Haftaras Bamidbar

This week’s haftarah is taken from Hoshea 2. Hoshea 1 describes Hashem sharply criticizing the Jewish People for their wayward conduct. The chapter concludes with Hashem saying (Hoshea 1:9): “For you are not My people, and I will not be yours.” But in the very next verse, the first verse of this week’s haftarah, Hashem expresses the opposite attitude, saying (ibid. 2:1): “It will come to pass that, instead of what was said to them – ‘You are not My people’ – it will be said to them: “You are the children of the living God.’”
The Midrash in Bamidbar Rabbah 2:16, expounding on this passage, quotes Shir HaShirim 8:7-8, interpreting these verses as portraying a dialogue between Hashem and the gentiles. The gentiles ask Hashem why He maintains a relationship with the Jewish People even though they sin. Hashem’s answer is reflected in Shir HaShirim 8:8: “We have a little sister.” Hashem says: “Just as a young child’s father is not upset when the child misbehaves toward him, for he attributes the misbehavior to the child’s young age, so, too, when the Jewish People sin, I attribute their misbehavior to immaturity.”
The Maggid quotes another Midrash along similar lines (Shemos Rabbah 43:9): “When the Jewish People committed the sin of the golden calf, Hashem appeared ready to annihilate them. Said Moshe: ‘Master of the Universe! Is it not from Egypt that You took them out, a place of idolaters? And now they are mere youths. (As it is written (Hoshea 11:1): “For Yisrael is a youth, and I love him.”) Wait a bit for them, and go along with them, and they will do good deeds before You.’”
To bring out the idea behind these Midrashim, the Maggid turns to a halachah regarding tithes. The Mishnah in Maasros 1:4 and Chullin 1:6 states: “In the state in which bitter almonds are subject to tithing, the sweet ones are exempt. In the state in which sweet almonds are subject to tithing, the bitter ones are exempt.” The Gemara in Chullin 25b explains: “In regard to bitter almonds, the small ones must be tithed but the large ones are exempt. And in regard to sweet almonds, the large ones must be tithed but the small ones are exempt.” The principle behind this law is that produce is subject to tithing only when it is suitable for consumption. When sweet almonds are small they are bitter and inedible, and are therefore exempt from tithing. Only when they are fully grown and have become sweet are they subject to tithing. Conversely, when bitter almonds are small they are sweet and edible, and are therefore subject to tithing, but when they are fully grown they are bitter and inedible, and are therefore exempt.
Now, one might ask why one type is called sweet and the other bitter when in fact each type is sometimes sweet and sometimes bitter. But the answer is simple: Produce is named according to what it is like when it is fully grown, for its final state reflects its true nature. If the sweet almonds are bitter when they are small, it is because they have not yet matured. Thus, when someone asks a merchant for sweet almonds, he might say: “The ones I have right now are still bitter.” Here, the merchant is saying the almonds he has are bitter because they are not ripe. Likewise, if a person seeking sweet almonds takes some almonds off a tree and finds them small and bitter, he will not spurn the tree, for he knows that the almonds are bitter only because they are not ripe.
The Maggid says that the same idea applies to the Jewish People, the Children of Yaakov. A Jew’s true nature is completely good. And if we see a Jew exhibiting bad traits, it is only because he has not yet matured. After a Jew matures, through persistent study of Torah wisdom and ethics, his inherent goodness inevitably emerges. Yaakov’s very name hints at this pattern of development: The word yaakov means “he will follow along,” which we can understand as meaning “he will persist,” or, in other words, “he will progress ahead until he reaches completion.” Accordingly, when the Jewish People sin, their sinning is not cause for Hashem to spurn them; it is only a sign that they have not yet fully developed.
Thus, when the Jewish People of Moshe’s time committed the sin of the golden calf, Moshe argued that they were mere youths and urged Hashem to wait for their goodness to emerge. And similarly, as the Midrash in Bamidbar Rabbah 2:16 relates, when the gentiles point out our sinning and asked Hashem why He still holds fast to us, Hashem replies that He knows that our sinning is due only to our immaturity. The Midrash then proceeds to explain the verses in Hoshea, says that it was only in order to stir us to repent that Hashem cast harsh criticism at us, telling us: “You are not My People.” In truth, Hashem did not spurn us. And indeed, the Midrash goes on to say that Hashem could not bear to let this expression of scorn stand for even a moment, and instead immediately changed His demeanor and assured us that ultimately we would be called “children of the living God.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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