This week is Shabbat Shuvah[i], the Shabbat before Yom Kippur, and it is fitting that the Haftarah begins with prophet’s plea in Hosea 14:2-3
שׁוּבָה יִשְֹרָאֵל עַד יי אֱלֹהֶיךָ כִּ כָשַׁלְתָּ בַּעֲוֹנֶךָ: קְחוּ עִמָּכֶם דְּבָרִים וְשׁוּבוּ אֶל יי אֵלָיו כָּל תִּשָׂא עָוֹן וְקַח טוֹב וּנְשַׁלְּמָה פָרִים שְׂפָתֵינוּ
Return O Israel, to ADONAI your God, for you have stumbled in your iniquity. Take words with you and return to ADONAI. Say to Him: ‘Take away all iniquity, and accept what is good, so we may repay with offerings of our lips’: (TLV)
The Sages understand this passage to say, “Take heed of My words of rebuke and return to God, for you have stumbled in misfortune due to your sins, and only HASHEM can raise you up again (Rashi; Ibn Ezra; Radak).”[ii] It is recognized that by themselves, Israel cannot overcome their misfortunes or judgment, only by returning to their God and Father will they be restored.
The Life Application Bible comments on Hosea 14:2-3,
The people could return to God by asking him to forgive their sins. The same is true for us: We can pray Hosea’s prayer and know our sins are forgiven because Christ died for them on the cross (John 3:16).
Forgiveness begins when we see the destructiveness of sin and the futility of life without God. Then we must admit we cannot save ourselves; our only hope is in God’s mercy. When we seek forgiveness, we must recognize that we do not deserve it and therefore cannot demand it. Our appeal must be for God’s love and mercy, not for his justice. Although we cannot demand forgiveness, we can be confident that we have received it because God is gracious and loving and wants to restore us to himself, just as he wanted to restore Israel.[iii]
By no means am I endorsing a two-covenant theology, implying that Christians are “saved” one way and Jews another. However it is interesting to me that the prophet and the evangelical commentators of Life Application Bible both acknowledge that “The people could return to God by asking him to forgive their sins.” Was Yeshua’s sacrifice necessary? Obviously so, or the Father would not have directed His Son to walk that path. But was the prophet wrong in requiring Israel to return to their God and with words asking for forgiveness while expecting forgiveness? I think not. In the last two week’s Parashot I believe we read two explanatory verses.
First in Ki Tavo, Deuteronomy 29:3 we read: “But to this day ADONAI has not given you a heart to know, or eyes to see, or ears to hear.” These words were echoed by Yeshua after he sent out the seventy-two emissaries announcing His coming (Luke 10:1). When they joyfully returned, testifying to the working of the Ruach in Yeshua’s name, He informed His disciples:
All things have been handed over to Me by My Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him. Then turning to the disciples, He said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you, many prophets and kings desired to see what you are seeing yet did not see, and to hear what you are hearing yet did not hear. (Luke:10-22-24)
But this isn’t fair! How can one possibly be held responsible for not understanding due to divine injunction? I believe Parasha Nitzavim holds the key, “The secret things belong to ADONAI our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever—in order to do all the words of this Torah” (Deuteronomy 29:28). The secret things, the hidden things are the responsibility of ADONAI. It is not our responsibility to try to explain, to decipher or even to completely understand. The prophet asks, “Who can fathom the Ruach of ADONAI?” (Isaiah 40:13). This is echoed in the Apostolic Writings as Rav Shual writes to the believers in Rome, “For ‘who has known the mind of ADONAI, or who has been His counselor?'” (Romans 11:34). And finally, the Psalmist admits, “ADONAI, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes lofty, nor do I go after things too great or too difficult for me,” (Psalm 131:1). In other words there are some things that we do not, and will not understand until it is revealed to us by the LORD Himself – if He ever does. That is the exercise of faith, “the evidence of realities not seen,” (Hebrews 11:1). Fortunately, we are left with another word of encouragement at the end of Hosea 14:10
מִי חָכָם וְיָבֵן אֵלֶּה נָבון וְיֵדָעֵם כִּי יְשָׁרִים דַּרְכֵי יי וְצַדִּקִים יֵלְכוּ בָם וּפֹשְׁעִים יכָּשְׁלוּ בָם
Who is wise? Let him discern these things. Who is intelligent? Let him know them. For the ways of the ADONAI are straight, and the just walk in them, but the wicked stumble.
We are to walk in the ways of the LORD in the light and understanding that He provides and trust that He will take care of what we do not know or understand.
The Sephardic conclusion to this Haftarah is found in Micah 7:18-20:
Who is a God like You pardoning iniquity, overlooking transgression, for the remnant of His heritage? He will not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy. He will again have compassion on us. He will subdue our iniquities, and You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will extend truth to Jacob, mercy to Abraham, that You swore to our ancestors from the days of old.
Are we to doubt the prophet’s words simply because they do not seem to fit our understanding of of the way ADONAI’s forgiveness works? Are we so bold as to place ADONAI in a box and demand He work or perform according to our conception of how things should work? The end of this passage gives credence to the practice of Tashlich in which those who follow the practice take crumbs of bread and cast them into streams or the ocean signifying the casting “all our sins into the depths of the sea.” On the Chabad site concerning Tashlich customs, it is noted, “Needless to say, the physical motions near the water and fish of Tashlich are not what grant us atonement. But if we pay attention to the symbolism and apply the sincere desire to heal our relationship with G‑d as portrayed in the physical demonstrations of Tashlich, then it serves as a crucial part in the process of repenting and returning to G‑d in purity.”[iv] In other words it is the heart action, the desire to repent and return to the LORD that is what truly matters, not the tossing of bread crumbs into the water. It is now, as it has always been, the attitude of the heart that the LORD is interested in, “So now, O Israel, what does ADONAI your God require of you, but to fear ADONAI your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve ADONAI your God with all your heart and with all your soul,” (Deuteronomy 10:12).
Let each of us search our hearts and minds during these Days of Awe, (between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) making sure that we are right before the LORD our God and with our fellow man. The Psalmist cried out to the LORD, pleading:
Cleanse me with hyssop and I will be clean. Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness, so the bones You crushed may rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from Your presence— take not Your Ruach ha-Kodesh from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit. (Psalm 51:9-14)
May this be our cry and the cry of all Israel, as well as all who call upon the Name of the LORD.
[i] The readings for this week are Torah: Deuteronomy 31:1-30; Haftarah: Hosea 14:2-10
[ii] The Twelve Prophets by Rabbi Nossom Scherman, Mesorah Publications, Brooklyn, 2014, p 108
[iii] Life Application Study Bible, NIV, Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, 1991, p 1524