The Prophet Hosea: An Ancient and Modern Warning
What has been, will be. ~Ecclesiastes 1:9
Pleasures after a certain limit are but punishments. ~Marcus Aurelius
“Blow the great shofar for our ultimate redemption, and raise a banner to gather our exiles, and gather us together from the four corners of the earth to our land. Blessed are You Hashem, who gathers in the scattered of His people, Israel.” ~A blessing from the Amidah Prayer
I remember nearly a year ago when I was working maintenance in a yeshiva in Hevron, that I had what maybe we can call an epiphany. I wouldn’t want to call it a vision, because it was something that came from a certain amount of reasoning in my mind’s eye. I was nearing the end of the Amidah prayer, when I felt like I could “see” per se, dark clouds coming over the horizon. Dark clouds that metaphorically indicated that due to so much impurity that we have all created, that there was going to be suffering on the way…
As the first prophet to warn the Northern Kingdom of Israel against the coming destruction, the prophet Hosea ben Be’eri plays a very interesting part in Tanach. For those of us who don’t know the story, Hosea comes to G-d, and asks Him why not simply divorce the Northern Ten Tribes? They had been rebellious for several generations now, and it was clearly not worth it for G-d to call them His people. G-d then replies to Hosea by telling him to marry a prostitute, and have children with her. Afterwards, G-d asks Hosea why he shouldn’t divorce his unfaithful wife. Hosea’s reply in so many words: I can’t. I love her.
Such is the expression of G-d’s love for the people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the Tanach. The book of Hosea is full of sadness and hope, grief and comfort for the future. And yet, Hosea’s message that he brings is also one of dire existential warning, and in the latter part of the book, becomes mournful at the future loss and dispersion of what is known even today as the “lost tribes” who were destroyed by the Assyrian Empire. According to Yalkut Shimoni, Hosea’s own father Be’eri or in other places Be’erah was the chief of the tribe of Reuven which was first attacked and exiled by the Assyrian Empire in roughly 721 B.C.E. (Check The Greatness of the Tribe of Reuven | Yehonatan Ben Israel | The Blogs (timesofisrael.com) for more on why the tribe of Reuven as the first to be destroyed).
Indeed, in Don Abarbanel’s commentary on Amos, another prophet of that time, he states that the loss and dispersion of the ten tribes is in its own way an even greater tragedy than the exile of the Jewish people following the destruction of the first and second temples, because while the Jewish people carried with them the Shechinah–the remembrance of worshipping Hashem and connecting to Him–the Northern tribes were not so fortunate.
Thus, to paraphrase Don Abarbanel, while figuratively speaking, Hashem goes with the Jewish people into exile, Hashem mourns over the exile of the Northern Tribes as they are lost on a much deeper level.
And yet, like Tolkien’s fictional character King Theoden from the above clip, regardless of how long ago it happened, we must ask ourselves as we should feel the daunting loss of ten of our great tribes of our holy nation:
How did it come to this?
To answer this question, we go back further in time.
After the death of King Solomon, the northern tribes rebelled from the Davidic dynasty under the pretext of being worked too hard to support the general infrastructure. The leader of the rebellion, Yerev’am, was proclaimed as king, and he promptly did two things: He set up two golden calf idols–one in the kingdom’s capital and southern border city of Betel, and the other in the kingdom’s northernmost city in the Golan Heights, Dan. It is worth mentioning that cattle and bulls were a great symbol of strength and economic prosperity in the ancient Middle East. In essence, he was attempting to stop his people from worship of Hashem in Jerusalem by distracting them with the pagan symbols of prosperity, convenience and comfort. (Sound familiar?) In later generations of the Northern Kingdom, the Baal and Asherah cult was embraced–a Phoenician/Canaanite cult which entailed fertility and economic growth with more grotesque rituals. I’ll return to this topic later.
He further made it illegal for anyone within his kingdom to go to Jerusalem to worship G-d. Sadly, generation after generation afterwards of the kings of the northern kingdom continued waging this agenda of keeping the people of the Northern Kingdom from joining in the worship of the temple in Jerusalem, and distracting their population with idolatry.
Certainly, it’s already bad enough that the nation of Israel went after idolatry instead of worshipping our true Creator so perhaps in some ways this answers our question of how the Northern Kingdom of Israel was lost. Nevertheless, in order to take us deeper into the heart of the issue of what is truly happening here I want to point out that in several verses in the book of Hosea, there is a common word that comes up: That of daat–the Hebrew word for “knowledge.” Indeed, Hosea seems to often connect the concept of daat with redemption pertaining to when the nation has it, and destruction for when the nation is lacking in it:
“And I will betroth you to Me with faith, and you will know Hashem.” 2:22
“Hear the words of Hashem, descendants of Israel, for Hashem has a contention with the inhabitants of the land, for there is no truth and no benevolence and no knowledge of God in the land.” 4:1
“My nation has been silenced for lack of knowledge, for you have spurned knowledge, and I will spurn you from serving Me…” 4:6
“They will not abandon their deeds to return to their God for a deviant spirit is in their midst, and HaShem they do not know.” 5:4
“And let us know, let us pursue knowledge of Hashem…” 6:3
“For I desire benevolence, not sacrifices, and knowledge of God over burnt offerings.” 6:6
“Strangers have consumed his strength, but he did not know. Old age was cast upon him, but he did not know.” 7:9
“To Me, Israel will cry out ‘My God, we know you.” 8:2
“They have enthroned kings but not from Me; they have ordained officers but I did not know.” 8:4
What is going on here? Why so many verses on daat, knowledge?
First of all, we have to understand that daat is not just simply the English definition of knowledge that we all usually think of–facts to remember out of a textbook, technicalities, or data that we acquire. In the Hebrew language of the Tanach, it means something far deeper– it entails uniting in marital relations, it entails inner experience, and inner consciousness, especially when applied to daat of Hashem. In essence, the definition for daat strongly implies deep intimacy and experience. In a book such as Hosea, in which the narrative surrounds the relationship with an unfaithful spouse, it should not be surprising that we see the word “daat” appear again and again.
To elaborate on the definition of daat in the aspect of connecting to G-d, Rabbi Avraham Sutton writes in his work, Spiritual Technology:
“Daat is the secret. Without daat, we see appearances. With daat, we pierce through the illusion of separateness… Daat as intimate knowing, awareness, consciousness, and connectedness to truth and holiness is the main reason we are here. This is made crystal clear in the Talmud’s emphatic statement, ‘Whoever has daat, it is as if the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple) was built in his day (Brachot 33a).’ Daat is so precious that we have a rule: ‘There is no poverty like the poverty of daat,’ such that ‘if one has daat, he has everything; if one does not have daat, what does he have? If one has acquired daat, what does he lack? If one has not acquired daat, what has he acquired? (Nedarim 41a)’ With daat a person has everything; without it, he has nothing.” (Spiritual Technology, Chapter 2. Rabbi Avraham Sutton)
Hence we have to ask, how did the Northern Kingdom lose it’s daat? More importantly, how do we lose our daat in our modern world today, and even more importantly, how do we get it back? OK, so we could say that yes, when we ignore the Divine Source of all, and slow down our thinking of Him, then maybe we could say that we begin to lose our daat. Yet, Judaism’s deeper teachings have a far more potent answer to this question which brings us to the core of what we are looking for.
In the book, the Light of Ephraim which is a book of deep teachings put into story form of a conversation between a rabbi and a student, the flaw of wasting seed (A man’s sperm) is known as both the “flaw of the covenant” and the “flaw of knowledge”–daat!
“In Talmudic terms, wasting seed is referred to as a flaw of the covenant. In contrast, the kabbalists refer to it as a flaw of knowledge. In truth, however, these are two different aspects of the same transgression. The flaw of the covenant refers to the actual deed by which one desecrates the covenant, whereas the flaw of knowledge focuses on the effect that this transgression has on one’s knowledge of Hashem.” (The Light of Ephraim, Chapter 4. Simcha H Benyosef.)
We are bio-spiritual entities. Hence, when we men waste seed, it isn’t just something meaningless. We have wasted the life inside of us–our soul-children–taken from our upper spiritual realm and brought them down, and instead of allowing them a pure vessel to enter into within the marriage covenant, they are sent out as souls without bodies. Hence, they become “demons” of destruction in our world–holy sparks of energy that are thrown away and give power to “evil.”
Indeed, one of the chief rituals of the Baal and Asherah cult that was later introduced to the Northern Kingdom entailed sexual orgies in order to arouse intimacy between the two idols, in order to cause rain and prosperity. Between the emotional euphoria that people would get out of the cult and the sexual orgy-rituals, the enticement had a fatally powerful effect on the average layman of the time. The worst thing about the orgy rituals of the cult was that it sometimes wouldn’t stop at wasting soul-children–in desperate times actual child sacrifice was also performed in attempt to show devotion to this disgusting cult. Hosea even seems to imply that the Northern Kingdom was addicted to such horrific cults–“They will not abandon their deeds to return to their God for a deviant spirit is in their midst…” (5:4)
While today these pagan cults are mostly gone from the world (Though granted there are still adherents on certain levels), I believe we find ourselves in a similar situation. All one needs to do to in order to indulge in the wasting of sexual energy is to press a few buttons on the phone or computer.
The scariest thing about this type of addiction is that it’s so very easy to write off and rationalize away. It’s not someone destroying themselves with a narcotic, or drinking alcohol to the point of needing to detox. No, this is for the most part a silent addiction. And yet, it is imperative that we fight such an addiction and do whatever is necessary to break it–throwing away a cell phone, keeping time on a computer to a minimum, getting a filter if it works. Finding people to connect with for encouragement. It is an addiction that in and of itself causes a person to have a lack of awareness to the spiritual damage he has caused to himself and his world, a lack of awareness that can only be broken through by the sheer force of will and determination to regain that awareness in his life.
Yes, the breaking of spiritual daat is truly very terrible.
“I write for them the great things of My Torah; they are regarded as something alien.” 8:12
Indeed, I’ve sat in pornography addiction meetings in which devout religious men like myself have said that they feel their prayers extremely cheapened because of this addiction. And yes, I am also someone who has to battle addiction to pornography, through no one else’s fault but my own. I write this on a public blog post because I believe that we are all in a silent war for our foundations, and that I confess this not only for myself, but to let my fellow addicts out there know that they are not alone, and that it is imperative that we fight this. As long as we as a people remain timid and hide cowardly in the shadows about this issue–whether we are battling such addictions or not–we will be on the losing track in this battle for hearts and minds for both ourselves and our children. It may sound crazy to think of comparing pornographic images (Be they “hardcore porn” or models on social media) to pagan orgies and temple prostitutes of ancient times, but they both do the same exact thing at the end of the day–causing sexual energy to go into the wrong direction which increases darkness and separation from our True Life Source.
Fighting lust, sexual and pornographic addiction is more than just an addiction battle. It is a battle against the dark itself. The temptation of the temporary pleasure that if one G-d forbid indulges in, sends strength to the “other side.” It is a war that must be won at all costs.
The prophet Hosea teaches us that when spiritual degradation happens, then does moral and ethical. When moral and ethical degradation happens, then does the physical/economic. The Northern Kingdom of Israel for much of its existence was an economic, political, and military powerhouse in the region. Yet its day came as it slowly deteriorated.
To illustrate this on the grand scale, the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks asks, “When we lose God, what else do we lose? What do we lose collectively and individually?” He goes on to later say that five losses happen over a gradual time span: 1. The loss of belief in human dignity and the sanctity of life, 2. the loss of the politics of covenant–overall distrust of leaders and fellow citizens (Indeed, before the fall of the Northern Kingdom, there were several coups), 3. The loss of general morality, 4. The loss of marriage, 5. The loss of a meaningful life in the form of a dutiful “calling.” (Source: The Great Partnership: God, Science, and the Search for Meaning. Chapter 5. Jonathan Sacks.)
Rabbi Sacks later sharply quotes American philosopher, Bertrand Russel, pointing out that even though Russel was himself an atheist, that traditional religion for society as a whole has foundational and intrinsic value:
“Russel wrote that even the greatest civilizations like ancient Greece and Italy of the Renaissance eventually lost their ‘traditional moral constraints,’ because people lost faith in the ideas that supported them. The result was that ‘the liberation from fetters made individuals energetic and creative, producing a rare florescence of genius; but the anarchy and treachery which inevitably resulted from the decay of morals made Italians collectively impotent, and they fell, like the Greeks, under the domination of nations less civilized than themselves but not so destitute of social cohesion.'” (Ibid. Chapter 8)
“I will go and return to My place until they will acknowledge their guilt and seek My face; in their hardship they will seek me.” 5:15
Pertaining to finding our way back, Rebbe Nachman writes of purification of the body,
“After all a person’s efforts and exertions to draw closer to God, he is subjected to a little bitterness–because the purification of the body comes through bitterness. The person thinks there will never be anything except bitterness, and immediately runs away. If he would just be willing to wait a while and endure this little bitterness in order to purify the body, he would later experience every kind of vitality and delight. In serving God, first one experiences the bitterness of the purification of the body, but afterwards one enjoys the vitality.” (Sipurim Niflaim, Rebbe Nachman.)
Rebbe Nachman further established what is called the “General Rectification (In Hebrew Tikkun HaKlali),” what can also be termed as the Rectification of the Covenant or Daat, to pray Psalms 16, 32, 41, 42, 59, 77, 90, 105, 137, and 150 after one has had a fall, and to go to the mikvah the day of if possible. It would further go without saying that prayer, meditation, and learning is a must. For myself personally, I have found that reading the works of Rebbe Nachman have been extremely helpful in realizing that no matter how low we sink, no matter how demoralized that we feel, that we must never give up, and we must always remember that every small step towards doing what is right, pure and holy is truly precious in Hashem’s eyes.
Ironically, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto writes in chapter 20 of his work Ma’amar Geulah that in the days leading up to the final redemption, that Israel’s primary challenge will be the rectification of the body on the national level. For sure, it’s hard to gage when such a time may come. Yet, I believe that this challenge for men has never been greater than it is today, simply because of how easy it is to “fall.” Drastic steps must be taken, and no one will do it for us. Our own friends and family may accidentally impede us from time to time. We must be strong.
Learning to say no to the bodily lusts, much like a detoxification process, brings on “bitterness.” For those of us who like to sing, “We want Mashiach now,” we should remember that a king is only as good as the people that he leads. I believe that whether we like it or not, we most certainly are heading towards a purification process. And for those who aren’t ready–the addicts who are committed–it’s going to be painful. We must rally if we are going to be a good foundation for Mashiach, whether that is now or centuries from now. The foundation of kingship is the will of the people, and indulgence in sexual impurity most certainly attacks the will. Suffice to say, we have work to do, even if our addictions aren’t of a sexual nature but are simply an indulgence for comfort and convenience over what’s right.
In the end, though it is an ongoing battle, we can find our way back. To again quote Rebbe Nachman who also brings a beautiful verse and explanation of G-d’s love from Hosea,
“‘Then God said, call his name, Lo-Ami, for you are not my people, and I will not be your God.’ (Hosea 1:9, 2:1). No sooner does the prophet announce this than he says at once, ‘In the place where it was said unto them, you are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, you are the sons of the Living God.” (Restore My Soul, Rebbe Nachman).
This is indeed the promise that the lost tribes of the Northern Kingdom are given–that even in their wandering, that they will one day “find themselves,” and return home. Indeed, we are today hearing echos from different cultures and nationalities that indicate a connection to the lost tribes. And yet, as stated above, we can also see the consequences for the terrible spiritual deterioration from so many generations. As one movie puts it, “we create our own demons.” Again, we are bio-spiritual entities, and what we do has consequences for us and those around us.
With the help of Hashem, may we all rise up to fight this great battle in our generation, and may we go on to influence the rest of the world towards purity of the eyes, mind and heart.
Source on Canaanite Pagan Cult: That the World May Know | Fertility Cults of Canaan