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When we speak of irredeemable texts, one of the first that oft comes to mind are the first two chapters of the Book of Hosea. Yet I find these two chapters among the most effective and brilliant rhetoric in all the prophetic writings. He knew how to stand out from the crowd.
Imagine dozens of prophets all offering essentially similar versions of "woe unto you, O Israel. If you do not forsake your evil ways, Gd's punishment is surely coming. Still, Gd will take care of us in the end." You hear it enough times it becomes pabulum, easy to ignore, tasteless, just background noise.
Then this one prophets steps up on a crate a shouts "Gd told me to marry a whore, so that I might know how that feels! You, oh Israel, are like her--a nation of harlots!" Now that's gonna get your attention, isn't it?
The rabbis decided that the Haftarah for Bemidbar would start with the second chapter of Hosea, which begins on a somewhat positive note. It's sentiment that the numbers of the people of Israel will be as the sands of the sea provides a tenuous yet acceptable linkage back to the parasha and it's account of several censuses. Yet these first few verses seem almost out of place with what precedes them and what follows them.
It's somewhat difficult to follow what is written about in chapter two of Hosea without at least having read the set up provided in chapter one. Yet the rabbis chose to leave that bit of prologue out. Practical, I suppose, for who wants to come to services to hear someone read "Go, get yourself a wife of whoredom and children of whoredom" ? I won't retell it here, but it's a scant 9 verses. Go read chapter one for yourself.
Then ask yourself what the first three verses of chapter two are doing sandwiched between the end of chapter one, and the words of verses 4-15 in chapter 2. They state that the people of Israel will become numerous, that they shall again assemble as one and arise from their pitiful state. That we shall again think of each other as brothers, and we will be loved by Gd.
And then we get back to the whoring as a metaphor for Israel's unfaithfulness to Gd. And predictions of all that will befall Israel, just as it would a harlot, for her transgressions.
After 12 verses of complaint, then Gd becomes the loving husband again. "That is when I will entice her to Me, lead her to the wilderness, and speak to her heart. From there I will give her back her vineyards, and make the Valley of Trouble the Door of hope.." (Hosea 2:16-17a.) From emek achor (valley of trouble) to petakh tikvah (doorway to hope.)
Some years back I came to a different understanding of why those words are where they are than I came to with this year's encounter with the text. It occurred to me as I was reading through the haftarah, that those first few verses of chapter two are a doorway, a gateway to hope. A glimmer of what is to come. Yet another stellar example of the brilliance of how Hosea's writings are constructed. Hosea recognized the power of his metaphor, his harsh words, to cause despair, so before he relates the metaphor of Israel as a whoring bride, he opens a small doorway to what lies ahead. Petakh Tikvah.
In my musing for 5759 on this parasha, I also spoke of this haftarah from Hosea, and the importance of it's closing verses, speaking of Gd's betrothal to Israel, in the well-known words of the "v'eirastich li." I've encountered this same haftarah in some similar and some different way this time, and put a somewhat different interpretation on the reasons for the positive statements of the first few verses of chapter 2.
And that, as I have so often remarked, is the true miracle of all of this that we call Judaism. Each encounter with the text is the same yet different. And each encounter has the potential to bring us from our emek achor to a petakh tikvah. May your encounter with our sacred texts this Shabbat bring you to a petakh tikvah, a doorway of hope.
©2004 by Adrian A. Durlester
Some previous musings on this parasha
5763-Redux 5759 Marrying Gd--Not Just for Nuns (with additions for 5763)
Bemidbar 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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