Today is November 22, 2017 -

Shabbat Shuvah 5763

Haftarah Parshat Haazinu
Shabbat Shuva
(Hosea 14:2-10;Joel 2:15-27; Micah 7:18-20)
September 14,

What did a drasha sound like 1600 years ago. Its may have taken the form of what we call a “peticha” – a proem. In a peticha, the darshan opens his drasha with a verse from the Tanach which is seemingly unrelated to the Torah reading or haftarah reading. The darshan would creatively interpret this unrelated verse in such a way that it would ultimately lead back to the Torah or haftarah reading. In the following excerpt from a 1500 year old “peticha” composed in the land of Israel, the darshan used a verse from Psalms to ultimately return to the opening verse from our haftarah – “Shuva Yisrael – Return O Israel” (Hosea 14:2). In the process, he left us with a significant but not so obvious religious message.

“‘The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a wounded heart…’ (Psalm 51:17)… Said Rabbi Abba bar Yudan, ‘What ever blemish God has declared invalid for sacrifice in the case of animals, He has declared valid in the case of human beings. Though God declared invalid the sacrifice of an animal that was ‘blind or broken’ (Leviticus 22:22), He declared the same “imperfection” valid in the case of human beings: ‘a broken spirit, a wounded heart, God you will not despise.’ Said Rabbi Alexandri: ‘In the case of an ordinary person, if he makes use of a broken pot, it is embarrassing to him, but as for the Holy One blessed be He, all of the utensils that He chooses to use are broken, as it is written, ‘The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart’ (Psalm 34:19), ‘He heals broken hearts’ (Psalm 147:3), ‘I dwell in the high and holy place with him that is of a contrite and humble spirit’ (Isaiah 57:17)… Therefore Hosea admonishes Israel saying to them: ‘Return O Israel’” (abridged and adopted from Pesikta d’Rav Kahana Shuva,5)

What is the connection between a “broken spirit” and repentance? What makes a “wounded heart” more precious to God than a perfect specimen? The answer is not so obvious to us as human beings. The “whole” or “complete” person has no cognizance or need for anyone but himself or herself. They have no awareness of their flaws. Consequently, there is no room for correction, nor is there any room for God in their lives. (Nor is there room for relationships with other people.) The whole process of return to God (teshuva) requires of us an awareness that we are broken and in need of repair. Only then will we seek out a meaningful relationship with God. Only then will this season of repentance be worthwhile.

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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