Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Bamidbar
To dedicate this lesson

To the Desert Once Again


Rabbi Yossef Carmel

Iyar 5768
In this week’s haftara, Hoshea makes a deep, elusive statement: "The Sons of Judah and the Sons of Israel will gather together and appoint one head and go up from the Land, for the day of Jezre’el is great" (Hoshea 2:2). R. Yochanan attributes the great day to the ingathering of exiles (Pesachim 87b-88a). Rashi identifies the head as King David, and the Radak as Mashiach. The problem is that the pasuk refers to going up from the Land, when the ingathering exiles will be coming up from the Diaspora to the Land. Therefore, Ibn Ezra explains the pasuk on a sad note; the head is Sanchariv, who exiled much of the nation. However, if so, it should have said, "... go down from the Land"?
Ostensibly, there are two possible, national scenarios: 1) The people keep Hashem’s mitzvot and prosper in the Land. 2) They sin and are expelled from the Land and dispersed. Our haftara provides another possibility. The Ramban connected our pasuk with the phrase used by Pharaoh in the beginning of Shemot, "it will go up from the land." This could refer to the Egyptian nation leaving their own land (Rashi) or to a freed Bnei Yisrael leaving Egypt for Eretz Yisrael (Rashbam). Actually, the generation that left Egypt did not make it to Eretz Yisrael but to the desert. The stay in the desert allowed Bnei Yisrael to properly prepare for the next generation’s entrance to the Land.
We can now present the following explanation of Hoshea’s prophecy, in the context of his extensive criticism of the idolatry to the Ba’al, which devastated large parts of Bnei Yisrael for generations. Followers of the Ba’al believed their worship caused rain to refresh the fields (which explains the etymology of a field that relied on rain water being called a ba’al field). Idolatry was accompanied by public promiscuity (see Yalkut Shimoni 675). We, l’havdil, believe that serving Hashem brings crucial rain to the land (Devarim 11:14) and that Hashem despises promiscuity (Sanhedrin 106a). Therefore, Hoshea proclaimed: "I will make her like a desert and an arid land, and I will have her die from thirst" (2:5). Yet he also said: "I will take her to the desert and appeal to her heart" (ibid.:16). The covenant between Hashem and Bnei Yisrael in the desert could be renewed: "I will betroth you forever ... and you shall know Hashem... and the land will respond with grain, wine, and oil, and they will respond to Jezre’el" (ibid.:21-24). The liberation will come only when they "will respond as in the days of her youth and the day they came up from Egypt ... remove the names of the Ba’alim from her mouth" (ibid.:20).
The prophet is thus telling us that after sinning, the nation will have to leave the Land and go to the desert, instead of exile. This is the going up from the Land, an unfortunate necessity, as service of the Ba’al is inapplicable there. While this could have happened, the nation did not accept Hoshea’s rebuke and needed full exile. May our redemption from that exile continue to develop in Israel.
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