Hosea sure knew how to raise hackles. He was master of the graphic metaphor. His imagery is powerful, even today. Of all the prophetic passages the rabbis could have linked to parashat Bemidbar, why Hosea 2?
The link, the scholars tell us, is that 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.
So Hosea has gotten his audience's attention with a nice promise of a rich and prosperous future. And then, whammo-he launches into his vitriolic metaphorical diatribe against the children of Israel, comparing them to an unfaithful harlot, whose husband shall publicly humiliate and embarrass her.
Philo and other commentators tell us that the reason Gd gave us the Torah in the wilderness was that the cities were corrupt (aha-a connection to my Random Musing last week for Behar/Bechukotai and its diatribe against cities.) 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. 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)Clearly, for Hosea, the Wilderness is not the magic place where the Torah was given to Israel, but an arid desert. It is a place to be "led out of" as Hosea makes clear later.
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 through 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)
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? That Torah was given in the wilderness but it needed to be carried out of it?
But 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 then the well known "V'eirastikh Li" -Gd's betrothal promise to us. Why is this connected to Bemidbar? Because it is a "why", an answer to why the children of Israel do all these things-take a census, march together under the standards of their own tribes, through the Wilderness to an uncertain future. Because 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 like 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 by Adrian A. Durlester
Some other musings on this parasha:
Bemidbar 5766-Redux 5760-Knowing Our Place
Bemidbar 5764-Doorway to Hope
Bemidbar 5763-Redux 5759 (with additions for 5763)
Bemidbar 5762-They Did As They Were Told? You Gotta be Kidding!
Bemidbar 5760-Knowing Our Place
Bemidbar 5761-What Makes it Holy
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