Hosea is the first of the twelve prophets whose small books (Hebrew: “Trei Asar”) conclude the Bible's prophetic section. A contemporary of Isaiah and Amos, Hosea lived in and preached against the Northern Kingdom of Samaria when its kings, Jeroboam II (Yeravam) and his idolatrous successors, reigned. He also had sharp words for Judah, the Southern Kingdom. As did his contemporaries, Hosea prophesied that Ephraim - an affectionate nickname for Samaria - would soon be destroyed due to its arrogance, religious and ethical corruption, and lack of faith in God.
The Haftarah dramatically describes both sides of the covenant between God and His people. On the one hand, the people no longer serve God, instead imitating their neighbors’ deceitful and idolatrous ways; they’re known for idolatrously “kissing calves.” Samaria relies not upon God’s covenantal promises but upon its own wealth, power, and alliances with Egypt and Assyria. Its false claim of sinlessness further highlights its guilt. The covenant clearly requires God to destroy them for all this; Hosea provides graphic descriptions of these brutal punishments. On the other hand, Hosea powerfully reminds the people that God’s mercy and love for them is boundless; He yearns for them to avoid their fate. Hosea expounds upon major episodes the life of the Parashah’s protagonist, Jacob, pleading with the people to follow his wholesome ways despite the struggles of doing so.
The Haftarah and the book of Hosea conclude with a heart-rending call for the people to return to God and His love for them- a passage that also opens the Haftarah of Shabbat Shuva, recited on the Shabbat before Yom Kippur. Its final verse highlights the difficulties of following God’s straight, righteous ways.
Verses 12:13-15: Ungrateful for God's goodnesses to Jacob and his descendants, Ephraim provokes God to punish it.
Ephraim provoked Him to anger most bitterly, so He shall place his bloodguilt upon him; his Lord will place his own disgrace upon him.
הִכְעִ֥יס אֶפְרַ֖יִם תַּמְרוּרִ֑ים וְדָמָיו֙ עָלָ֣יו יִטּ֔וֹשׁ וְחֶ֨רְפָּת֔וֹ יָשִׁ֥יב ל֖וֹ אֲדֹנָֽיו׃
Verses 13:1-3: God will destroy and exile Ephraim which is renowned for its idolatrous sacrifices.
Now they sin even more! They made for themselves molten images from their own silver, and idols according to their own understanding- all of it craftsmen’s work. They say of them, “Let the men who sacrifice kiss [their sacrificial] calves.”
וְעַתָּ֣ה ׀ יוֹסִ֣פוּ לַחֲטֹ֗א וַיַּעְשׂ֣וּ לָהֶם֩ מַסֵּכָ֨ה מִכַּסְפָּ֤ם כִּתְבוּנָם֙ עֲצַבִּ֔ים מַעֲשֵׂ֥ה חָרָשִׁ֖ים כֻּלֹּ֑ה לָהֶם֙ הֵ֣ם אֹמְרִ֔ים זֹבְחֵ֣י אָדָ֔ם עֲגָלִ֖ים יִשָּׁקֽוּן׃
Verses 13:4-8: Ephraim’s wealth and power caused it to forget God despite His care for them during the Exodus. God will therefore become their enemy, punishing them as vicious animals attack their prey.
When [the flock of Israel] grazed, they were sated; sated, their heart was exalted. Therefore, they have forgotten Me. כְּמַרְעִיתָם֙ וַיִּשְׂבָּ֔עוּ שָׂבְע֖וּ וַיָּ֣רָם לִבָּ֑ם עַל־כֵּ֖ן שְׁכֵחֽוּנִי׃
Verses 13:9-11: Ephraim, not God, bears guilt for its destruction. God will punish it for its reliance upon kings and their power.
O Israel, [you have] destroyed yourself! For you are against Me, against your help.
שִֽׁחֶתְךָ֥ יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל כִּֽי־בִ֥י בְעֶזְרֶֽךָ׃
Verses 13:12-14:1: God bewails that He must destroy Ephraim. God will do so soon, calling on natural and supernatural forces to weaken and then brutally destroy it.
Shall I [God] ransom them from She᾽ol [the underworld]? Shall I redeem them from death? O death, where are your plagues? O She᾽ol, where is your destruction? Compassion shall be hidden from My eyes!
מִיַּ֤ד שְׁאוֹל֙ אֶפְדֵּ֔ם/מִמָּ֖וֶת אֶגְאָלֵ֑ם/ אֱהִ֨י דְבָרֶיךָ֜ מָ֗וֶת/אֱהִ֤י קָֽטָבְךָ֙ שְׁא֔וֹל/נֹ֖חַם יִסָּתֵ֥ר מֵעֵינָֽי׃
Verses 14:2-9: Despite it all, if Ephraim repents of its idolatry and foreign alliances, then God’s unbreakable love for His people will cause Him to forgive them and make them flourish.
I [God] will heal their backsliding. I will love them freely, for My anger is turned away from them.
אֶרְפָּא֙ מְשׁ֣וּבָתָ֔ם אֹהֲבֵ֖ם נְדָבָ֑ה כִּ֛י שָׁ֥ב אַפִּ֖י מִמֶּֽנּוּ׃
Verses 14:10: Hosea’s message provides wisdom for the righteous, but a stumbling block for sinners.
Who is wise and will understand these [ways of God]? [Who is] discerning, and will know them? For the ways of the Lord are straight, and the righteous shall walk in them - yet the rebellious shall stumble on them." מִ֤י חָכָם֙ וְיָ֣בֵֽן אֵ֔לֶּה נָב֖וֹן וְיֵֽדָעֵ֑ם כִּֽי־יְשָׁרִ֞ים דַּרְכֵ֣י ה' וְצַדִּקִים֙ יֵ֣לְכוּ בָ֔ם וּפֹשְׁעִ֖ים יִכָּ֥שְׁלוּ בָֽם׃
Tur (Orach Chaim 98:1) uses the end of verse 14:3 as a source for prayer to serve as a substitute, in the Temple’s absence, for its daily offerings. The petition that concludes the siddur’s “Korbanot” section reflects this idea:
Siddur, Weekday Shacharit, Korbanot
סידור , שחרית לימות החול, קרבנות
Master of all worlds, You commanded us to bring the daily offering at its appointed time... But now, due to our sins, the Temple is destroyed and the daily offering is discontinued... Therefore let it be Your will, Lord our God and our fathers’ God, that our lips’ words be considered, accepted, and regarded favorably before You as if we had sacrificed the daily offering at its appointed time and stood in attendance at its service, as (Hosea 14:3) said, “We shall pay bullocks with our lips’ words.”...
רִבּוֹן הָעוֹלָמִים אַתָּה צִוִּיתָֽנוּ לְהַקְרִיב קָרְבַּן הַתָּמִיד בְּמוֹעֲדוֹ... וְעַתָּה בַּעֲוֹנוֹתֵֽינוּ חָרַב בֵּית הַמִּקְדָּשׁ וּבֻטַּל הַתָּמִיד... לָכֵן יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּ֒פָנֶֽיךָ יְקוָה אֱלֹקינוּ וֵאלֹקי אֲבוֹתֵֽינוּ שֶׁיְּ֒הֵא שִֽׂיחַ שִׂפְתוֹתֵֽינוּ חָשׁוּב וּמְקֻבָּל וּמְרֻצֶּה לְפָנֶֽיךָ כְּאִלּוּ הִקְרַֽבְנוּ קָרְבַּן הַתָּמִיד בְּמוֹעֲדוֹ וְעָמַֽדְנוּ עַל מַעֲמָדוֹ. כְּמָה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר וּנְשַׁלְּ֒מָה פָרִים שְׂפָתֵֽינוּ...
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