SALT - Monday, 28 Iyar 5781 - May 10, 2021
In the prophecy read as the haftara for Parashat Bamidbar, the prophet Hosheia pronounces in God’s Name, “The people of Yehuda and the people of Israel will be assembled together; they will appoint one leader and ascend from the land, for great is the Day of Jezreel” (Hosheia 2:2). The prophet speaks of a day when the two kingdoms – Yehuda and Yisrael, which had been separate and waged war against one another on several occasions – will join together in unity under a single leader, and will “ascend from the land.”
Ibn Ezra explains the phrase “ascend from the land” as a reference to exile, and that the prophet here predicts the time when the Assyrian Empire will drive the majority of the nation into exile. The entire Kingdom of Israel, and a great deal of the Kingdom of Yehuda, were driven out of the land by the Assyrian emperor Sancheiriv, and, according to Ibn Ezra, he is the “one leader” mentioned here in this verse. Ibn Ezra explains on this basis the final clause of the verse, “for great is the Day of Jezreel,” which, in his view, hearkens back to the prophet’s warning several verses earlier (1:4) that God would punish the Northern Kingdom for the blood spilled in Yizre’el (Jezreel). The commentators explain that this refers to the violent rebellion mounted by Yeihu against Yehoram, king of the Northern Kingdom (Melakhim II, chapter 9). Yehoram was the son of the sinful king Achav, and Yeihu was instructed by the prophet to kill the entire family of Achav and establish a new dynasty over the Kingdom of Israel. Once the dynasty embraced idol worship, the war waged against the family of Achav retroactively became illegitimate, and they were thus punished for the blood they spilled (see, for example, Rashi to 1:4). The battle against Yehoram was waged in the Jezreel Valley, and thus the prophet warned that God would punish the dynasty of Yeihu for “demei Yizre’el” – “the blood of Jezreel.” According to Ibn Ezra, the proclamation “for great is the Day of Jezreel” warns of the exile to which the two kingdoms would be driven, as a punishment for the war waged in Jezreel.
Most commentators, however, disagree with Ibn Ezra, and explain the prophecy, “The people of Yehuda and the people of Israel will be assembled together” as foreseeing not the departure into exile, but to the contrary, the return from exile. The “one leader” whom the people will appoint, according to the conventional understanding, is the Mashiach. The Radak, in refuting Ibn Ezra’s interpretation, contends that the phrase “they shall appoint one leader” cannot refer to the Assyrian king, whom the people did not appoint over themselves, but who rather violently conquered their territory and drove them from exile. Moreover, the Radak writes, the word “ve-ala” (“shall ascend”) is generally used in reference to journeying towards the Land of Israel, not leaving the land.
As for the expression “Yom Yizre’el” used to describe the day foreseen by the prophet, the commentators associate the word “yizre’el” with the word “zera” – “seed.” Rashi explains “Yom Yizre’el” as referring to the day when “their seeds are gathered,” meaning, when the Jews who had been scattered would again assemble in the Land of Israel. This is based on Targum, which translates this expression as “yom kenishat’hon” – “the day of their gathering.” The process of exile, during which Am Yisrael was scattered throughout many lands, is likened to the process of seeding a field, and thus the ingathering of the exiles is compared to the collection of scattered seeds.
Malbim adds further insight into this metaphor. When a seed is placed inside the ground and decomposes, it seems as though it is lost forever, and will never amount to anything. Eventually, however, it produces a large amount of precious food, and it is determined that the seed’s burial in the ground and subsequent decay served the purpose of producing nourishing grain. Similarly, when Am Yisrael was driven into exile, “planted” in foreign lands and among foreign cultures, it seemed as though our nation was permanently lost. In this prophecy, God promises that Am Yisrael will emerge from exile greater and more numerous than they were previously. On “Yom Yizre’el,” it will be made clear that over the course of our exile, we were like a seed that gradually developed into something great and precious, that the hardships and challenges we endured led to our emergence as a proud, glorious nation renewing its sovereignty in its homeland.