Haftarah Parshat Vayetze
November 16, 2002
Historically speaking, this week’s haftarah is a ringing indictment of the loyalty of the people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel to God. Hosea chides the people for turning their backs on God, whose providence and care for their forefather Jacob and for the entire nation during their desert sojourn made their existence possible. The people instead spurned God, the Source of their blessings, in order to curry the favor of their neighbors. This not unfamiliar phenomenon led to disaster, leaving the people of Israel estranged from God. Near the end of the haftarah, the tenor of Hosea’s message changes. He urged the people to repent with a formula which now lends its name to the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur: “Shuva Yisrael – Return O Israel, unto the Lord your God, for you have stumbled in your iniquity” (Hosea 14:2). This call to reprentance is preceded, however, by a verse which foreshadows in a horrifically vivid way the fate of the Northern Kingdom of Israel: “Samaria shall bear her guilt for she has rebelled against her God. They shall fall by the sword, their infants shall be dashed in pieces and their women with child shall be ripped up.” (verse 1)
The pshat or plain meaning of the juxtaposition of these two verses serves as a warning to the Northern Kingdom of Israel to avoid the fate which awaits them if they continue their disloyalty to God. Rashi contends that this message was not meant for the Northern Kingdom but rather was a message for the people of the Southern Kingdom – Judah – after the Northern Kingdom had already been destroyed. Rashi’s interpretation is based on the following midrash: “A parable. To what can the juxtaposition of these two verses be compared? It can be compared to a country which has rebelled against its king. The king sent one of his military commanders to destroy the city. The commander was a wise and calm fellow. He said to the people: ‘Take a few days to make amends with the king or else I will be forced to do to you what I did to this country and that country. This is why the verse about Samaria precedes the verse about repentance” (adapted from Sifre Parshat Balak Piska 131)
This parable makes us aware of the importance of what experience and history have to teach us. Rashi transformed this prophecy from a warning to the people of Samaria about their own fate into a message to the people of Judah about their fate in order to provide them with an opportunity to learn from the mistakes of the people of the Northern Kingdom. Jewish religiosity and acumen require no less from us in our relationship to the past.