“I will make her like a wilderness” Hosea 2:5
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Severe issues of distrust between husband and wife are what the haftarah is all about. She does not speak with him any more and he speaks about her with their children: “A harlot is your mother! Please, kids, go and tell her. Tell her, I will strip her naked and I will make her like a wilderness.”
On her side, how blind she is: not aware that her husband cared about her the whole time and still does. She thought all those gifts had been from various lovers instead. “I wished”, thinks her husband longingly, “we were in deserted lands, where she would have nothing but me, where she would only give attention to me. Life in fruitful abundance has made her blind and faithless.” He is God, she is the people of Israel and we are their children.
The prophet Hosea speaks in images. The haftarah opens with a declaration of God’s burning love for Israel and ends with those famous words: “I will espouse you forever”, despite all that faithlessness.
Every morning when we say these words while donning tefillin, this divine hope is refreshed and awaits our response. The fourth book of the Torah (Bemidbar, “in the desert”), which we start to read this Shabbat, describes the dysfunctional relationship between God and Israel and how the ideals of both of them are ruined.
Even this deserted place does not bind the two together, it seems. “He loves you so much, but he is so disappointed,” Hosea tells Ms Israel about her partner. All that the prophet wants is that she should just be grateful and would trust in the right partner. Why does the Book of Bemidbar start with numbers? Because God loves Israel so much, that he counts her again and again, says Rashi.