The Haftorah for Parshat Vayetze is from Sefer Hoshea (12:13-14:10) the largest book of the Tray Asar and begins with Hoshea saying (12:13-15): “Yaakov fled into the fields of Aram and Israel served for a wife and for a wife he tended sheep. By a prophet Hashem led the Jews out of Egypt and by a prophet they were tended. Efraim provoked Hashem to anger for his bitter disobedience and his Master will let his blood come upon him and will return insult to him.”
In the next chapter, Hoshea goes into more detail regarding what the Jews did to anger Hashem. He says (13:1-2): “When Efraim spoke trembling, he was exalted in Israel but when he made himself guilty with Baal, he died. And now they sin more and more and make themselves molten images from their silver.” Essentially, Hoshea is rebuking the Jews for serving other gods and for not realizing that (13:4): “I have been Hashem your G-d from the time you were in Egypt, you will not know another god besides Me and there no savior other than Me”. But that is not the only issue for which the Jews received rebuke. Later in the Haftorah, Hoshea says (14:4): “Assyria will not save us, we will not ride on horses and we will no longer call the work of our hands ‘G-d’”.
At that time, Assyria was threatening both Jewish Kingdoms (Yehudah and Yisrael) and as a result, the Jews were considering either surrendering to them or making an alliance with Egypt in return for Egypt’s help in fighting against Assyria. Hoshea warned the Jews against both options and said that only if they stopped making and serving idols, would Hashem save them from the Assyrian army. The Haftorah ends with Hoshea assuring the Jewish nation that (14:10): “He who is wise will comprehend these things, he who is understanding will know them; the ways of Hashem are just and the righteous ones walk in those ways and the wicked are made to stumble in them.”
The connection between the Haftorah and Parshat Vayetze seems obvious at first, as the Haftorah mentions Yaakov’s escape to Aram, which is the opening topic of Parshat Vayetze. In addition, the Haftorah mentions the fact that Yaakov tended sheep in order to marry two wives (namely, Leah and Rachel), which also takes place in our parsha. But Hoshea’s specific mention of the name “Efraim” when rebuking the Jews, raises the question of what special significance Efraim played in the Jews’ current predicament and what connection that has to the parsha.
The tribe of Efraim is known for a number of significant people/events in Jewish history. The first time this tribe receives special mention is in Parshat Vayechi when Yaakov is about to die and Yosef brings his sons to be blessed by his father. As Yaakov gets ready to bless his grandsons, instead of putting his right hand on the head of the firstborn son, Menashe, Yaakov puts it on the head of the younger son, Efraim. When Yosef objects to this, Yaakov responds (Vayechi, 48:19): “I know, my son, I know; Menashe will also be a great nation, but his younger brother Efraim will be greater than him and his children will fill nations”. As to why Efraim would be greater than Menashe, Rashi notes that although Menashe would have a great man come from him–i.e. Gideon, Efraim would have an even greater person come from him–i.e. Yehoshua. In elaborating on the difference in their greatness, Rashi explains that although Gideon became one of the Judges of Israel and miraculously defeated the army of Midian (Shoftim, 7), Yehoshua spearheaded the conquering of the Land of Israel and also was instrumental in transmitting the Torah from Moshe to the Jewish people.
The next event for which the tribe of Efraim receives special mention is relayed in the Gemarra (Sanhedrin 92b). Rav is quoted as saying that the “dry bones” that Yechezkel brought back to life, were the bones of men from the tribe of Efraim who tried to leave Egypt before Hashem brought about the Exodus. Those people of Efraim who left Egypt early, were subsequently killed by the inhabitants of Gat, as reported in Sefer Divrei HaYamim (I, 7:21-22). Although they were punished for their rash action, the fact that they were brought back to life by Yechezkel would imply that there was some merit in what they did. Supporting this idea, R. Eliezer Ben R. Yose HaGlili is quoted in the same Gemarra as saying that these men of Efraim were Tzaddikim who would have been worthy to lead the redemption from Egypt, had they waited for Hashem to inform them of the appropriate time to leave.
There is another well-known, descendant of Efraim whose actions shed a more negative light on the tribe’s reputation. That person was a King by the name of Yerovam. Yerovam’s “claim to infamy” was that he split the Jewish Monarchy into two Kingdoms—the Kingdom of Yehuda, which consisted of the tribes Yehuda and Benyamin, and the Kingdom of Yisrael, which consisted of the remaining ten tribes. Yerovam became the first King over the Kingdom of Israel and his counterpart in Yehuda was Rechavam, the son of Shlomo HaMelech. Although Yerovam merited becoming King, his behavior soon deteriorated and he became one of the most evil Kings in Jewish history. One of his most wicked acts involved placing guards along the border of his kingdom to prevent Jews from being Oleh Regel to Yerushalayim (in the Kingdom of Yehuda) for Pesach, Shavuot and Succot. Yerovam’s fear was that when the Jews in his Kingdom would gather with the Jews in the Kingdom of Yehuda, they would become nostalgic for the “good old days” when the Kingdoms were united and as a result, they might overthrow Yerovam in an effort to reunite the Kingdoms. But the event which won Yerovam the title of “King of Evil” was his making two golden calves and announcing to the people (Melachim I, 12:28) “Here is your G-d Israel, who took you out of Egypt”, along with offering sacrifices to them (essentially repeating the original Golden Calf sin).
The underlying theme of these personalities and events associated with the tribe of Efraim, seems to be one of “divide and conquer”. Whether it be the men of Efraim who left Egypt early and thus divided themselves from the rest of the nation; Yerovam’s dividing up the Kingdom of Israel, or even Yehoshua’s dividing the Land of Israel by tribe, the tribe of Efraim has a consistent tendency toward division of the nation. As to why that is, perhaps deep-down, the tribe of Efraim saw themselves as the rightful leaders of the Jewish nation, instead of the tribe of Yehuda. It is true that Yehuda was the tribe designated by Yaakov to spawn the Jewish House of Royalty. It is also true that from early-on, Yehuda was looked up to as the “leader” by his brothers (who were the progenitors of the tribes of Israel), especially regarding Yosef and his dreams, as the brothers accepted Yehuda’s decision to sell Yosef instead of killing him. Yet the tribe of Efraim could have objected to Yehuda’s rule by claiming that Yosef (the tribe from whom they descended) was the tribe who really deserved to rule instead. As one proof, they could cite the fact that Yosef’s prophetic dreams showed him as the one to whom the brothers would bow down, not Yehuda. In addition, they could claim that while the other brothers may have accepted Yehuda’s decision in the matter of Yosef’s sale, Yosef as the victim obviously did not. As far as the argument of “de facto” rule is concerned, the tribe of Efraim could point out that Yosef was actually the first of the tribes to “rule” in an official capacity, as a result of his becoming the Viceroy of Egypt. Efraim could even argue that Yaakov would have never married Leah at all, had he not been tricked into it by Lavan (who forced Rachel to switch places with Leah). Without that deceitful switch, Rachel would have been Yaakov’s first and only wife, which would have made Yosef the firstborn son and thus the one to legally inherit the Jewish Monarchy. Yosef’s “right to rule”, would have subsequently filtered down to Efraim, the “more important” of Yosef’s two sons. Finally, Efraim could contend that there would have been no Jewish Monarchy at all, had Yehoshua not conquered the Land of Israel, which was the foundation for the Jewish House of Royalty.
According to Malbim, Hoshea’s main message in the Haftorah (and a message that extends to the parsha as well) is that all the afore-mentioned events—i.e. the threat posed by Assyria, the establishment of a Jewish house of Royalty, the original Golden Calf sin and even Yaakov’s being deceived by Lavan—share a common cause. That cause is putting one’s trust in something other than Hashem. Based on this idea, Yaakov’s being deceived in Parshat Vayetze, was because Yaakov trusted that being in Lavan’s house would save him from his brother Esav who was trying to kill him. This “trust” resulted in Yaakov’s staying at Lavan’s house much longer than the “few days” that Rivkah originally suggested. As a result, Lavan was able to gain the upper hand over Yaakov and thus trick him when it came to marrying Rachel.
Generations later, the men of Efraim made the same mistake of putting their trust in their own calculation of when the time was right to leave Egypt, instead of trusting that Hashem would redeem them at the appropriate time. A short time later, the Jews repeat the mistake when they put their trust in a new god–the Golden Calf, instead of trusting in Hashem. Forty years later, when the Jews entered the Land of Israel, they made the same mistake again when they asked the prophet Shmuel permission to appoint a King to rule over them, instead of trusting in Hashem’s rule. Then, Yerovam makes the same mistake again of not trusting in Hashem when he sets up the border guards and the golden calves to guarantee that his Kingdom would remain intact.
In the Haftorah, Hoshea addresses the Jews who are about to make the mistake of misplacing their trust again, by making a treaty with Egypt or surrendering to Assyria in order to avoid disaster. Hoshea’s message is “Do not trust in anyone other than Hashem. Not in Assyria, or any other “superpower”, and most importantly, not in your enemy’s fake smile, deceitful handshake or false promise that he wants peace. A Jew has only one place to put his trust, namely in Hashem, because Hahsem is his only source of salvation”.
Radak (R. Dovid Kimchi) takes the message of the Haftorah one stage further, by commenting on the last pasuk, in which Hoshea says “He who is wise will comprehend these things….the ways of Hashem are just and the righteous ones walk in those ways and the wicked are made to stumble in them.” Radak says that this pasuk is a response to the commonly-asked question of “Why do good people suffer, and wicked people prosper?” According to Radak, Hoshea’s answer is that if we can achieve complete trust in Hashem, we will see that His ways are just, even when it appears that the good suffer and the wicked prosper. The challenge is to “divide” (or separate) ourselves from this question, and “conquer” our desire to trust in anyone but Hashem.