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Love Requires Reciprocity (Hosea 2:1-22)

Hosea saw his task as a prophet as an attempt to navigate the difficult relationship between God and the people of Israel. Their bond was filled with ups and downs, periods of fidelity and of disloyalty. The last lines of the haftarah present a model for rapprochement, based on  the commitments made in marriage: “And I will espouse you forever: I will espouse you with righteousness and justice and with goodness and mercy. And I will espouse you with faithfulness; then you will be devoted to the Lord.” (Hosea 2:21—22) The intent of this prophecy was that God would impose marital loyalty on His subjects.

The following midrash reads the interaction between God and Israel, found in these verses, in a totally different fashion:

Said Rabbi Shimon ben Halafta: ‘To what can this be compared: To a king who married a noble woman. She brought to the marriage two precious pieces of jewelry (arisim). The king, in return, also presented her with two precious jewels. The matron lost her jewels and the king subsequently took his jewels back. Time passed and the matron made herself deserving once again and found the two jewels. The king also returned his two jewels to her. The king then said: Both your jewels and my jewels would make a fine crown for you as queen to wear and so he took the jewels and placed them on her head as a crown.

So, too, we find with regard to Avraham. He gave his sons (Yishmael and Yitzhak) two jewels, as it is written: “For I (God) have singled him (Avraham) out, that he may instruct his children and his posterity to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is just (tzedakah) and right (mishpat)”. (Genesis 18:19). God, in turn, responded and by giving two jewels, loving-kindness (hesed) and mercy (rahamim) [in return], as it is written: “the Lord your God will maintain for you the covenant and the loving kindness (hesed)” (Deut. 7:12) and as it is written: “and He will show you compassion, and in His compassion increase you.” (Deut. 13:18) The people of Israel (through their transgressions) lost their “jewels”, as it is written: “You have turned justice into a poison weed and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood.” (Amos 6:12) As a consequence, God, also, repossessed his jewels: “For I have withdrawn My favor from that people, declares the Lord, My kindness and compassion” (Jeremiah 16:5)

But the people of Israel mended their ways and replaced their two jewels, as we read: “Zion will be redeemed in justice (mishpat), her repentant ones in righteousness (tzdakah)” (Isaiah 1:27) and God, in kind, replaced his two jewels: “For the mountains will move and the hills shake, but my loving-kindness will not budge from you…said God, who is merciful with you.” (Isaiah 54:10) After both parties brought their jewels together, God said: My jewels and your jewels will serve as your crown and He put them on the head of the people of Israel, as it is written: “And I (God) betroth you (Israel) to Me forever; and I betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice and in loving-kindness and mercy. And I betroth you to Me in faithfulness and then you will be devoted to God.” (Hosea 2:21-2) (adapted from Devarim Rabbah 3:7)

Hosea’s original prophecy was founded on the premise that God would impose fidelity on His relationship with His people. This midrash modifies that message. Taking inspiration from the fact that the word “v’aaresteech – and I betrothed”, found in Hosea’s message, sounds similar to a Greek loan word “arisin” meaning “jewel”, it teaches that just as quality human relationships are based on reciprocity, the same applies to the divine-human relationship. (See Jastrow dictionary, p. 120)

Each morning, when we wrap the tefillin straps around our fingers, we recite Hosea’s words, cited above. This daily act is a continuous sign of this divine-human reciprocity.

About the Author
Mordechai Silverstein is a teacher of Torah who has lived in Jerusalem for over 30 years. He specializes in helping people build personalized Torah study programs.
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