web analytics
February 26, 2015 / 7 Adar , 5775
At a Glance
Judaism
Sponsored Post


Torah As A Marriage Contract

On the face of it, the connections between the sedrah and haftarah of Bamidbar are slender. The first has to do with demography. Bamidbar begins with a census of the people. The haftarah begins with Hosea’s vision of a time when “the number of the children of Israel will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or numbered.” There was a time when the Israelites could be counted; the day will come when they will be countless. That is one contrast between the future and the past.

The second goes deeper. The sedrah and the book that bears its name are called Bamidbar, “in the wilderness.” The book is about the wilderness years in both a physical and spiritual sense: a time of wandering and internal conflict. Hosea, however, foresees a time when God will bring the people back to the desert and enact a second honeymoon there:

“…I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. There she will respond as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came out of Egypt.”

What gives the haftarah its special resonance, however, is the fact that Bamidbar is always read on the Shabbat preceding Shavuot, the festival of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. The fact that tradition chose this of all prophetic passages tells us something deeply moving about how the Jewish people understood this festival and about the Torah itself as the living connection between a people and God.

The story of Hosea is one of the strangest of that great chain of visionaries we call the prophets. It is the story of a marriage. The prophet married a woman called Gomer. He was deeply in love with her. We can infer this because, of all the prophets, Hosea is the most eloquent and passionate on the subject of love. Gomer, however, proved faithless. She left home, had a series of lovers, was serially unfaithful, and was eventually forced to sell herself into slavery. Yet Hosea, caught between anger and tender longing, found that he could not relinquish his love for her.

In a flash of prophetic insight, God leads him to understand that his own personal experience mirrors that between God and the Israelites. He had rescued them from slavery, led them through the wilderness and brought them to their new home, the land of Israel. But the people proved faithless. They worshipped other gods. They were promiscuous in their spiritual attachments. By rights, says God, I should have abandoned them. I should have called them (as the prophet called his third child) lo-ami, “you are not My people.” Yet God’s love is inextinguishable. He too cannot let go. Whatever the people’s sins, He will bring them back into the desert, scene of their first love, and their marriage will be renewed.

The Talmud in Pesachim gives an extraordinary account of the dialogue between God and Hosea – the unwritten story of the episode that precedes the first chapter of the book of Hosea:

The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Hosea, “Your children have sinned.” To this, the prophet should have replied, “They are Your children, the children of your favored ones, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Be merciful to them.” Not only did he not say this but he actually said, “Lord of the universe, the whole world is yours. Exchange them for another nation.” The Holy One, blessed be He, said, “What shall I do with this old man? I will tell him to go and marry a prostitute and have children by her. Then I will tell him to send her away. If he can, then I too will send Israel away.”

There are few more telling passages in the whole of rabbinic literature. If I were to summarize it, I would say: Who is a leader of the Jewish people? Only one who loves the Jewish people. Reading the prophetic literature, it is easy to see the prophets as social critics. They see the people’s faults; they speak them aloud; their message is often a negative one, foretelling disaster. The Talmud is telling us that such a view is superficial and misses the essential point. The prophets loved their people. They spoke not out of condemnation but from the depths of deep desire. They knew that Israel was capable of, and had been summoned to, great things. They never criticized in order to distance themselves, to set themselves above and apart. They spoke in love – God’s love. That is why, in Israel’s darkest nights, the prophets always had a message of hope.

About the Author: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth, is the author of many books of Jewish thought, most recently “The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning.”


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Torah As A Marriage Contract”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Photo of Al Qaeda founder and former leader, Osama Bin Laden, seen above a Palestinian Authority flag.
New York Jury Convicts Saudi Man in 1998 Al Qaeda Attack on US Embassy
Latest Judaism Stories
Taste-of-Lomdus-logo

The Chasam Sofer answers that one of only prohibited from wearing a garment that contains shatnez if he does so while wearing the garment for pleasure purposes.

The-Shmuz

The avodah (service) of the kohen gadol is vital and highly sensitive; the world’s very existence depends on it.

Grunfeld-Raphael-logo

Moreover, even if the perpetrator of the capital offense is never actually executed, such as when the fatal act was unintentional, Kam Lei applies and the judge cannot award damages.

Daf-Yomi-logo

Forever After?
‘Obligated for Challahh and Not Terumah’
(Kesubos 25a)

Question: If Abraham was commanded to circumcise his descendants on the eighth day, why do Arabs – who claim to descend from Abraham through Yishmael – wait until their children are 13 to circumcise them? I am aware that this is a matter of little consequence to our people. Nevertheless, this inconsistency is one that piques my curiosity.

M. Goldman
(Via E-mail)

“We really appreciate your efforts in straightening the shul,” said Mr. Reiss. “How is it going?”

This was a spontaneous act of rest after the miracle of vanquishing their respective foes. The following year they celebrated on the same days as a minhag.

The way we must to relate to our young adult children is to communicate with genuine loving-kindness

Jewish prayer is a convergence of 2 modes of biblical spirituality, exemplified by Moses and Aaron

In holy places it’s important to maintain a level of silence permitting people to dialogue with God

Eventually, after some trial and error, including an experience with a prima donna and one with a thief, I baruch Hashem ultimately found a fine, honest and reliable household helper.

What fish-like characteristics does this month have that it should be exemplified in such a way?

How the 3 partitions of the mishkan each relate to a layer of creation, aiding our connection to God

Havdalah.com will be streaming an inspiring/live/MUSICAL/global Havdalah(NOT to fulfill obligation)

What about the Temple service required God to intervene commanding Aaron what he needed to wear?

More Articles from Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
Rabbi Sacks

Jewish prayer is a convergence of 2 modes of biblical spirituality, exemplified by Moses and Aaron

Rabbi Sacks

With the synagogue, “Judaism created one of the greatest revolutions in the history of religion”

By wisdom, we come to understand G-d via creation; By Torah we understand G-d through His revelation

Torah opposes slavery; G-d desires the free worship of free human beings, yet slavery’s permitted-?!

Pharaoh perverted symbols of life (the Nile and midwives) into agents of death.

The 5th cup is supported by a 5th expression of Deliverance: “And I will bring you to the land…”

The first recorded instance of civil disobedience is the story of Shifra and Puah, defying Pharaoh

Truthfulness is a fundamental value in Jewish yet truth isn’t its highest value. Peace is. Why so?

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/jewish-columns/rabbi-lord-jonathan-sacks/torah-as-a-marriage-contract/2013/05/08/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: