April 16, 2024
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Parshat Vayeitzei

The parsha of Vayeitzei is replete with significant events and with messages for future generations. Jacob’s dream of the ladder extending from earth to heaven, his love for Rachel, his faithful work for his father-in-law, the births of 12 children, the treachery of Lavan-all of these could serve as a source for the haftarah. But they don’t. Instead, Chazal chose a selection from the 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th chapters of Hoshea, the first of the12 minor books in the Navi section of Tanach. In the selection, Hoshea recalls Jacob’s struggle with the angel, the struggle we read about in the parsha, saying “And he (Jacob) mastered the angel and triumphed,” certainly a logical reason for choosing this haftarah for this week’s parsha.

Curiously, that verse is read only by those who follow the Sepharadi practice of reading the 11th and 12th perakim. However, those who follow the minhag of the Ashkenazim, who read from the 12th to the 14th chapters of Hoshea and omit the 11th perek, do not include that crucial pasuk. We therefore must search for another verse that would connect the reading to our parsha and lead the Ashkenazic scholars to pass over the earlier verse which clearly connects to our Torah reading. Instead, we must establish these perakim as the prophetic reading for this parsha.

I would suggest that Ashkenazic tradition chose to focus on the overall theme of the haftarah rather than on one pasuk. The selection begins with an obvious connection, mentioning the fact that Yaakov fled to Aram as an unmarried, penniless “refugee” and there he tended sheep to earn his keep and to win the hand of a wife. Eventually, though, Yaakov becomes hugely wealthy, marrying four wives and having12 children. Throughout these years, however, he never forgets that his success and his blessings all came from God. Nor does he forget the pledge he made to God after receiving Hashem’s promises in his dream.

Hoshea uses the experiences of our patriarch to underscore the failure of the Northern kingdom, Efrayim, to learn from Yaakov avinu and to remember Hashem’s kindnesses. The failure of the North to show gratitude and appreciation to Hashem for all He has done for them ias a result of their refusal to look back in history and see the wonders God had wrought for them. The kingdom of Efrayim had no army or organized defense force when it broke away from the powerful Judean monarchy, yet she became a powerful and wealthy kingdom in her own right, surpassing the might of Yehuda, the Southern kingdom, and defeating the Southern kingdom in a civil war. But, in the process of growing and expanding, the northern tribes had forgotten that it was Hashem who provided them with that wealth and granted them their victories. That ingratitude was expressed in Israel’s rampant idolatry, turning to the false gods that were worshipped by the surrounding nations, and ignoring the commands of God Himself. As a result, Hoshea predicts the fall of Efrayim, the destruction of her land and the torture of her citizens.

In usual prophetic fashion, Hoshea, in the final perek, calls for Israel to repent, to return. The final section of this week’s haftarah is also the opening one of Shabbat Shuva, and it promises that God’s everlasting love will never be taken away from them.

When we look back on our painful history, we can easily make the mistake of focusing on the national and individual tragedies we have suffered without realizing that, despite all of the trials and tribulations, we are here. Here. Living on the same land, speaking the same language and worshipping the same God that Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov did.

We may have stayed too long in galut, but like Yaakov, we have, with Hashem’s guidance, returned home.


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

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