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This week’s parashah tells of Jacob fleeing his home and agreeing to work for seven years for the right to marry Rachel. Haftarah Vayetze begins with an allusion to this event.
Hosea mentions this part of Jacob’s life story as he speaks about the sinful ways of Jacob’s descendents–the northern tribes of Israel, which he refers to by the name of one major tribe, "Ephraim."
Hosea explains their iniquity: "When Ephraim spoke with trembling, he was lifted high in Israel, but through an idol he incurred guilt and died" (13:1). He then adds: "They [the people] add sin to sin, making for themselves molten images" (13:2). Ever since the northern kingdom of Israel split from Judah, under the reign of King Jeroboam I, the people of Israel had been guilty of idolatry. Generations later, while Hosea prophesies, this problem still exists.
Hosea uses metaphors from nature to describe how God will punish Israel. Israel will disappear like the morning clouds and the dew (13:3). God will act violently, like a lion, leopard, and bear–and Israel will be the prey (13:8). Hosea mocks the people of Israel, "Where now is your king? Let him save you!" (13:10). The message is clear: God will punish harshly, and salvation can come from nowhere but God.
In the second half of the haftarah, Hosea pleads with the Israelites to repent (14:2). Again, Hosea uses metaphors from nature, but this time in a positive way: "He (Israel) shall blossom like the lily, shall strike root like the Lebanon tree" (14:6). This part of the haftarah, which stresses repentance and the potential for change, is also read on Shabbat Shuva–the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
In the end, Hosea promises that the people of Israel will abandon their idolatry and return to God. And they will come to understand: "Straight are the ways of the Eternal: while the righteous walk in them, transgressors stumble on them" (14:10).
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