June 20, 2024
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Parshiyot Matot-Masei

This haftarah, the second of the three pre-Tisha B’Av readings (tlat d’puranuta”), begins in the middle of the second perek of Sefer Yirmiyahu. This should not surprise us since we read the first three verses of this perek as the closing pesukim of last week’s haftarah. As we have mentioned often in the past, Chazal wished to close the prophecies of destruction that Yirmiyahu and other nevi’im told the people with a message of hope, of comfort and of love. And, indeed, those opening/closing pesukim express exactly that.

But were we to study Sefer Yirmiyahu as it was written, we would realize that these verses were actually part of the message delivered in the second perek and really did not connect to the first chapter. Moreover, they were not meant to be a message of comfort and warmth at all! The navi Yirmiyahu begins the second chapter describing the once-positive and warm relationship that Hashem had with the nation simply to underscore the difference between then and the relationship that existed in his time, the final years of Bayit Rishon (the First Temple). And it is this opening that sets the basis for God’s condemnation of Israel for having forgotten those early years and, instead, having abandoned Hashem Who had done so much for them throughout time.

And the navi points out that Israel’s abandonment of Hashem was a doubly perfidious act for they did not leave Him due to the rejection of a divine being but because they chose other powers, others “gods,” to worship, “gods” who, as the prophet reminds them, have no power and no abilities at all. As Yirmiyahu declares: “They say to the wood: ‘You are my father’ and to the stone: ‘You bore us’.” The nation had shown a preference for nothing in place of an allegiance to Everything!

In furthering this very idea, HaRav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik comments on God’s words from this haftarah, “Oti Azvu,” saying of His people: “They have abandoned Me, the spring of living waters, to dig for themselves cisterns—broken cisterns—that do not hold water.” The Rav, quoting from Sefer Tehillim (42: 3), “Tzama nafshi leilokim, My soul thirsts for God, the living God,” explains how man is fascinated by God. As one thirsts for water so does man thirst for Hashem. For that reason, God, in this haftarah, is portrayed as a wellspring—water that keeps on flowing while man remains thirsty. So too, does man have a never-ending thirst for a connection to the Immortal. It is a love for God that fascinates and that attracts people—for God pulls them closer to Him. The relationship between man and God, said Rav Sloveitchik, is a magnetic one.

In light of this approach, the abandonment of God by the Jews of Yirmiyahu’s time would seem to be an act of even more severity: to actively tear away from the irresistible pull that attracts one to Hashem!

However, I feel that would be an unfair conclusion.

In truth, there certainly is a thirst that man has for the divine. But that same pull, a pull that would move a finite being to search for the infinite, can also bring one to be attracted to false gods, false powers and false divinities. The seriousness of the “crime” of our people in that time was their search for He Who was right in front of them, because they simply ignored the history of God’s kindnesses.

And that is precisely why the perek begins with recalling the era of “betrothal” between Hashem and Israel, reminding the nation of how they placed their trust in God after He took them out of Egypt but even before they had years of history from which to learn of Hashem and His love for them. I have often said that if one does not believe in God, let him/her study Jewish history.

If we but look to our past we would gain confidence in our future.


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

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