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Bamidbar 5765

By: Rav Michael Susman

This week, rather than concentrate on the Parsha itself, our shiur will instead focus on the Haftara.  As Rav Yehuda Shaviv points out in his book, “Bein Haftara laParasha”, our Haftara this week is the only one that was adopted by all communities throughout the ages as the Haftara for Parshat BaMidbar.  As such it certainly deserves our thought and attention.


Before we examine the various connections that exist between our Parsha and the Haftara, it behooves us to read not only the Nevua that constitutes the haftara, but the passukim that precede the haftara as well.  The haftara, which is taken from Sefer Hoshea, perek bet, passukim alef until caf bet, is almost schizophrenic.   The haftara begins with words of consolation (1-3), is followed by a scathing critique of Am Yisrael’s abandoning Hashem in favor of idol worship (4-15), followed once again by consolation, (16-22), this time in the form of the reconciliation between Hashem and Am Yisrael. The haftara is in fact part of a larger nevua, one that starts at the very beginning of Sefer Hoshea, and only ends at the end of the third perek.  In this famous nevua, Hoshea is commanded to marry a prostitute.  In the section preceding our haftara, Hoshea fulfills this command, and with his wife fathers three children, a son, Yizrael, a daughter, Lo Ruchama, (literally, will not have mercy), and another son, Lo Ami (literally, not my nation).  The marriage, of course represents Am Yisrael’s infidelity to Hashem.   The three children represent, in order, the coming punishment to Malchut Yisrael because of the slaughter conducted in Emek Yizrael, Hashem’s vow that he will withhold is mercy from the kingdom of Yisrael, and finally, Hashem’s disavowal of Am Yisrael in response to their abandoning Him.  Our haftara begins with the next stage, a vision of the future when Bnai Yisrael will be too numerous to count.  At that time Hashem will no longer reject Bnai Yisrael as not being His nation, but will openly acknowledge them as His sons, and will bring both Malchut Yisrael and Malchut Yehuda back as one, thus redeeming Yizrael.  Finally, he tells Bnai Yisrael to call their brothers Ami and sisters Ruchama, negating the “Lo Ami” and Lo Ruchama” of the first Perek.


At this point the Navi returns to his critique of Am Yisrael, urging the children of the harlot to disgrace and disown their mother, as her actions have placed her beyond the pale.  Once again, we are confronted with the image of Am Yisrael being chastised for abandoning Hashem in favor of Avoda Zara.  In this critique Am Yisrael is specifically scored for believing that her lovers (idol worship) are responsible for her prosperity, when in fact it is Hashem who has provided these things for her.  When this realization dawns on her, however, it is too late, and Hashem has abandoned her as well, refusing to take her back.


Now it is time once again for words of nechama, as Hashem promises to once more take Am Yisrael into the desert, where their commitment and bond will be renewed.  This rededication will be characterized not only by Am Yisrael abandoning idol worship, but by the consecration of a new covenant and, following the allegory of Am Yisrael as the wayward wife and Hashem as the husband, by a renewal of the betrothal of Am Yisrael and Hashem.  This betrothal will be sealed by Hashem giving and Bnai Yisrael accepting Hashem’s characteristics of Zedek (righteousness), Mishpat (justice), Chesed (kindness) and Rachamim (mercy), and finally, Emunah (faith).  Our Haftora ends on this note.


When looking for a connection between the Haftara and the Parsha two themes present themselves, the theme of counting Bnai Yisrael and the theme of the Midbar in general.  We will examine each theme separately.


Sefer BaMidbar is called the Book of Numbers first and foremost by Chazal.  The fact that Bnai Yisrael are counted first in our Parsha, and twice subsequently is one of the central motifs of the sefer.  Our Haftara echoes that theme, but by rejecting it.  In a previous shiur we had discussed the problematic nature of a census.  What emerged from our discussion is that at times a census is a “necessary evil” and is therefore permissible under certain circumstances.  What also emerges is that in a “l’chatchila “ situation, a census would not be necessary.  This contrast, the need for a census in certain situations versus the ideal situation where a census is unnecessary and therefore forbidden gives new potency to the Nevua of Hoshea.  The Navi foresees a time when all the reasons for a census, raising an army, fighting enemies and the like, are a thing of the past.  Instead, we can see a time when we will have the fulfillment of Hashem’s original promise to the Avot that Bnai Yisrael will be too numerous to count.


This contrast brings us to the second theme linking our haftara and parsha, that of Midbar.  The Midbar is the place where Am Yisrael first made a covenant with Hashem, and where the relationship between Hashem and Am Yisrael was first established.  The Midbar therefore signifies renewal, as we see in our Haftara.  This renewal, however, does not come without a price.  Rav Yissachar Yaacobson, in his work “Chazon HaMikra”, notes that there is a parallel to the experience of returning to the Midbar that Hoshea describes in Sefer Yechezkel.  There (20: 34-38), the Navi describes how Hashem will take Bnai Yisrael into the Midbar and judge and punish them for their actions.  This is the flip side of the renewal that the journey into the desert to reestablish the connection with Hashem hopes to achieve.  Before renewal must come introspection and teshuva, and, when necessary, retribution for past wrongs.  Only then can the next stage, the stage of renewal and reengagement, begin and flourish.


Rav Mendel Hirsch, the son of Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, sees the Midbar as providing a different aspect, that of reconnection to the spiritual values that Am Yisrael accepted at Har Sinai, when thy famously proclaimed Naaseh V’Nishmah.  Once ensconced in their land, these values tend to be forgotten by Am Yisrael, replaced by more material values.  These are the values that the Navi refers to as attracting Am Yisrael to Avoda Zara (see for example passukim 7 and 10).  When Am Yisrael abandons these values, and returns to the values of Naaseh V’Nishmah, renewal becomes possible.

The Midbar, according to Rav M. Hirsch, is therefore the aspect that separates Am Yiosarel from the rest of the nations.  When other nations lose their material wealth, and ultimately their land, they fade from the world stage.  When Bnai Yisrael are confronted with such a crisis rather than fade away they return to the midbar, and renew their commitment to the values which make us an Am Segula. 


We can now close with the point that Rav Shaviv makes, namely that everyone agrees that this haftara should be read for Parshat BaMidbar.  When Bnai Yisarel were in the Midbar, receiving the Torah, they were as one person with a single goal (Ish echad, b’lev echad).  This is the situation to which we are returning, and which is signified by the fact that we all read the same haftara at this time.  The first step to renewal begins with us, with a return to unity, ish echad b’lev echad.


Shabbat Shalom


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