July 13, 2024
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An Attitude of Gratitude

Parshiyot Matot-Masei

The haftarah of this Shabbat, the second one of the “t’lat d’puranuta,” the three haftarot of punishment, is taken from the second perek of Sefer Yirmiyahu where it immediately follows the perek we read as last week’s haftarah. However, this selection is the very first time the navi condemns the nation for her sins, her faithlessness and her corruption. Beyond that, Yirmiyahu declares that Israel is worse than her idolatrous neighbors who remain faithful to their national god. He calls to the people, urging them to take a sober and objective look at their actions and to realize they have turned away from Hashem.

Perhaps the most serious charge the navi makes against the nation is that they have been ungrateful and unappreciative of God’s multiple kindnesses. For six pesukim Yirmiyahu reminds Israel of everything Hashem had done for them: how He released them from Egyptian bondage, led them safely through the desolate and dangerous desert, and brought them to a fruitful land. Rather than recognizing this, however, Israel abandoned God’s Torah, the kohanim, who served God in the Beit Hamikdash, did not seek out God (nor did they spread the knowledge of God to the people), while the prophets prophesied in the name of the false god, Ba’al.

This criticism of the people is the most severe because it is the source of their sin. Israel was far too self-absorbed and were therefore blind to the wondrous hand God offered them throughout their history. As the recipient of Hashem’s greatest miracles, they witnessed Hashem’s wonders as no other nation ever did or would, and they therefore were expected, more than any other nation, to do Hashem’s will and follow His ways. This idea was best expressed by the prophet Amos, who stated (Amos 3:2): “Rak etchem yada’ti,” I knew you alone from amongst all the nations and therefore I will hold you accountable for your sins.

It is this argument that Yirmiyahu puts before the people in the hope that they would be moved by the logic of his words. When one considers that Yirmiyahu was a most unpopular figure whose words of impending destruction and exile were considered nothing less than traitorous and perfidious, we understand his attempts to convince the people to look objectively at their deeds and see how their wayward ways have angered God and were leading to calamity.

We, who stand between the fast of Tamuz and that of Av, should find this message most essential. Fasting is never an end in and of itself, but rather a step toward repentance, which encourages self-analysis that makes us aware of our failures. The navi understood this, and from the very outset of his prophetic career, indeed throughout his messages, he sought to bring his people to this very understanding.

He knew that only this could reverse their march to tragedy.

And we too must know this.

By Rabbi Neil N. Winkler


Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel of Fort Lee and now lives in Israel.

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