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Vayetze | Going Away and Coming Back (Hoshea 12:13 - end)

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  1. a. Work and Guarding


The connection between the Haftora and the parasha is clearly based on the first pasuk: "And Israel fled to the field of Aram, and Israel (Yaakov) served (worked) for a wife, and for a wife he guarded (sheep)" (12:13).


This verse basically summarizes the first part of the parasha: Yaakov's flight and his work for Lavan for fourteen years, guarding the flocks, to "earn" a wife.


The verbs "served" ("avad") and "guarded" ("shamar") are taken from the parasha: "I shall serve you seven years for Rachel, your younger daughter" (29:18), "I will again shepherd and guard your flocks" (30:31).  The service which Yaakov performed for Lavan involved guarding the flocks.  Hence "service" here is a general concept; "guarding" is the specification.


But the juxtaposition of these terms, "working and guarding," is found elsewhere as expressing two entirely different concepts.  This is so in the case of Adam, with regard to whom we learn, "And He placed him in the Garden of Eden, to work it and guard it" (2:16).  Here, once again, "guarding" refers to some type of work or activity.  But the Sages of the Midrash interpret these terms as referring to the realm of Divine service.  The Zohar (27a) teaches, "'to work in it' – thus charging him with the positive commandments, 'to guard it' – thus charging him with the negative commandments." Here "working" and "guarding" are presented as opposites, in a certain sense.  "Working" means activity; "guarding" indicates passivity.


But the verb "guarding" also refers to another concept, that of expectation, when it is not within human power to act, to promote, to further an aim.  Thus Rashi, commenting on the pasuk regarding Yosef's dream, "but his father kept ("shamar") the matter (in mind)," (37:11), says: "He waited expectantly to see when it would come true."  Would it be far-fetched to interpret "and for a wife he guarded," too, as referring to expectation and anticipation?  Is this expectation not explicitly described by the text when it says of Yaakov, "And they were in his eyes like (just) a few days because of his love for her" (29:20)? The knowledge that he was working towards an aim sweetened his harsh years of service.  He guarded the sheep, but in his heart he guarded the thoughts of Rachel.  Thus we may interpret this pasuk as including both women: "'And Israel served for a wife' – Leah, 'and for a wife he guarded' – Rachel.  The implication here is that he worked hard and served for Leah for seven years, but his heart and his hopes were set on Rachel.  For Rachel, he "guarded."


  1. b. Israel – Flocks and Wife Together


In the second pasuk of the Haftora the prophet speaks of God's mercies: "And with a prophet God brought Israel from Egypt, and by a prophet he was guarded."  It would seem that Hoshea here draws a parallel between the two pesukim and the two parshiyot.  Just as "Israel served for a wife, and for a wife he guarded," so did God, as it were, "serve" for a "wife," and for a "wife" He "guarded." He "served for a wife" – by bringing Israel (the nation) out of Egypt, thereby readying them to be His betrothed, and through a prophet He guarded them in the desert.


But God's mercies and efforts are greater than those of Yaakov.  Yaakov shepherded and guarded the flocks for the sake of establishing his household, for Rachel, while God served and guarded the flock for the sake of the flock itself – in order that, when the time came, they could be betrothed to Him.


  1. c. Despite Everything – Return, O Israel


The comparison of the Holy One, Blessed be He, to Yaakov serving and guarding for his wives may teach us an additional lesson.  The prophet expounds at great length concerning God's bitter disappointment at the nation: "Efraim made Him very angry..." (12:15) – to the point where the devoted Shepherd who cared and guarded turned, as it were, into an animal of prey, attacking the flock: 


"Therefore I shall be to them like a lion, like a leopard on the road I shall watch them, I shall meet them like a bereaved bear... and I shall devour them like a lion, the wild beast will tear them apart" (13:7-8). 


But despite all the disappointment and bitterness, the connection is not completely broken.  The prophecy concludes with a heartfelt call: "Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God!" (14:2).  The embers of God's love are still glowing and they may still be rekindled: "I will heal their backsliding, I shall love them freely, for My anger is turned away from him" (14:5).


And in fact we find the same idea in the context of Yaakov's story.  He worked in order to marry Rachel, and his heart guarded with happy anticipation this future connection.  At the critical moment, however, Rachel was switched with Leah.  But since he had married Leah he remained loyal to her and did not send her away.  Likewise, God is already "betrothed" to Israel and therefore cannot banish them.  He has sacrificed and invested so much on their behalf that no wrongdoing on their part and no disappointment could break the connection.  He may punish them, He may be a "devouring lion," but even this relationship indicates some connection.


Israel may even be to God like Rachel and Leah together.  He feels great love and closeness to them – like to Rachel, but at times they seem like a wife betrothed by force, not loved.  But whether they are Rachel or Leah, God cannot part from them, and therefore the prophet calls to them: "Take words with you and return to God" (14:3).


  1. d. Return, O Israel, to the Land of your Fathers


The call "Return, O Israel" may also be reminiscent of a call in the parasha, directed at Yaakov: "And God said to Yaakov, 'Return to the land of your fathers and to your birthplace, and I shall be with you'" (31:3).  A return to the land is also a return to God, because it is only in the Land of Israel that God makes the covenant with Yaakov and his descendants that He will be their God.


At the time of Hoshea's plea, "Return, O Israel," the entire nation was living in the land.  But for many generations thereafter, the call of "Return, O Israel, to God" was combined with the call, "Return to the land of your fathers."


The words with which the Haftora opens: "And Israel fled...," express the first flight into exile by a descendant of Avraham – a flight which will eventually end with the response to the call, "Return, O Israel..."  


(Translated by Kaeren Fish)

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