Haftarah Parshat Vayetze (Hosea 1213-14:10)
November 21. 2015 / 9 Kislev 5776
Hosea was greatly concerned with the idolatrous betrayal of God. He discerned that Israel did not turn from God out of a sense that God had abandoned them. Instead, he presumed that Israel turned to idolatry out of a sense of prosperity: “When they grazed, they were sated. When they were sated, they grew haughty and so they forgot Me (God).” (3:6)
Rabbi David Kimche describes the circumstances which inspired Hosea’s message: “When they (the Children of Israel) came to the place where they grazed, namely, the land of Canaan where they had all good things, they became satisfied and haughty and forgot Me (God), as it said in the Torah that they would do: ‘When you have eaten your fill, and have built fine houses to live in, and your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold have increased, and everything you own has prospered, beware lest your heart grow haughty and you forget the Lord your God’ (Deut. 8:12-14) and [further on it] says: ‘So Jeshurun grew fat and kicked.’ (Ibid. 32:15)”
The sages of the Talmud were well aware of this phenomenon and expressed it in the following hyperbolic parable: “Rabbi Hiyya bar Abba said: It is like the case of a man who had a son; he bathed him and anointed him and gave him plenty to eat and drink and hung a purse round his neck and set him down at the door of a house of ill repute. How could the boy help but sin? Rav Aha the son of Rav Huna said in the name of Rav Sheshet: This bears out the popular saying: ‘A full stomach feeds sin’, as It says: ‘When they grazed, they were sated. When they were sated, they grew haughty and so they forgot Me (God).’ (Hosea 3:6) Rav Nahman learned it from here: ‘When your heart becomes haughty you forget the Lord.’(Deut. 8:24) And the Rabbis learned [it] from here: ‘And they eat their fill and grow fat, and turned to other gods.’ (Deut. 31:20) Or, if you prefer, I can say from here: ‘But Jeshurun grew fat and kicked.’ (Deut. 32:15)” (Berachot 32a)
The Talmud’s ‘colorful’ parable expresses this problem in “modern” terms. Those of us who are blessed with means have our own set of problems. Means can be a blessing but they can also be a curse depending on how careful we are in structuring our lives in a positive way. Extravagance has great strength to lead one astray from both that which is good and God. And apparently this problem is as old as the human race.