July 15, 2024
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An Attitude of Gratitude

Parshat Vayeitzei

The Sefer Hoshe’a, the first book of Trei Asar, the 12 minor prophetic books, centers about the navi’s condemnations of the transgressions of the Northern Kingdom (commonly referred to as Efraim). Hoshe’a delivered his harsh words to the northern tribes starting from 90 years before their ultimate exile and continuing until they were scattered by the Assyrian enemy.

This week’s haftarah opens with the prophet’s reminder of how God had protected Yaakov throughout his stay in the house of Lavan—and had even enriched him as he arrived penniless and left with great wealth. These opening words serve as an obvious connection to our parsha and also give us insight into one of the purposes of Hoshea’s, and almost every prophet’s, message.

The simple truth is that most sinful people do not believe they are sinful. When we act poorly, insensitively, selfishly, we always manage to find a reason to justify this negative behavior. It is simple human nature to defend oneself—even when the rationalizations are flimsy at best and laughable at worst. Since (as the Rambam famously explained) repentance must begin with recognition of the sin, it was a basic function of the navi to show Israel in what way she had sinned and why Hashem was disappointed and even upset. Were the prophet to simply point to their misbehavior it would have the effect of inviting the excuses and rationalizations and the denials. For this reason, the prophets often use parables or allegories in the hope that the people will be able to view their behavior in a more objective fashion.

For this reason, Hoshe’a reminds the people of God’s kindnesses to Yaakov Avinu and parallels them to the kindnesses He had showered upon Israel. Quickly reminding the nation of how they abandoned Hashem despite all He had done for them, the navi argues that they mistook God’s goodness and favor as a proof of their own greatness, allowing them to turn their backs on He who had blessed them so.

In doing so, Hoshe’a strikes a powerful contrast between their behavior and that of Jacob. Our forefather recognized that the success he had attained was a result of God’s initial promise of blessing and success that He made to Yaakov at the very beginning of our parsha. It was this realization that had our patriarch pledge to give back to God one tenth of all he received, a pledge he made even before God fulfilled His promise! This act of gratitude reflected Jacob’s understanding that all comes from God, an understanding that was not shared by his descendants in the Northern Kingdom.

Closing this haftarah and his book with the well-known call for repentance that we read during Aseret Y’mei Teshuva, Hoshe’a reassures the people that if they heed his words, God will return to them and shower His love upon them once more.

By Rabbi Neil N. Winkler


Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel of Fort Lee and now lives in Israel.

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