to his or her mission to God blessed be He… The soul [which comes from God] needs to repair the deeds and the body… and then return to God… And when a person sins the soul cannot ascend… but for a penitent (baal teshuvah), God helps the tikkunim (the repairs) to bear fruit. This is what is meant [in the following verse from our haftarah]: ‘I will be to Israel like dew; he shall blossom like the lily, he shall strike roots like a Lebanon tree. His boughs shall spread out far. His beauty shall be like the olive tree’s. His fragrance like that of Lebanon.’ (Sfat Emet Shabbat Shuvah 5651, Or Etzion ed. Moedim 1, pp. 67-8)
Teshuvah is needed when a Jew veers from this mission. To return is to remember and to rededicate oneself to the mission of divine purpose – to facilitate the blossoming of God’s will in the world.