In studying Hosea (and the whole Bible) it is valuable to pay attention to the original Hebrew parshahs (chapters or sections) as written in the parchment scroll as opposed to the sometimes arbitrary chapter breaks that are conventionally used in the majority of printed Bibles.

In many printed Hebrew Bibles (but not in the written scroll), the parshah breaks are indicated by an enlarged Peh indicating PARSHAH PETHUHAH, an "open parshah", or an enlarged Samach indicated PARSHAH SETHUMAH, a "closed parshah". A Parshah Pethuhah is a more decisive break from what went before than a Parshah Sethumah, as suggested by the manner in which they are respectively written in the scroll. In the case of the parshah Pethuhah, the space that separates it from the preceding section is wider and more obvious than in the case of a Parshah Sethumah.

A Parshah Pethuhah is the equivalent of a chapter in itself - a section of the text that has own theme and purpose. A Parshah Sethumah is less separate from the Parshah that precedes it - it is more like a section break within a chapter.

Today's text, Hosea Chapters 5-6, makes up one whole prophecy. Ch 5 v 1 marks the start of a new Parshah Pethuhah that runs until the end of Ch 5 v 7. Ch 5 Verse 8, "Blast the shofar." begins a Parshah Sethumah which runs continuously in the parchment scroll until the end of Ch 6 v 11. Thus the chapter break after 5:15 is arbitrary, and while it highlights the call for repentance in 6:1, it actually disrupts the continuity of the prophecy as a whole and its meaning. The real break in the prophecy is where the Parshah Sethumah starts at 5:8: this creates a pause in the prophecy before it continues further amplifying on the theme with which it started. Verses 5:1-7 are Introductory; verse 5:8-6:11 are elaboration.


V 1. This is a prophecy addressed to the heart of Judah no less than it is to the Ten Tribes, " Israel ". RaDak explains (ad loc.) that the address to the Cohanim-priests and the House of Israel is directed in particular to Judah, who is here included in the generic Israel . The priests here are the true priests of God, who served in His Temple in Jerusalem in the territory of Judah .

However the "house of the king" is understood as a specific reference to the kings of Israel , the northern kingdom, who after the split with Judah in the time of Rehav'am posted border police to forcibly prevent their people from going up to the Temple in Jerusalem - these are the "trap in Mitzpah, and a snare spread upon Tabor" (Rashi). Judah and Ephraim are involved together in the consequences of this.

Vv 2ff: Ephraim's "original sin" of rebelling against the authority of the kingship of David is the harlotry that has defiled the whole of people of Israel , including Judah - but they find it impossible to abandon their ways and return to God - "and they do not know HaShem": the essential flaw is in DA'AS, mind, ideas, knowledge, consciousness.

V 5: Israel , Ephraim and Judah are all named here together - being interconnected, the stumbling of one leads to the fall of the other.

V 6: "With their flocks and their oxen they will go to search out HaShem but they will not find Him" - they have mistaken rote performance of ritual for true repentance: this is because of their flawed Da'as. They do not know God and therefore they do not know what He really wants.

Verse 7 is a general summary of the introductory part of the prophecy (vv 1-7): "They have betrayed God." Their intermarriage with the nations, literally and ideologically, has spawned the "strange children" as a result of which the month of Av - the destruction of the Temple - will consume their whole share. This is a prophecy analyzing and explaining why destruction is on the way.

Now comes a BREAK, indicated by an enlarged Samach in the Hebrew printed text, marking the start of a new Parshah Sethumah - in our case an amplification of the introductory section, running continuously until the end of Ch 6.

Verse 8: The shofar blast is a warning of coming war and trouble, but all the locations mentioned in the verse are in the territory of Benjamin , except for BEITH AVEN (lit. "house of corruption"), which is in that of Ephraim. Targum allusively relates Giv'ah to the request of the people to have a king - Saul - and Ramah (the town of Samuel ) to their rejection of Samuel's appeal to them not to take a king but to serve only God. The original taking on of a temporal king is thus traced as the root of the later rebellion against Judah by Ephraim and the Ten Tribes, leading to the establishment of the idolatrous cult in Beith Aven, which is now drawing even Benjamin - who remained loyal to Judah - after it, thus corrupting everything.

Vv 9-10: If Ephraim is facing devastation as the punishment for this, Judah is chasing up behind. Hosea was foretelling the future that awaited both of them, with the exile of the Ten Tribes (Ephraim) and the destruction of the Temple ( Judah ).

Vv 11-12: "Ephraim is oppressed. because he willingly went after the dictate", i.e. the "dictates" and new commandments of the prophets of Baal. This is the cause of the canker-worm eating away at Ephraim and the rot in the house of Judah .

V 13: The closing eras of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah were marked by the efforts of their kings to buy allies in the hope of saving themselves from their enemies. The temporary alliance of Hoshea ben Elah with Assyria and Ahaz king of Judah 's bribery of Tiglath Pilesser to help him against Aram and Israel are said to be alluded to here (Rashi ad loc.).

V 14: All their ploys will not succeed.

V 15: "I will go and return to My place." This is the exile of the Shechinah from the world (Talmud Rosh Hashanah 31a). This exile will continue "until they realize their guilt and search out My face [God's presence], in their trouble they will seek Me."

The following verse, Chapter 6 v 1, is a direct continuation, telling us what they say when they seek out God:


V 1: "Go and let us return to HaShem." The prophet is placing words of repentance in the mouths of the people, encouraging them with the faith that just as God has the power to chastise, so He has the power to heal.

V 2: Hosea takes a very long view of the history of Israel, encouraging the people with the prophecy that "after two days He will revive us, on the third day He will raise us up" - "He will strengthen us after the two punishments that have befallen us, the destruction of the First and Second Temples, and raise us up with the building of the Third Temple" (Rashi ad loc.).

V 3: "And let us KNOW, let us PURSUE to KNOW (DA'AS) HaShem." The remedy lies in DA'AS.

But the heart of the penitent can be fickle - how the YETZER RA ("evil inclination") fights in the heart of one struggling to separate from a bad past and live a better future. The people's kindness is "like a morning cloud and like dew that departs early" (v 4).

V 5 "Therefore have I hewed them by the prophets; I have slain them with the words of my mouth". This refers both to the death of many people in the coming disasters and also to the slaying of true prophets, such as Zechariah son of Yehoyada the High Priest, Uriah and Isaiah, because the people did not want to hear their message.

V 6: This verse contains the essential message of Hosea and all the prophets: "I want your kindness and not your sacrifices; I want your KNOWLEDGE OF GOD rather than your burnt offerings".

V 7: "And they, like ADAM, violated the Covenant". This verse is the source of the teaching that Adam "pulled back his foreskin" - denying the Covenant (Sanhedrin 38b). The nation thus repeats Adam's original sin.

Vv 8-11 characterize the strongholds of sinners in Gil'ad (Menashe) and Shechem (Ephraim): These verses allude to the three cardinal sins of idolatry, murder and adultery. The plague afflicts not only Ephraim but also Judah, whose backslidings were to pull them into exile just as God was ready to restore the whole nation.

May He redeem us quickly in OUR TIME! Amen.



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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