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Shabbat Shuvah 5773

Haftarah Shabbat Shuva
(Hosea 14:2-10; Micah 7:18-20; Joel 2:15-27)
September 22, 2012
6 Tishre 5773

Parshat Vayelech – Shabbat Shuva
(Hosea 14:2-10; Micah 7:18-20; Joel 2:15-27)

Shabbat Shuva seems to have a long history as a day set aside for rabbinic messages, and the special haftarah for this day has often been at the core of these messages. The rabbinic tradition was blessed with the rediscovery about 150 years ago of a collection of midrashim for holidays composed in Eretz Yisrael during Talmudic times (5th-6th century) called the Pesikta d’Rav Kahanah. This book preserves a substantially large chapter filled with midrashim for this special Shabbat, one of which I will share.

This midrash is a “peticha”, meaning that it opens with a verse from elsewhere is the Tanach and through interpreting it winds its way back to the liturgical reading which in our case focuses on the verse: “Shuva Yisrael – Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have fallen because of your sin. . Take words with you and return to the Lord. Say to Him: Forgive all guilt and accept what is good” (Hosea 14:2)

The following midrash attempts to explain the necessity of “vidui” – confession during these days of repentance: “’Conceal your faults and you will not prosper’ (Proverbs 28:13) Rabbi Simon, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Halafta: With most plants, if you cover up the roots, they will flourish but in the case of a nut tree, if you cover its roots, it will not thrive. This can be compared to the case of the thief who was brought before a judge. As long as he denies his crime, he is flogged. When he acknowledges his crime he is sentenced. The Holy One Blessed be He works differently. Before a person admits his sin, he is punished, as Scripture notes: ‘Conceal your faults and you will not prosper.’ Therefore, ‘He who confesses and gives them up will find mercy.” (Ibid.) This is why Hosea warns Israel, saying: ‘Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have fallen because of your sin. Take words with you and return to the Lord. Say to Him: Forgive all guilt and accept what is good’” (Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 24:8, Mandelbaum ed. pp. 355-6)

Why are human beings compared to a nut tree which cannot flourish if its roots are covered? People cannot flourish if they cover up what ails them. Wrongdoing becomes such an ingrained part of a person that the person no longer realizes that it is wrong. (What is it people say: ‘We become hard nuts to crack!) Only through “vidui” can people realize that they are on the wrong path and correct their ways. This is God’s interest. This is our project as human beings, especially during this period between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur!

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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