We use cookies to provide some features and experiences in QOSHE

More information  .  Close
Aa Aa Aa
- A +

The Circumcision of Desire (Tazria, Covenant & Conversation)

21 0 0
31.03.2022

It is hard to trace with any precision the moment when a new idea makes its first appearance on the human scene, especially one as amorphous as that of love. But love has a history.[1] There is the contrast we find in Greek, and then Christian, thought between eros and agape: sexual desire and a highly abstract love for humanity in general.

There is the concept of chivalry that makes its appearance in the age of the Crusades, the code of conduct that prized gallantry and feats of bravery to “win the heart of a lady”. There is the romantic love presented in the novels of Jane Austen, hedged with the proviso that the young or not-so-young man destined for the heroine must have the right income and country estate, so as to exemplify the “truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”[2] And there is the moment in Fiddler on the Roof where, exposed by their children to the new ideas in pre-revolutionary Russia, Tevye turns to his wife Golde, and the following conversation ensues:

Tevye: Do you love me?
Golde: I’m your wife!
Tevye: I know! But do you love me?
Golde: Do I love him? For twenty-five years I’ve lived with him, fought with him, starved with him. Twenty-five years, my bed is his…
Tevye: Shh!
Golde: If that’s not love, what is?
Tevye: Then you love me!
Golde: I suppose I do!

Tevye: Do you love me?
Golde: I’m your wife!
Tevye: I know! But do you love me?
Golde: Do I love him? For twenty-five years I’ve lived with him, fought with him, starved with him. Twenty-five years, my bed is his…
Tevye: Shh!
Golde: If that’s not love, what is?
Tevye: Then you love me!
Golde: I suppose I do!

The inner history of humanity is in part the history of the idea of love. And at some stage a new idea makes its appearance in biblical Israel. We can trace it best in a highly suggestive passage in the book of one of the great Prophets of the Bible, Hosea.

Hosea lived in the eighth century BCE. The kingdom had been divided since the death of Solomon. The northern kingdom in particular, where Hosea lived, had lapsed after a period of peace and prosperity into lawlessness, idolatry, and chaos. Between 747 and 732 BCE there were no less than five Kings, the result of a series of intrigues and bloody struggles for power. The people, too, had become lax:

There is no faithfulness or kindness, and no knowledge of God in the land; there is swearing, lying, killing, stealing and committing adultery; they break all bounds and murder follows murder. (Hos. 4:1-2)

There is no faithfulness or kindness, and no knowledge of God in the land; there is swearing, lying, killing, stealing and committing adultery; they break all bounds and murder follows murder. (Hos. 4:1-2)

Like other Prophets, Hosea knew that Israel’s destiny depended on its sense of mission. Faithful to God, it was able to do extraordinary things: survive in the face of empires, and generate a society unique in the ancient world, of the equal dignity of all as fellow citizens under the sovereignty of the Creator of Heaven and Earth. Faithless, however, it was just one more minor power in the ancient Near East, whose chances of survival against larger political predators were minimal.

What makes the book of Hosea remarkable is the episode with which it begins. God tells the Prophet to marry a prostitute, and see what it feels like to have a love betrayed. Only then will Hosea have a glimpse into God’s sense of betrayal by the people of Israel. Having liberated them from slavery and brought them into their land, God saw them forget the past, forsake the covenant, and worship strange gods. Yet He cannot abandon them, despite the fact that they have abandoned Him. It is a powerful passage, conveying the astonishing assertion that more than the Jewish people love God, God loves the Jewish people. The history of Israel is a love story between the faithful God and His often faithless people. Though God is sometimes angry, He cannot but forgive. He will take them on a kind of second honeymoon, and they will renew their marriage vows:

“Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the desert
and speak tenderly to her . . .
I will betroth you to Me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
in love and compassion.
I will betroth you in faithfulness,
and you will know the Lord. (Hos 2:16-22) Advertisement

“Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the desert
and speak tenderly to her . . .
I will betroth you to Me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
in love and compassion.
I will betroth you in faithfulness,
and you will know the Lord. (Hos 2:16-22) Advertisement

It is this last sentence – with its explicit comparison between the covenant and a marriage – that Jewish men say when they put on the hand-tefillin, winding its strap around the finger like a wedding-ring.

One verse in the midst of this prophecy deserves the closest scrutiny. It contains two complex metaphors that must be unraveled strand by strand:

“On that day,” declares the........

© The Times of Israel (Blogs)


Get it on Google Play