Background:

This week?s Haftorah is from the Book of Hosea, Chap. 12:13 to Chap. 14:10.



The prophet Hosea was the son of Be?eri, who was a prince of the tribe of Reuben and was himself a prophet. The Talmud in Tractate Pesachim (87a) says that Hosea prophesied during the same period as Isaiah, Amos and Micah, but that it was Hosea who was the first of the four to engage in prophecy, and that he was the greatest among them. The Book of Hosea comprises 14 chapters, and it includes: reproof of Israel for engaging in idolatry and immorality, exhortations to the Jewish people to repent, foretelling their Exile from the Land of Israel because of their sins and consoling them that Israel will be G-d?s people.



Summary:

The Haftorah begins with G-d reminding the Jewish people of the good He has done for them. Their forefather Jacob fled to Haran with nothing, yet G-d blessed him there with wealth and success. The Jewish people were enslaved in Egypt, but G-d took them out of bondage and sent them Moses to guide them. Nevertheless, Ephraim (a reference to King Jeroboam, who was from the tribe of Ephraim and served as monarch for the northern Ten Tribes of Israel) introduced the worship of idols. This act of rebellion angered G-d. It led to the deaths of many Jews, and the responsibility for this, says the prophet, lies with Ephraim (i.e. King Jeroboam) for having brought tragedy on the Jewish people. Hoshea warns the Ten Tribes that for the sin of worshipping idols, they will soon be exiled from their Land. The prophet then beseeches the Jewish people to repent, urging them to place their faith not in the nations of the world, but in G-d. For if they do so, G-d will shower them with blessings and goodness.



Connection Between the Haftorah and This Week?s Parsha:

The parsha this week relates how the Patriarch Jacob fled from his home to Haran, to escape the wrath of his bother Esau. The opening verse of the Haftorah recalls this event.



1. Returning to the Land



After warning the Jewish people to cease worshipping idols, Hosea calls upon them to repent, telling them: ?Return, O Israel, to the L-rd your G-d, for you have stumbled in your iniquity (Chap. 14, verse 2).?



The Question:

What is the meaning of the phrase ?Return, O Israel, to the L-rd your G-d??



The Answer:

Rabbi Yehudah Shaviv (who teaches at Yeshivat Har Etzion in Alon Shvut, Israel), in his book Bein Haftorah LeParsha, offers an original and intriguing answer. He says that the language of the verse ?Return, O Israel? is reminiscent of the phrase ?Return? used in the Parsha, where G-d instructs the Patriarch Jacob to leave Haran and go back to the Land of Israel. In the Parsha, the Torah states, ?And G-d said to Jacob: ?Return to the Land of your forefathers, to the Land of your birth, and I shall be with you (Genesis 31:3).? This link, suggests Rabbi Shaviv, is to teach us that ?in truth, the return to the Land is a return to G-d, since only in the Land of Israel is the covenant forged, according to which the L-rd will be G-d to Jacob and his descendants.? Also, notes Rabbi Shaviv, ?when Hosea made his call of ?Return, O Israel,? all of Israel was upon its Land, but for later generations, the call of ?Return, O Israel, to G-d? is coupled together with the call of ?Return to the Land of your forefathers.?? Hence, according to Rabbi Shaviv, the prophet Hosea?s exhortation of ?Return, O Israel? is meant as a two-pronged call to the Jewish people ? not only to repent, but also to return to the Land of their forefathers.



The Lesson:

In recent weeks, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has repeatedly stressed the need for Israel to bring in an additional one million Jewish immigrants in the coming years. With dire forecasts from demographers predicting that the Palestinians might form a majority of the population west of the Jordan River by the middle of this century, it is essential that Israel renew efforts to encourage aliyah as a means of preserving its Jewish majority. Obviously, if Jews were ever to become a minority in Israel, it would quite simply spell the end of the country as a Jewish state.



In light of this, Rabbi Shaviv?s interpretation above takes on added significance. For at a time when many Diaspora Jews are reawakening to their heritage, and with a growing trend toward greater observance of Jewish law and ritual, it is imperative that we remember the prophet Hosea?s call: ?Return, O Israel.? In our day and age, the act of ?return,? as we saw before, is two-fold: it encompasses a stronger spiritual commitment to Judaism, but it also requires a physical undertaking, that of picking oneself up and moving to the Land of Israel. Only then can repentance, both individually and nationally, truly be complete. Only then can we ensure that the Jewish people will, at last, triumph.



2. Standing Tall and Strong



The prophet Hosea assures the Jewish people that if they do repent, they will be blessed by G-d, who promises them: ?I will be like dew to Israel, they shall blossom like a rose, and it shall strike its roots like the Lebanon (Chap. 14, verse 6).? Rashi explains that the phrase ?strike roots like the Lebanon? means ?strike roots like the trees of Lebanon, which are large.?



The Question:

Why does G-d compare Israel specifically with the trees of Lebanon? What is the connection between the two?



The Answer:

The Radak says that the trees of Lebanon are large and they have many roots (perhaps a reference to the famous cedars of Lebanon). Similarly, says the Radak, the Jewish people will in the future be planted in the Land of Israel, where they will sprout strong roots like the trees of Lebanon, such that they will never be uprooted from there. Hence, G-d chose to compare Israel with the trees of Lebanon as a means of reassuring the Jewish people that they will one day be planted once more in their Land, from which they will never again be exiled or displaced.



The Lesson:

This past week, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell delivered an address at the University of Louisville in Kentucky in which he spoke about the situation in the Middle East. After finally telling Yasser Arafat that Palestinian violence and terror had to stop (better late than never, one supposes), Powell turned his attention to the Jewish presence in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. In remarks that were as unprecedented as they were inappropriate, Powell berated Israel, saying that the ?occupation? must be brought to an end and that all Jewish ?settlement activity? had to stop, as if there were a moral equivalence between Palestinian suicide bombers who destroy lives and Jewish pioneers who are rebuilding their ancestral homeland. Needless to say, Powell?s remarks were a transparent attempt to appease the Arab states for the U.S. war on terror in Afghanistan. Or, to put it more bluntly: Powell expects Israel to pay the diplomatic price for America?s justifiable retaliation against Osama Bin-Laden.



However, as we saw above, G-d promised the Jewish people that they will be planted in the Land of Israel like the cedars of Lebanon ? they will sprout strong roots and will never again be expelled from their Land. This Divine promise, conveyed to us for the ages by Hosea?s prophecy, is especially pertinent now, when an American Secretary of State arrogates for himself the right to decide where Jews may and may not live. Powell is of course free to refer to Israel?s presence in Judea, Samaria and Gaza however he wishes, but his ?vision? of forcing over 200,000 Jews out of their homes is neither visionary nor prophetic. For in the end, it will be the vision of Hosea, rather than the vices of Powell, that will ultimately prevail. Of that, we can all be certain.