By special request, a recycled musing for several years back, with some additions.
Hosea sure knew how to raise hackles. He was master of the graphic metaphor. His imagery is powerful, even today. It's interesting to consider the power of his amazing rhetoric in our own time, let alone the power it must have had in Hosea's time.
Of all the prophetic passages the rabbis could have linked to parashat Bemidbar, why Hosea chapter 2?
The ostensible link, the scholars tell us, is that parashat Bemidbar describes a census, and Hosea 2 starts by saying that the children of Israel shall be as numerous as the sands of the sea, literally uncountable. What a strange juxtaposition. But not without purpose, we shall discover.
Hosea gets his audience's attention with a nice promise of a rich and prosperous future. Then, whammo--he launches into his vitriolic metaphorical diatribe against the children of Israel, comparing them to an unfaithful wife and harlot, whose husband shall publicly humiliate and embarrass her. Pretty strong stuff, too, even in this day and age. There's little doubt where Hosea stands on the concept of Divine retribution. Nevertheless, perhaps his purpose was to enable the people to avoid the need for Divine retribution. (On the other hand, maybe not. Maybe he felt the retribution was coming, it was too late to change that, yet in the end offering some hope?)
A small digression to allow us to continue. Philo and other commentators tell us that the reason Gd gave us the Torah in the wilderness was that the cities were corrupt (I've spoken of this anti-urban bias in the Torah before.) Others comment that the Wilderness is a place that belongs to no one, it is not secret or exclusive, so no one person or tribe could lay claim to Torah. Now, with that setup, back to our story.
In a powerful irony to Bemidbar, Hosea uses the Wilderness as a negative symbol, saying the angered husband will render his unfaithful wife like a Wilderness (2:5). Barren, perhaps? Lifeless? Ravaged and weathered? Clearly, for Hosea, the Wilderness in these verses is not the magic place where the Torah was given to Israel, but an arid desert, a savage, ruined place. A wilderness is what the unfaithful wife (and thus Israel) will be like after the husbands (Gd's) retribution for her (their) sins.
According to Hosea, Israel, the unfaithful wife, has forgotten who has bestowed such great gifts on her--her husband (Gd.) And so he will bring devastation to her. For their unfaithfulness to Gd, and their embracing of Baal worship and other transgressions, Gd will punish them. (2:15)
But then a 180 degree turn. This abusive and spiteful husband will now speak tenderly to his wife-and-in a wonderful bit of metaphor-lead her back to the wilderness and give her vineyards (oy, what a metaphor that can be) and she shall be as she was in her youth, when she came up from Egypt (another great metaphor.) (2:16-17)
Hosea seems to be saying that Gd will make Israel a desolate place and drive the people from it, but then will tenderly lead them back to the land and restore it. Certainly a prophetic message.
So what have we here by way of a connection to Bemidbar? Perhaps a subtle warning that even though they be numerous (both in the census of Bemidbar, and then in Hosea's time), the children of Israel must be careful to not let their numbers give them false pride. For they can still falter, lose favor in Gd's eyes in they do not keep Gd's ways. Perhaps the thought that the Wilderness can be both a place of great events and horrid death? Perhaps the idea is that Torah was given in the wilderness but it needed to be carried out of it?
However, I think the real connection comes at the end of the Hosea passage. It is here we encounter Gd's promise to banish war, and the well known "V'eirastikh Li" -Gd's betrothal promise to Israel. Why is this connected to Bemidbar? Because it is a "why", an answer to why the children of Israel should do all these things they have been commanded to do-take a census, march together under the standards of their own tribes, through the Wilderness to an uncertain future. Because, as Hosea says, Gd will:
...espouse you forever; I will espouse you with righteousness and justice, and with goodness and mercy.
And I will espouse you with faithfulness; then you shall be devoted to the Lrd. (Hosea 2:21-22-JPS)
Think about those last words: in Hebrew, v'yada'at et-Ad-nai, literally "then you shall know Ad-nai" though I sometimes prefer the more poetic "shall be devoted to" for it tells us that we need to do for Gd as Gd will do for us.
Your Shabbat bride will soon be here to espouse you and for you to espouse. We should betroth Gd faithfully, in righteousness, justice, goodness, mercy and faithfulness. And then Gd shall know us as we shall know Gd.
© 1999 & 2003 by Adrian A. Durlester
Some Other Musings on this parasha
5762-They Did As They Were Told? You Gotta be Kidding!
Bemidbar 5759-Marrying Gd-Not Just for Nuns
Bemidbar 5760-Knowing Our Place
Bemidbar 5761-What Makes it Holy
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