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   by Jacob Solomon

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'For they are a nation that lacks counsel. They have no understanding.' (32:28)

'The Priests - who minister to G-d - shall weep, and say: 'G-d: have pity on Your People… Why should the Nations say: "Where is your G-d?" [Then when you have repented] G-d will have been zealous for His Land, and He will spare the people'. (Joel 2:17-18 - Haftara Shabbat Shuva)

Both the Parasha and the Haftara prophesy disaster overtaking the transgressing Israelites in four stages.

The Haftara recalls the prophecy of Joel. Though the text gives no direct clues for the dates, it appears to have been addressed to the Kingdom of Israel before the seven year famine in the reign of Ahab's son, Jehoram (Kings II 8:12) (Radak). It may have been a century later - with the four waves of 'locusts' (below) alluding to four waves of Assyrian invasions, culminating at the exile of the Ten Tribes circa 720 BCE. The plague of locusts (or wave of invaders) were to come in four ever-worsening phases:

'What the gazam left over, the arbeh has consumed. What the arbeh left over, the yelek has consumed. What the yelek left over, the chasil has consumed' (Joel 1:4).

According to the Radak, gazam is associated with gozez - to cut; this species of locust mows down the crops in the field. [After the arbeh have filled themselves up], the yelek work on the leftovers, leaving the chasil to 'finish off' (literal translation) - so that that crop has no future whatsoever. In contrast, Abarbanel suggests that the four types of locusts represent the four empires that would eventually invade the Land of Israel - Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome [putting Joel's prophecy very close to the end of the First Temple Period], and addressed to the so far un-captured Kingdom of Judea.

In the Parasha, Moses warns the Israelites what will happen to them if they forget G-d through persistently and successfully pursuing wealth and affluence.

In the first stage 'they will be cut down' - [G-d's fire] will 'consume the earth its produce (32:22). Then 'I will accumulate evils against them. My arrows will consume them (32:23). The word 'accumulate' comes from the same Hebrew root arbeh - which may be rendered as both 'locusts' and 'accumulate - make many'. After that, they will work on the 'leftovers': 'on the outside the sword shall bereave, while indoors there will be dread' (32:25). And finally, the Land will be so unproductive [chasil - 'finished off' - left barren, unable to support a population] that the people will find themselves parting company with it: 'I will scatter them. I will let Mankind remember them no more' (32:26).

However, it may be suggested that the text of the Haftara complements the text of the Parasha. For the wayward Israelites in the Parasha seem bewildered at the disasters they suffer as their society breaks contact with their Creator through idolatry:

'For they are a nation lacking counsel. They have no understanding. If only they were wise they would understand why that fate fell upon them' (32:28).

It is Joel who supplies the 'counsel' - within the text of the Haftara:

'Sound the Shofar in Zion. Declare a fast. Call an assembly. Gather the people, summon the congregation… [including even] the bride and groom - they must leave the marriage chamber' (Joel 2:15-16).

And when all Israel is assembled in the Holy City with the common purpose of repentance:

'Between the Temple Portico and the Altar, the Priests - who minister to G-d - shall weep. They will say: 'G-d: have pity on Your People… Why should the Nations say: "Where is your G-d?" [Then when you have repented] G-d will have been zealous for His Land, and He will spare the people'. (Joel 2:17-18)

The key word is yivku - 'they shall weep'. It will be public 'between the Temple portico and the Altar'. It will be from the spiritual leaders 'the Priests, who minister to G-d'. This is the only place where such a commandment is given. For (adult male) tears are not produced at will - for the purposes of the moment. They are the genuine article. They demonstrate extreme emotion - a reflex action beyond control. That means that they are so deeply moved and repentant that they understand why the Israelites are suffering disaster. It is a moment of truth - of facing up to past shortcomings, which are total. For there will be no foraging for past good deeds - the only relevant argument will be 'G-d: have pity on Your People… Why should the Nations say: "Where is your G-d?"'

It is the deep emotions associated with the genuine weeping which underlies the opening words of the Haftara, from the Book of Hosea: 'Return, Israel, to the Lord your G-d'. It is the first stage of repentance. It sets to tone to the famous Midrash (Pesikta Rabbati, Shuva Yisrael):

A king's son was at a distance of a hundred days' journey from his father. His friends said to him: 'Return to your father'. He said to them: 'I cannot'. His father then sent to him and said: 'Go as far as you are able, and I shall come the rest of the way to you'. Thus G-d said to Israel: 'Return to Me, and I will return to you' (Malachi 3:7).

This gives us a window to the function of the Sheliach Tzibur - (the person who leads the services), especially on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. His personal identification with the content of the prayers should move him to tears, and thereby inspire the congregation through sincerity and presentation of the prayers to true repentance.

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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