This week’s Parsha has a Haftorah assigned to it that tells us about the prophet Hosea and his wife Gomer. I’d like to share a story told by my colleague Rabbi Jack Reimer:
I read a wonderful some time ago, a story that is, for me, the key to understanding the strange story of Hosea and Gomer.
The story is about a young Rabbi who was traveling on the 'D' train from Brooklyn to Manhattan in New York City. As the train rattled its way towards its destination, he sat quietly, reading a book, as do most of the other travelers. Two young men, six feet tall, in gang jackets, entered the train with a big boom box blasting away.
Near the Rabbi sat a little old lady who probably tipped the scale at eighty pounds and who might have been five feet tall, if she stretched. The little old lady didn't like the noise coming out of the boom box, so she yelled out, "Who's going to make them turn it down?" Everyone hunkered down in their seats, taking a deeper interest in what they were reading and pretending that they didn't hear her . . . including the Rabbi.
One of the young toughs said to the woman, "Lady, if you don't like this music, you can try to turn it off." She shuffled across the subway car with her hand in front of her, ready to take his dare. The ruffian put down the boom box and hauled back to deck her. Up jumped the Rabbi and blocked the tough guy's punch.
The guy was puzzled and he looked down at the Rabbi, who was about a foot shorter than he was and probably weighed only half as much, and said to him, "What's your problem, boy?" The Rabbi replied with a timid smile, "I have no problem, but just don't hit the lady, please." He returned to his seat and went back to his reading. The lady shuffled back across the car.
The young tough flipped the power switch on the boom box again and inundated the entire subway train in full-force, deep-based, woofer and tweeter enhanced, penetrating unmitigated, raucous, deafening noise.
The old lady cried out, "Who's going to make them turn it off?" Everyone on the train reread their previous sentence with increased concentration. The young tough grinned and invited her over. The little old lady shuffled over and once again, reached to turn off the power switch on the boom box. The young tough hauled back to hit her, the Rabbi jumped up to block. The young tough looked confused, and said, "Now you're getting on my nerves, boy."
The Rabbi smiled and said, "Sorry . . . just don't hit the lady," and returned to his seat. The little old lady shuffled towards the Rabbi's seat and stood with her back to him. And the two young toughs thankfully got off at the next station.
As the Rabbi settled back into his book, he glanced up at the back of the little old lady and thought, "Gee, I just risked my life, not once, but twice, to protect her . . . and she didn't even thank me." And then, after two minutes of self-righteous indulgence, the Rabbi stopped in his tracks with an incredible realization. "God just performed not one miracle, but two, to save my life, and did I stop to thank Him?"
That story is the key to understanding this week's Haftorah. The prophet, Hosea, had a wife named Gomer, who betrayed him, who took his gifts and gave them to her lovers. At first, he was filled with a towering rage. And then he realized that what she had done to him, we all do to God! God has given us so many gifts - health, wealth, harvests - and what do we do with them? Instead of thanking Him, we spend His gifts on vanities and give them to false gods - to pride, to vanity, to war. If we don't appreciate the gifts that God has given us and the favors God does for us, how can we be angry at those who don't appreciate the favors we do for them?
Those two toughs on the subway train probably did not know much about the Bible. I bet they didn't even know that the story of Hosea and Gomer is the Haftorah for this week. But nevertheless, they and the old lady taught the Rabbi a lesson that he tried to remember when he came to 'shul' on Shabbat Bamidbar and that he tries to remember all the time.
Shouldn't we try to remember this lesson too?