June 17, 2024
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God: The Source of All Blessing

Parshat Vayeitzei

“Vayishman Yeshurun vayiv’at-shamanta, ‘avita, kasita…” (Devarim 32:15).

Hashem is “caught” in a conundrum (kviyachol)! He loves His nation of Israel, His children (as He Himself calls them) and therefore delights in showering them with blessings and with success. And yet, more often than not, the more successful they become and the more of God’s blessings they enjoy, the more they drift away from Him and forget Who the source of blessing truly is. It is a problem predicted in the Torah (Devarim 8:11-17), mentioned in the Shema (Devarim 11:15-17) and included in Moshe Rabbeinu’s farewell song, as quoted above. So what should Hashem do? Should He punish His beloved people with disease and poverty (chas v’shalom) so that they call out to Him for salvation, or should He bless them, as He delights in doing, but thereby risk alienating them from Him?

We find this problem throughout our Tanach. Sefer Shoftim, covering the events that occurred in the three-plus centuries between the leadership of Yehoshua and that of Shmuel, is a book replete with examples of this exact behavior pattern. Israel abandons God, God punishes Israel, Israel prays to Hashem for salvation, Hashem empowers a shofet who saves Israel and, after some decades of success and relative peace, Israel sins once more. And the cycle begins once again. Suffering brings the nation back to God while success causes them to drift away. This same story repeats itself throughout Sefer Melachim and is reflected in the prophecies that our nevi’im share with Bnei Yisrael. And Hashem, as I mentioned, seems to be “caught up” in this conundrum!

And that is precisely what this week’s haftarah is about.

The prophet’s message begins in the opening of the 11th perek of Sefer Hoshea (although the haftarah begins after that) where the very opening words declare: “When Israel was young, I loved him and since Egypt I have called out to my son,” reminding Israel of the father-son love relationship He always had with them. But the navi continues his message, strongly criticizing “Efrayim,” i.e., the Northern Kingdom, for “wavering” in their decision to repent from their evil ways, to return to God or not. After reminding the people of everything Hashem had done for them, Hoshea cannot understand how Israel could still vacillate whether to repent or not to repent. In an especially moving part of the nevuah, Hoshea repeats the words of Hashem addressed to the nation as He cries: “How can I deliver you (into the hands of your enemies)?” and continues by declaring that His love for them is too great to allow that! In truth, Hoshea adds, although your sins may very well bring you into exile, yet, even then, Hashem will bring you back.

So what does this have to do with our parsha?

As Hoshea continues his message, he attempts to prove God’s love for Israel by recalling the stories of Hashem’s kindness to His people, stories that begin with events in the life of Yaakov Avinu. And, in that message, Hoshea reminds them what God had done for their patriarch. And so, as our haftarah begins, the prophet retells the story of Yaakov’s escape to Aram where he worked to win the hand of his wife—precisely the story we read in our parsha. The text stresses how our patriarch left his home penniless and alone yet returned from his stay in “galut” as a wealthy, married father of many. And all of this came about because Yaakov, having faced great difficulties, remained faithful to Gd and was therefore rewarded.

But that does not complete the prophet’s message, for in the final section of our haftarah Hoshea condemns Efrayim far more than in the earlier passages. The navi details their sinful behavior as a sad reflection of their ingratitude, again reminding them of all the kindnesses God had done for them. And he expresses the main theme of his prophecy by stating that they had become comfortable and “sated,” causing them to become haughty and, as a result, forgetting Hashem.

It is this very message that Hoshea hopes to impress upon the ever-more-sinful kingdom. They need only to repent and return to Hashem and they too will be blessed and protected—as was Jacob. It is for this reason that the final part of the reading is that which we recite on Shabbat Shuva, the Shabbat before Yom Kippur.

Throughout life we are challenged in different ways. Some are challenged with the difficulties of poverty or illness and struggle to understand Hashem’s ways, while others are blessed with success and comfort and are challenged to understand what Hashem expects them to do with those blessings that He bestowed upon them.

In either situation, we must realize that all comes from Hashem and we must, therefore, listen to the message of Hoshea: “Shuva Yisrael,” remember to return and remain close to God, the source of all blessing.


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

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