Haftarah Parshat Matot-Masei
July 18, 2015 / 2 Av 5775
In this second of the three special haftarot of admonition (tlata d’poranuta) which precede Tisha b’Av, Jeremiah addresses the religious disloyalty of the people. During Jeremiah’s youth, the nation lived under the cultural influence of the Assyrian empire and many of the people had assimilated and adopted elements of Assyrian religion along with their Israelite faith. Jeremiah’s early prophecies coincided with King Josiah’s religious reforms which attempted to uproot these idolatrous practices. Jeremiah attempts to convince his audience of the error of their ways in following alien beliefs and customs by expressing the futility of these practices in comparison to the religious gifts of belief in God: “For My people have done a twofold wrong: They have forsaken Me, the Fount of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, which cannot even hold water.” (2:13)
God, here is metaphorically the “living Fount”, while those alien deities are represented as “broken cisterns which cannot even hold water”. Rabbi David Kimche points out two deficiencies in these “broken cisterns: Anything that these false deities might offer does not derive from God; In addition, anything these deities might offer is finite unlike God who is the source of all.
A modern posek (Jewish legal decisor), Rabbi Hayim David Halevi, the late Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Tel Aviv, was asked by a yeshiva student whether it was permissible to participate in Transcendental Meditation. After a thorough study of the subject, he determined that the introductory ceremony and the use of a “mantra” or assigned repetitive meditation phrase had their origins in idolatrous traditions which made Jewish participation in said rites problematic. He then goes on to describe its technique, namely the use of the mantra as a means for removing or “transcending” worldly concerns and attaining serenity. He notes that the technique may be “kosher” if divorced from it ceremony and if the “mantra” used be exchanged for a “kosher” mantra. However, he also gave pause to wonder why the questioner had not used the resources of his own tradition as a religious tool to develop his inner life. He noted that elements of the prayers of the Jewish tradition were also meant for the purpose of purifying a person’s soul and bringing inner peace. He concludes by noting that there is no need to search out “broken cisterns” when the “Fount” is readily available. (Aseh Lecha Rav 2:47)
Minority peoples, like the Jews, have always had to be on guard to preserve the authenticity of their beliefs and identity. This was true in Jeremiah’s times and it is equally true today. This is not a simple process since Jews ultimately live in two civilizations, the Jewish and the general, and finding that equilibrium is not a simple task. Often, though, one does not need to be nourished outside of the tradition when the “Fount” can be found at home.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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