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Torah and Haftarah Readings for Rosh haShanah la-Behemot on Rosh Ḥodesh Elul

This is a Torah Reading that I’ve selected for Rosh haShanah la-Behemot on Rosh Ḥodesh Elul which calls upon us to take responsibility for our role in deficient and broken relationships in the month before Rosh haShanah, Yom Kippur, and Hoshanah Rabbah. We begin with those who have the most difficulty communicating their needs to us, the behemot — the domesticated/tame animals who rely upon us to be their advocate — for who else is there? The reason I have chosen Numbers 22:20-38 from Parashat Balaq is due to the Torah’s remarkable tale of giving voice to the voiceless, to this most vulnerable of laborers, which up till this point has had no voice in the Torah despite their appearance prior to that of Adam and Ḥavah on the sixth day of creation, participant in the journey of the Akedah, victim of the crimes of the Egyptians in Egypt, and celebrant of the pidyon habekhor!

The ability to communicate was once considered the exceptional and distinctive capability of human beings. The “mouth of the donkey” is recognized in Pirkei Avot chapter 5 as one of the ten miraculous works invented in the primordial period to be an intervention in the normal work of creation. When we, human beings, make masks — put on the face of animal — we can explore with our empathy what it may be like to see through their eyes and even try to speak as their representative. This is part of the praxis that is the Council of All Beings activity recommended for Rosh haShanah laBehemot. In this reading, we can read of an comparative transformation — that of an animal who is being given a human mask, enabling them to communicate as effectively as any human to another in their own language. Just as readily, we can recognize the comparative difficulty for a man like Bila’am to wear the mask of the divine as a prophet — to speak in their Name! Can we transform ourselves, so that non-human animals do require a divine intervention in order to be saved from our abuse? This is the message underscored by this reading; verses 22:20-38 presents a chiastic unit which I think emphasizes calling, being called to speak, arising, striking, hunching down, being called once again, and explaining something of the secret of theurgical speech.

For the Haftarah, I have followed the sage advice of Isaac Gantwerk Mayer who suggested Hosea 2:16-25 featuring verse 20, which discusses the covenant with the animals, and Hosea 14:3-4, which discusses the end of animal sacrifices and no longer using horses in combat. –Aharon Varady


Source (Hebrew) Translation (English)

תורה: במדבר כב:כ-לח
Torah Reading: Numbers 22:20-38

כ וַיָּבֹ֨א אֱלֹהִ֥ים ׀ אֶל־בִּלְעָם֮ לַ֒יְלָה֒ וַיֹּ֣אמֶר ל֗וֹ אִם־לִקְרֹ֤א לְךָ֙ בָּ֣אוּ הָאֲנָשִׁ֔ים ק֖וּם לֵ֣ךְ אִתָּ֑ם וְאַ֗ךְ אֶת־הַדָּבָ֛ר אֲשֶׁר־אֲדַבֵּ֥ר אֵלֶ֖יךָ אֹת֥וֹ תַעֲשֶֽׂה׃ כא וַיָּ֤קׇם בִּלְעָם֙ בַּבֹּ֔קֶר וַֽיַּחֲבֹ֖שׁ אֶת־אֲתֹנ֑וֹ וַיֵּ֖לֶךְ עִם־שָׂרֵ֥י מוֹאָֽב׃
22 20 And Elohim came to Bil’am at night, he said to him: “Since it is to call you that the men have come, arise, go with them; but — only the word that I speak to you, that (alone) may you do.” 21 Bil’am arose at daybreak, he saddled his atōn/jenny,[1]a female donkey. and went with the nobles of Moav.

כב וַיִּֽחַר־אַ֣ף אֱלֹהִים֮ כִּֽי־הוֹלֵ֣ךְ הוּא֒ וַיִּתְיַצֵּ֞ב מַלְאַ֧ךְ יְהֹוָ֛ה בַּדֶּ֖רֶךְ לְשָׂטָ֣ן ל֑וֹ וְהוּא֙ רֹכֵ֣ב עַל־אֲתֹנ֔וֹ וּשְׁנֵ֥י נְעָרָ֖יו עִמּֽוֹ׃ שני כג וַתֵּ֣רֶא הָאָתוֹן֩ אֶת־מַלְאַ֨ךְ יְהֹוָ֜ה נִצָּ֣ב בַּדֶּ֗רֶךְ וְחַרְבּ֤וֹ שְׁלוּפָה֙ בְּיָד֔וֹ וַתֵּ֤ט הָֽאָתוֹן֙ מִן־הַדֶּ֔רֶךְ וַתֵּ֖לֶךְ בַּשָּׂדֶ֑ה וַיַּ֤ךְ בִּלְעָם֙ אֶת־הָ֣אָת֔וֹן לְהַטֹּתָ֖הּ הַדָּֽרֶךְ׃
22 But YHVH’s anger flared up because he was going, so YHVH’s messenger stationed himself in the way as an adversary to him. Now he was riding on his jenny, his two serving-lads with him. 23 Now the jenny saw YHVH’s messenger stationed in the way, his sword drawn in his hand, so the jenny turned aside from the way and went into the field. And Bil’am struck the jenny to turn her back onto the way.

כד וַֽיַּעֲמֹד֙ מַלְאַ֣ךְ יְהֹוָ֔ה בְּמִשְׁע֖וֹל הַכְּרָמִ֑ים גָּדֵ֥ר מִזֶּ֖ה וְגָדֵ֥ר מִזֶּֽה׃ כה וַתֵּ֨רֶא הָאָת֜וֹן אֶת־מַלְאַ֣ךְ יְהֹוָ֗ה וַתִּלָּחֵץ֙ אֶל־הַקִּ֔יר וַתִּלְחַ֛ץ אֶת־רֶ֥גֶל בִּלְעָ֖ם אֶל־הַקִּ֑יר וַיֹּ֖סֶף לְהַכֹּתָֽהּ׃
24 But YHVH’s messenger stood in the furrow (between) the vineyards, a fence here and a fence there. 25 Now the jenny saw YHVH’s messenger, so she pressed herself against the wall, pressing Bil’am’s foot against the wall; and once again he struck her.

כו וַיּ֥וֹסֶף מַלְאַךְ־יְהֹוָ֖ה עֲב֑וֹר וַֽיַּעֲמֹד֙ בְּמָק֣וֹם צָ֔ר אֲשֶׁ֛ר אֵֽין־דֶּ֥רֶךְ לִנְט֖וֹת יָמִ֥ין וּשְׂמֹֽאול׃ כז וַתֵּ֤רֶא הָֽאָתוֹן֙ אֶת־מַלְאַ֣ךְ יְהֹוָ֔ה וַתִּרְבַּ֖ץ תַּ֣חַת בִּלְעָ֑ם וַיִּֽחַר־אַ֣ף בִּלְעָ֔ם וַיַּ֥ךְ אֶת־הָאָת֖וֹן בַּמַּקֵּֽל׃
26 But YHVH’s messenger once again crossed over, standing in a narrow place where there was no pathway to turn, right or left. 27 Now the jenny saw YHVH’s messenger, so she crouched down beneath Bil’am. And Bil’am’s anger flared up; he struck the jenny with his staff.

כח וַיִּפְתַּ֥ח יְהֹוָ֖ה אֶת־פִּ֣י הָאָת֑וֹן וַתֹּ֤אמֶר לְבִלְעָם֙ מֶה־עָשִׂ֣יתִֽי לְךָ֔ כִּ֣י הִכִּיתַ֔נִי זֶ֖ה שָׁלֹ֥שׁ רְגָלִֽים׃ כט וַיֹּ֤אמֶר בִּלְעָם֙ לָֽאָת֔וֹן כִּ֥י הִתְעַלַּ֖לְתְּ בִּ֑י ל֤וּ יֶשׁ־חֶ֙רֶב֙ בְּיָדִ֔י כִּ֥י עַתָּ֖ה הֲרַגְתִּֽיךְ׃ שלישי ל וַתֹּ֨אמֶר הָאָת֜וֹן אֶל־בִּלְעָ֗ם הֲלוֹא֩ אָנֹכִ֨י אֲתֹֽנְךָ֜ אֲשֶׁר־רָכַ֣בְתָּ עָלַ֗י מֵעֽוֹדְךָ֙ עַד־הַיּ֣וֹם הַזֶּ֔ה הַֽהַסְכֵּ֣ן הִסְכַּ֔נְתִּי לַעֲשׂ֥וֹת לְךָ֖ כֹּ֑ה וַיֹּ֖אמֶר לֹֽא׃
28 Then YHVH opened the mouth of the jenny and she said to Bil’am: “What have I done to you that you have struck me (on) these three occasions?” 29 Bil’am said: “Because you have been capricious with me! If a sword had been in my hand, by now I would have killed you!” 30 The jenny said to Bil’am: “Am I not your jenny upon whom you have ridden from your past until this day? Have I ever been accustomed, accustomed to do thus to you?” He said: “No.”

לא וַיְגַ֣ל יְהֹוָה֮ אֶת־עֵינֵ֣י בִלְעָם֒ וַיַּ֞רְא אֶת־מַלְאַ֤ךְ יְהֹוָה֙ נִצָּ֣ב בַּדֶּ֔רֶךְ וְחַרְבּ֥וֹ שְׁלֻפָ֖ה בְּיָד֑וֹ וַיִּקֹּ֥ד וַיִּשְׁתַּ֖חוּ לְאַפָּֽיו׃ לב וַיֹּ֤אמֶר אֵלָיו֙ מַלְאַ֣ךְ יְהֹוָ֔ה עַל־מָ֗ה הִכִּ֙יתָ֙ אֶת־אֲתֹ֣נְךָ֔ זֶ֖ה שָׁל֣וֹשׁ רְגָלִ֑ים הִנֵּ֤ה אָנֹכִי֙ יָצָ֣אתִי לְשָׂטָ֔ן כִּֽי־יָרַ֥ט הַדֶּ֖רֶךְ לְנֶגְדִּֽי׃ לג וַתִּרְאַ֙נִי֙ הָֽאָת֔וֹן וַתֵּ֣ט לְפָנַ֔י זֶ֖ה שָׁלֹ֣שׁ רְגָלִ֑ים אוּלַי֙ נָטְתָ֣ה מִפָּנַ֔י כִּ֥י עַתָּ֛ה גַּם־אֹתְכָ֥ה הָרַ֖גְתִּי וְאוֹתָ֥הּ הֶחֱיֵֽיתִי׃ לד וַיֹּ֨אמֶר בִּלְעָ֜ם אֶל־מַלְאַ֤ךְ יְהֹוָה֙ חָטָ֔אתִי כִּ֚י לֹ֣א יָדַ֔עְתִּי כִּ֥י אַתָּ֛ה נִצָּ֥ב לִקְרָאתִ֖י בַּדָּ֑רֶךְ וְעַתָּ֛ה אִם־רַ֥ע בְּעֵינֶ֖יךָ אָשׁ֥וּבָה לִּֽי׃ מפטיר לה וַיֹּ֩אמֶר֩ מַלְאַ֨ךְ יְהֹוָ֜ה אֶל־בִּלְעָ֗ם לֵ֚ךְ עִם־הָ֣אֲנָשִׁ֔ים וְאֶ֗פֶס אֶת־הַדָּבָ֛ר אֲשֶׁר־אֲדַבֵּ֥ר אֵלֶ֖יךָ אֹת֣וֹ תְדַבֵּ֑ר וַיֵּ֥לֶךְ בִּלְעָ֖ם עִם־שָׂרֵ֥י בָלָֽק׃
31 Then YHVH uncovered Bil’am’s eyes and he saw YHVH’s messenger stationed in the way, his sword drawn in his hand; he bowed and prostrated himself, to his brow. 32 YHVH’s messenger said to him: “For what (cause) did you strike your jenny (on) these three occasions? Here, I came out as an adversary, for the way was rushed out against me. 33 Now the jenny saw me, so she turned aside before me (on) these three occasions. Had she not turned aside from me, by now, (it is) you I would have killed; but her I would have left-alive!” 34 Bil’am said to YHVH’s messenger: “I have sinned, for I did not know that you were stationed to meet me in the way. But now, if it is ill in your eyes, I will head back.” 35 YHVH’s messenger said to Bil’am: “Go with the men, but only the word that I speak to you, that (alone) may you speak.” And so Bil’am went with Balaq’s nobles.

לו וַיִּשְׁמַ֥ע בָּלָ֖ק כִּ֣י בָ֣א בִלְעָ֑ם וַיֵּצֵ֨א לִקְרָאת֜וֹ אֶל־עִ֣יר מוֹאָ֗ב אֲשֶׁר֙ עַל־גְּב֣וּל אַרְנֹ֔ן אֲשֶׁ֖ר בִּקְצֵ֥ה הַגְּבֽוּל׃ לז וַיֹּ֨אמֶר בָּלָ֜ק אֶל־בִּלְעָ֗ם הֲלֹא֩ שָׁלֹ֨חַ שָׁלַ֤חְתִּי אֵלֶ֙יךָ֙ לִקְרֹא־לָ֔ךְ לָ֥מָּה לֹא־הָלַ֖כְתָּ אֵלָ֑י הַֽאֻמְנָ֔ם לֹ֥א אוּכַ֖ל כַּבְּדֶֽךָ׃ לח וַיֹּ֨אמֶר בִּלְעָ֜ם אֶל־בָּלָ֗ק הִֽנֵּה־בָ֙אתִי֙ אֵלֶ֔יךָ עַתָּ֕ה הֲיָכֹ֥ל אוּכַ֖ל דַּבֵּ֣ר מְא֑וּמָה הַדָּבָ֗ר אֲשֶׁ֨ר יָשִׂ֧ים אֱלֹהִ֛ים בְּפִ֖י אֹת֥וֹ אֲדַבֵּֽר׃
36 When Balaq heard that Bil’am was coming, he went out to meet him, to Ír/Town of Moav that is by the Arnon border, that is at the far-edge of the border. 37 And Balaq said to Bil’am: “Did I not send, yes, send to you, to call you! Why did you not go to me? Am I truly not able to honor you?” 38 Bil’am said to Balaq: “Here, I have come to you; but now, am I able, able to speak anything (myself)? The word that Elohim puts in my mouth, that (alone) may I speak.”

הפטרה: הושע ב:טז-כה
Haftarah: Hosea 2:16-25

טז לָכֵ֗ן הִנֵּ֤ה אָֽנֹכִי֙ מְפַתֶּ֔יהָ וְהֹֽלַכְתִּ֖יהָ הַמִּדְבָּ֑ר וְדִבַּרְתִּ֖י עַל לִבָּֽהּ׃ יז וְנָתַ֨תִּי לָ֤הּ אֶת־כְּרָמֶ֙יהָ֙ מִשָּׁ֔ם וְאֶת־עֵ֥מֶק עָכ֖וֹר לְפֶ֣תַח תִּקְוָ֑ה וְעָ֤נְתָה שָּׁ֙מָּה֙ כִּימֵ֣י נְעוּרֶ֔יהָ וִּכְי֖וֹם עֲלֹתָ֥הּ מֵאֶֽרֶץ־מִצְרָֽיִם׃ (ס) יח וְהָיָ֤ה בַיּוֹם־הַהוּא֙ נְאֻם־יְהוָ֔ה תִּקְרְאִ֖י אִישִׁ֑י וְלֹֽא־תִקְרְאִי־לִ֥י ע֖וֹד בַּעְלִֽי׃ יט וַהֲסִרֹתִ֛י אֶת־שְׁמ֥וֹת הַבְּעָלִ֖ים מִפִּ֑יהָ וְלֹֽא־יִזָּכְר֥וּ ע֖וֹד בִּשְׁמָֽם׃ כ וְכָרַתִּ֨י לָהֶ֤ם בְּרִית֙ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֔וּא עִם־חַיַּ֤ת הַשָּׂדֶה֙ וְעִם־ע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וְרֶ֖מֶשׂ הָֽאֲדָמָ֑ה וְקֶ֨שֶׁת וְחֶ֤רֶב וּמִלְחָמָה֙ אֶשְׁבּ֣וֹר מִן־הָאָ֔רֶץ וְהִשְׁכַּבְתִּ֖ים לָבֶֽטַח׃ כא וְאֵרַשְׂתִּ֥יךְ לִ֖י לְעוֹלָ֑ם וְאֵרַשְׂתִּ֥יךְ לִי֙ בְּצֶ֣דֶק וּבְמִשְׁפָּ֔ט וּבְחֶ֖סֶד וּֽבְרַחֲמִֽים׃ כב וְאֵרַשְׂתִּ֥יךְ לִ֖י בֶּאֱמוּנָ֑ה וְיָדַ֖עַתְּ אֶת־יְהוָֽה׃ (ס) כג וְהָיָ֣ה ׀ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֗וּא אֶֽעֱנֶה֙ נְאֻם־יְהוָ֔ה אֶעֱנֶ֖ה אֶת־הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם וְהֵ֖ם יַעֲנ֥וּ אֶת־הָאָֽרֶץ׃ כד וְהָאָ֣רֶץ תַּעֲנֶ֔ה אֶת־הַדָּגָ֖ן וְאֶת־הַתִּיר֣וֹשׁ וְאֶת־הַיִּצְהָ֑ר וְהֵ֖ם יַעֲנ֥וּ אֶֽת־יִזְרְעֶֽאל׃ כה וּזְרַעְתִּ֤יהָ לִּי֙ בָּאָ֔רֶץ וְרִֽחַמְתִּ֖י אֶת־לֹ֣א רֻחָ֑מָה וְאָמַרְתִּ֤י לְלֹֽא־עַמִּי֙ עַמִּי־אַ֔תָּה וְה֖וּא יֹאמַ֥ר אֱלֹהָֽי׃ (פ)
2 16 Assuredly, I will speak coaxingly to her and lead her through the wilderness and speak to her tenderly. 17 I will give her her vineyards from there, and the Valley of Akhor as a plowland of hope. There she shall respond as in the days of her youth, when she came up from the land of Mitsrayim. 18 And in that day —declares YHVH— you will call [me] Ishi, and no more will you call me Baali. 19 For I will remove the names of the Baalim from her mouth, and they shall nevermore be mentioned by name. 20 In that day, I will make a covenant for them with the animals of the field, the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the ground; I will also banish bow, sword, and war from the land. Thus I will let them lie down in safety. 21 And I will espouse you forever: I will espouse you with righteousness and justice, and with goodness and compassion, 22 and I will espouse you with faithfulness; then you shall be devoted to YHVH. 23 In that day, I will respond —declares YHVH— I will respond to the sky, and it shall respond to the earth; 24 and the earth shall respond with new grain and wine and oil, and they shall respond to Yizrəʽel. 25 I will sow her in the land as my own; and take those denied compassion back in favor; and I will say to those denied a country, “You are my people,” and they will respond, “[You are] my elo’ah.”

הושע יד:ב-ח
Hosea 14:2-8

ב שׁ֚וּבָה יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל עַ֖ד יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ כִּ֥י כָשַׁ֖לְתָּ בַּעֲוֺנֶֽךָ׃ ג קְח֤וּ עִמָּכֶם֙ דְּבָרִ֔ים וְשׁ֖וּבוּ אֶל־יְהוָ֑ה אִמְר֣וּ אֵלָ֗יו כָּל־תִּשָּׂ֤א עָוֺן֙ וְקַח־ט֔וֹב וּֽנְשַׁלְּמָ֥ה פָרִ֖ים שְׂפָתֵֽינוּ׃ ד אַשּׁ֣וּר ׀ לֹ֣א יוֹשִׁיעֵ֗נוּ עַל־סוּס֙ לֹ֣א נִרְכָּ֔ב וְלֹא־נֹ֥אמַר ע֛וֹד אֱלֹהֵ֖ינוּ לְמַעֲשֵׂ֣ה יָדֵ֑ינוּ אֲשֶׁר־בְּךָ֖ יְרֻחַ֥ם יָתֽוֹם׃ ה אֶרְפָּא֙ מְשׁ֣וּבָתָ֔ם אֹהֲבֵ֖ם נְדָבָ֑ה כִּ֛י שָׁ֥ב אַפִּ֖י מִמֶּֽנּוּ׃ ו אֶהְיֶ֤ה כַטַּל֙ לְיִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל יִפְרַ֖ח כַּשּֽׁוֹשַׁנָּ֑ה וְיַ֥ךְ שָׁרָשָׁ֖יו כַּלְּבָנֽוֹן׃ ז יֵֽלְכוּ֙ יֹֽנְקוֹתָ֔יו וִיהִ֥י כַזַּ֖יִת הוֹד֑וֹ וְרֵ֥יחַֽ ל֖וֹ כַּלְּבָנֽוֹן׃ ח יָשֻׁ֙בוּ֙ יֹשְׁבֵ֣י בְצִלּ֔וֹ יְחַיּ֥וּ דָגָ֖ן וְיִפְרְח֣וּ כַגָּ֑פֶן זִכְר֖וֹ כְּיֵ֥ין לְבָנֽוֹן׃ (ס)
14 2 Return, O Yisrael, to YHVH your elo’ah, for you have fallen because of your sin. 3 Take words with you and return to YHVH. Say to Hashem: “Forgive all guilt and accept what is good; instead of bulls we will pay [the offering of] our lips. 4 Assyria shall not save us, no more will we ride on horses; nor ever again will we call our handiwork our deity, since in you alone orphans find pity!” 5 I will heal their affliction, generously will I take them back in love; for my anger has turned away from them. 6 I will be to Yisrael like dew; they shall blossom like the lily, they shall strike root like a Lebanon tree. 7 their boughs shall spread out far, their beauty shall be like the olive tree’s, their fragrance like that of Lebanon. 8 They who sit in their shade shall be revived: they shall bring to life new grain, they shall blossom like the vine; their scent shall be like the wine of Lebanon.

 

Notes[ + ]

1.  a female donkey.

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