Rosh Hashanah II
September 28, 2003
The Biblical tradition teaches us that Israel, the northern kingdom, suffered from recalcitrance, moral corruption and disloyalty to God. This chapter from the prophet Jeremiah forms part of a message of reconciliation between God and the Israel. This idea marks the profound significance of the last three verses of the haftarah for the second day of Rosh Hashanah, in particular: “I [God] can hear Ephraim [another name for the northern kingdom] lamenting: You [God] have chastised me, and I am chastised; like a calf that has not been broken. Receive me back, let me return, for You, O lord, are my God. Now that I have turned back, I am filled with remorse; now that I am made aware, I strike my thigh [in self-reproach]. I am ashamed and humiliated for I bear the disgrace of my youth. Truly, Ephraim is a dear son to Me [God], a child who is dandled! Whenever I have turned against him, My thoughts would dwell on him still. That is why My heart yearns for him; I will receive him back in love, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 32:17-19)
The description of “sinful” Israel as “a dear son to Me – haben yakir lee Ephraim” seems anomalous. Where is there room for endearment when the northern kingdom’s relationship to God is characterized by disloyalty? Rabbi Joseph Kara, the 12th century French exegete, explains: “There was not a single tribe which sinned or caused others to sin like the tribe of Ephraim. Jereboam, [who was from the tribe of Ephraim and served as the first king of the northern kingdom] sinned and caused others to sin by setting up worship places for the golden calf in Dan and in Beit El. But because the northern kingdom showed remorse and repented their wickedness, God yearned for them and showed love for them.”
This idea underlies the reason that the verse – “a dear son to Me” is mentioned in the Shofar service of the Musaf Amidah for Rosh Hashanah. This verse reminds us that in our encounter with God, there is always room for repair and return to God. Rabbi Eliahu Dessler, the 20th century philosopher of the Lithuanian yeshivot expressed it this way: “Any slight movement in the direction of teshuva and immediately we are ‘a dear son to Me [God].’”
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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