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Haftarah Parshat Vayetze

Haftarah Parshat Vayetze (Hosea 12:13-14:10)
December 10, 2016 / 10 Kislev 5777

The Torah had a profound awareness of the limits of human nature. In particular, the Torah warns against the tendency of human beings to turn prosperity into a curse. (See Deuteronomy 32:15 among other places mentioned below.) The prophet Hosea also criticizes this human propensity when he chastises Israel for their disloyalty to God: “When they grazed, they were sated; when they were sated, they grew haughty; and so, they forgot Me (God).” (13:6) Here, the prophet is disconcerted by Israel’s ingratitude over God’s redemption of the children of Israel from Egypt after they had become prosperous in their homeland.

The following discussion in the Talmud examines this human predisposition in greater depth: “Rabbi Hiyya bar Abba said in the name of Rabbi Yohanan: ‘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 around his neck and set him down at the door of a house of prostitution. How could the boy keep from sinning? Rav Aha the son of Rav Huna said in the name of Rav Sheshet: This bears out the popular saying: A full stomach causes one to pursue sin, as It says: ‘When they grazed, they were sated; when they were sated, they grew haughty; and so, they forgot Me.’ Rav Nahman learned it from here: ‘Your heart will grow haughty and you will forget the Lord.’ (Deut. 8:14) The Rabbis from here: ‘And they will eat their fill and grow fat, and turn to other gods.’ (Deut. 31:20) Or, if you prefer, I can say from here: ‘But Yeshurun waxed fat and kicked.’ (Deut. 32:15)” (Berachot 32a)

There are two ways to understand this passage. One could read this passage as a description of the frailty of human nature with our verse and the other verses acting as support for the parable which illustrates this contention. This passage, then, comes as a value laden warning against the potential dangers of too many blessings. One could, however, also see in this passage an attempt to assuage the seriousness of the very human frailties being discussed. After all, God was the source of the blessings which ultimately lead to the behavior problems. What did He expect? Isn’t that the seeming message of the parable?

In either case, those of us who live in a world where plenty is the norm are forewarned of the potential danger of being blessed. The potential arrogance which it might foster might plant the seeds of our downfall if it leads us away from responsible behavior and alienates us from the ultimate source of blessing.

About This Commentary

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.

The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives.
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