Haftarah Parshat Behar B\’Hukotai
(Jeremiah 16:19 – 17:14)
May 19, 2012
27 Iyar 5772
Parshat Behar – Behukotai (Outside Israel)
Parshat Behukotai (Israel)
Jeremiah unflaggingly challenges what he considers to be the nation’s number one foible – its disloyalty to God. He measures the ramifications of this sin and clearly lays out its dangerous potential. He also examines its potential destructiveness to the inner life of the individual. He considers idolatry a form of self-delusion: “Most devious is the heart; It is perverse – who can fathom it?” (17:9) People presume that their innermost disloyalties will remain unimpeded because they are so well hidden deep inside the self. Jeremiah’s response to this idea is unequivocal: “I the Lord probe the heart, search the mind (literally, the kidneys), to pay every man according to his ways with the proper fruit of his deeds.” (17:10)
The Psalmist records a similar idea when he asserts that the personal denial of God’s existence opens the door to unrestrained immoral behavior: “The fool says: There is no God. Man’s deeds are corrupt and loathsome; no one does good.” (Psalms 14:1)
The following midrash develops this connection: “When the wicked say in their hearts: ‘Let’s devise evil in our hearts, since, as it were, God does not know what goes on in our hearts.’ God replies: ‘From Me you are hiding?… Rabbi Levi offered a parable. An architect built a city with secret chambers and hiding places. Later, he became the governor of the city. When he set out to capture the thieves of the city, they fled and hid themselves in the hiding places. The governor said: ‘Fools, from before whom are you hiding? I build this city and I know every hiding place.’ He found them and brought them out of their hiding places.’ So, too, God says to the wicked: ‘Fools, you think you can hide things deep in your hearts? I am the one who built human beings. I know every secret hiding place that can be found in a human being. Said Rabbi Jeremiah: As it is written: ‘Most devious is the heart; It is perverse – who can fathom it?’ Immediately afterwards, it is written: ‘I the Lord probe the heart, search the mind (literally, the kidneys), to pay every man according to his ways with the proper fruit of his deeds.’” (adapted from Midrash Tehillim 14:1 Buber ed. pp. 111-2)
The Psalmist assumed that it is the sense of absolute autonomy which allows an evil person to lead an immoral life. Both Jeremiah and the author of the quoted midrash want to convince us that this is a false reflection of reality. One should always be conscious of the God who made each of us and have a sense that we are answerable for what we think and do. This mindset will ensure that we will build a world worthy of its Creator.
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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