Haftarat Bemidbar: Eternal Covenant

[Hoshea 2:1-22]
In the midst of his great despair over the Nation's unethical behavior, the prophet Hoshea underwent an incredible experience. Only after this does he understand that the Nation will return to Hashem.
"The number of the Children of Israel will be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or counted, and instead of saying to them: 'You are not My Nation,' say: 'You are the sons of the living G-d'" (Hoshea 2:10).
Surprisingly enough, the one who says "You are not My Nation" is actually the prophet Hoshea. He lived during one of the darkest periods in our history, and it was difficult for him to grasp our Nation's pure nature while we were mired in the filth of unethical behavior. The prophet therefore lost hope in the Nation's purification.
Our Sages relate (Pesachim 87a) that when Hashem turned to Hoshea and said: "Your children sinned" - Hoshea should have answered: "They are Your children, descendants of Your dear ones, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov!" But instead he said: "Master of the Universe - the entire world is Yours - exchange them for another nation!" Hashem then commanded him: "Go, take a wife from the prostitutes and children of the prostitutes, for the Land has committed great prostitution, departing from Hashem" (ibid. 2:1).

This extremely perplexing command was followed by the prophet, even though it was surely contrary to his nature. After his wife had given birth to two sons and two daughters, Hoshea was commanded to separate from her, since he was a prophet - just as Moshe Rabbenu had been commanded to separate from his wife.

It was obviously very difficult for Hosea to accept the command to separate from his wife - for he was bound to her through the children she had borne him. Hashem said to him: "You cannot leave your prostitute wife and her children, even though you cannot be sure that the children are even yours! All the more so I cannot exchange another nation for Israel, My sons, the sons of those I tested, the sons of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov." Hoshea thus realized that he had sinned and asked Hashem to forgive him. Hashem said: Before you ask Me to forgive you, ask forgiveness for Israel… So Hoshea asked forgiveness for Israel, and Hashem annulled the decrees against them" (Pesachim ibid.).

"You are son to Hashem, Your G-d" (Devarim 14:1). Is this expression, which is the most exalted of the Nation of Israel, dependent on our merits? According to Rabbi Meir, we are "Children to Hashem" regardless of our behavior, as it says: "They are foolish children" (Yirmiyahu 4:22). From this verse, we learn that even when they are acting foolishly, they are still called children. It is also written: "Children, they are not trustworthy" (Devarim 32:20). From here we learn that even when they are acting in an untrustworthy way, they are called children. And it says: "Evil seed, children that act corruptly" (Yeshayahu 1:4). Furthermore, even if they are evil, they are still called children. In order to emphasize that we are "Children to Hashem" without condition or change, Hoshea clearly states: "Instead of saying to them: 'You are not My Nation,' say: 'You are the sons of the living G-d'" (Hoshea 2:10).

The deep anger and despair of the prophet dissipated. He finally realized that these problems may exist in the present, but in the future the Nation will repent. They will not repent by force but out of love: "She will pursue her lovers, but she will not reach them. She will seek them, but she will not find them, then she will say: I will go and return to my first husband for it was better for me then than now" (ibid. v. 9). The Nation of Israel will come to understand that the foreign cultures which attracted it are nothing but deceit, all of the pleasures are fleeing vanities, and true happiness is loyalty to Hashem. This verse has in fact been used by our Sages as a paradigm for proper education: True education is gentle, with understanding and convincing, and not by pressure. The Gemara in Berachot (7a) says: "One chastisement in the heart of man is better than many lashes." Maran Ha-Rav Kook explained that this insight of our Rabbis, that education need be through love and pleasantness as opposed to by the stick, has only recently been understood (Ain Aya, Berachot chap. 1 #70).

The love between Hashem and His Nation will return. "I will betroth you to Me for eternity, and I will betroth you to Me with righteousness, justice, kindness and mercy. I will betroth you to Me with fidelity, and you will know Hashem" (Hoshea 2:21-22). These three expressions of betrothal are said by a Jew each morning while putting on Tefillin, as he winds the straps around his finger, similar to three wedding bands.