Sefer Bamidbar, the Book of Numbers, gets its English title from the Greek translation of Chazal’s appellation of the book, Sefer Hapekudim, the Book of Numbers. The opening words of our haftarah, therefore, are quite fitting, as the navi Amos begins with the promise “V’hayah mispar Bnei Yisrael” that the number of Bnei Yisrael would be as great as the sand on the shore. But there is far more to connect this selection to our parsha and to the sefer itself.
Despite the positive and hopeful message expressed by the first pasuk, much of the previous chapter carries a negative message to the northern kingdom of Israel. Hoshea, a contemporary of Yeshayahu, directed his words to the kingdom that was soon to be exiled, berating her for her infidelity to Hashem and comparing her to an unfaithful wife. In an effort to let the prophet understand Hashem’s feelings, he orders Hoshea to marry a wayward woman who begets him two sons and a daughter and, upon God’s directive, names them Yizrael, Lo Ruchama (not to be sympathized) and Lo Ami (not my nation).
It is at this point that our haftarah begins, as Hoshea changes his tone to one of mercy, filled with words of comfort. The navi predicts a final redemption and return to the land. And, in contrast to the names of his children, he speaks of a future when the nation will be called “sympathized” and “children of the living God.” He tells of the severe punishments Israel will suffer but, subsequently, will be “lured” back to the worship of Hashem and to His land. There will be a rapprochement between God and His people, peace will reign and Israel will live securely upon her land.
So what other connection is there to the parsha? It is quite simple: when telling of the return of Hashem to Israel the prophet states that this change of attitude will begin with one act: “V’holachtiha hamidbar,” “I will lead them into the desert.” Not only is our parsha and the new sefer referred to as “Bamidbar,” but the theme of the book is the development of Israel into an independent nation in the desert: from complaining former slaves in year #2 to a strong and independent people in year #40.
The desert is a place of change and growth. Hashem’s decision to punish the Israelites by delaying their entry into the land was made as it was clear that a nation who remembered the sweetness of the Egyptian melons but forgot the bitterness of its slavery could not build an independent country in a new land. The desert years were years of development and a time of rapprochement with God. And so it would be in the future as well, promises Hoshea.
And, in conclusion, Hoshea expresses the magnificent dream that we all hold dear until today. A time when “V’erastich li l’olam,” Hashem will betroth us to Him forever, with righteousness and justice, with kindness, and mercy…and with faithfulness.
By Rabbi Neil N. Winkler
Rabbi Neil Winkler is the Rabbi Emeritus of the Young Israel of Fort Lee and now lives in Israel.