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. Many do indeed find them troubling, I find these two chapters among the most effective and brilliant rhetoric in all the prophetic writings. Hoshea 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, G”d’s punishment is surely coming. Still, G”d 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 “G”d 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 an uplifting sentiment to prophesy that the numbers of the people of Israel will be numerous as the sands of the sea provides. These words provide 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. Pretty it ain’t.
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.
Then we get back to the whoring as a metaphor for Israel’s unfaithfulness to G”d. And predictions of all that will befall Israel, just as it would a harlot, for her transgressions.
After another 12 verses of complaints against the people of Israel, G”d becomes the loving husband again.
וְנָתַ֨תִּי לָ֤הּ אֶת־כְּרָמֶ֙יהָ֙ מִשָּׁ֔ם וְאֶת־עֵ֥מֶק עָכ֖וֹר לְפֶ֣תַח תִּקְוָ֑ה וְעָ֤נְתָה שָּׁ֙מָּה֙ כִּימֵ֣י נְעוּרֶ֔יהָ וִּכְי֖וֹם עֲלֹתָ֥הּ מֵאֶֽרֶץ־מִצְרָֽיִם׃
“I will give her her vineyards from there, and the Valley of Achor as a doorway of hope. There she shall respond as in the days of her youth, When she came up from the land of Egypt.” (Hosea 2:17.)
From עֵ֥מֶק עָכ֖וֹר emek achor (valley of trouble) to פֶ֣תַח תִּקְוָ֑ה 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 with which 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.
וְכָרַתִּ֨י לָהֶ֤ם בְּרִית֙ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֔וּא עִם־חַיַּ֤ת הַשָּׂדֶה֙ וְעִם־ע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וְרֶ֖מֶשׂ הָֽאֲדָמָ֑ה וְקֶ֨שֶׁת וְחֶ֤רֶב וּמִלְחָמָה֙ אֶשְׁבּ֣וֹר מִן־הָאָ֔רֶץ וְהִשְׁכַּבְתִּ֖ים לָבֶֽטַח׃
In that day, I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the ground; I will also banish bow, sword, and war from the land. Thus I will let them lie down in safety.
וְאֵרַשְׂתִּ֥יךְ לִ֖י לְעוֹלָ֑ם וְאֵרַשְׂתִּ֥יךְ לִי֙ בְּצֶ֣דֶק וּבְמִשְׁפָּ֔ט וּבְחֶ֖סֶד וּֽבְרַחֲמִֽים׃
And I will espouse you forever: I will espouse you with righteousness and justice, And with goodness and mercy,
וְאֵרַשְׂתִּ֥יךְ לִ֖י בֶּאֱמוּנָ֑ה וְיָדַ֖עַתְּ אֶת־יְהוָֽה׃
And I will espouse you with faithfulness; Then you shall be devoted to the LORD. (Hosea 2:20-22)
And that, as I have so often remarked, is the true miracle of all of this whatever it is that we call Judaism. Each encounter with the text is the same yet different. Sometimes the text reveals a Yanny, and sometimes the text reveals a Laurel. ( I have a feeling this will be a meaningless reference in a matter of years, if not weeks.) 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.
©2018 (portions ©2004) by Adrian A. Durlester
Other musings on this parasha:
B’midbar 5777 – What Makes It Holy (Revised and Revisited 5767)
B’midbar 5775 – The Reward At The End Of The Boring?
Bemidbar 5774 – Torah as Anecdote-It’s a Good Thing
Bemidbar 5773 – Who Really Provides?
Bemdibar 5771 – Moving Treasures
Bemidbar 5770 – Sense Us
Bemidbar 5769 – That V’eirastikh Li Feeling
Bamidbar 5767-What Makes It Holy? (Redux & Revised 5761)
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 5759-Marrying Gd-Not Just for Nuns
Bemidbar 5760-Knowing Our Place
Bemidbar 5761-What Makes it Holy