"How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboyim? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused." Hosea 11:8
The Torah portion for this week, Vayeitzei, which means "and he left," is from Genesis 28:10-32:3, and the Haftorah is from Hosea 11:7-12:14.
This week's Haftorah reading comes from the book of Hosea. The book begins with one of the strangest commandments God ever gave to a prophet. God told Hosea: "Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her . . ." (Hosea 1:2). God commanded Hosea to deliberately marry an unfaithful woman and begin a family with her. Why would God ordain such a peculiar situation?
The Jewish sages explain that God and Hosea had a conversation that took place before the events recorded in the book. It went something like this:
God: "The people have sinned."
Hosea: "So exchange them for another people."
Ouch. Hosea's response, though probably just, was not very kind. Instead of sticking up for the people of Israel, he was ready to cut them loose and replace them with a new group of people. However, God had different plans. God, who loved the children of Israel and was committed to them as a husband is to a wife, cared too much about Israel to let her go.
God wanted Hosea to understand this perspective and so He put Hosea in exactly the same position. Hosea was commanded to marry an unfaithful woman and have children with her. While Hosea grew to love his wife, she quickly betrayed him. Now, Hosea knew exactly how God felt, "for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the LORD" (Hosea 1:2).
The Haftorah reading begins in chapter 11, and with this background we can understand God's words in verse 8: " . . . How can I hand you over, Israel . . . all my compassion is aroused." God did not judge Israel with justice alone. He judged Israel with compassion, mercy, and love as well.
The sages teach that we, who were created in the image of God, have an obligation to imitate God. They instruct: "Just as God is merciful and compassionate, so, too, should you be merciful and compassionate." Just as God judges us with love and mercy, so, too, do we have to grant the same amount of grace, compassion, and mercy to everyone we come across.
It has been said that we ought to treat others with more kindness than necessary because everyone is fighting some kind of battle. When we encounter others, sometimes in an unpleasant way, do we judge them with harshness and blind justice? Or can we see them with eyes of compassion and understanding? Can we see beyond everything that is wrong with a person into the beauty of their divine soul?
The sages teach that God treats us as we treat others. So let's be kinder than necessary, and then God will lovingly and mercifully do the same with us.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President