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Haftarah Parshat Mase

Let us pray for the safety of our soldiers
and the people of Medinat Yisrael.
Grant Refuah Shlemah  (healing to the wounded)
and Comfort to the Mourners.

 

Haftarah Parshat Mase (Jeremiah 2:4-28; 3:4)
July 26, 2014 / 28 Tammuz 5774

In this week’s haftarah, the second of three special haftarot read before Tisha b’Av (Tlata d’poranuta – the three haftarot of admonition), Jeremiah takes the nation to task for its unjustifiable disloyalty to God. In the midst of his rebuke, he confronts his people for a different offence: “What, then, is the good of your going to Egypt (l’derekh Mitzrayim) to drink the waters of the Nile? And what is the good of your going to Assyria (l’derekh Ashur) to drink the waters of the Euphrates?” (2:18)

What is the nature of this offence? How is it a betrayal of God? Targum Yonathan, the Jewish Aramaic translations of the Prophets, sees this as a criticism of problematic political alliances: “And now why are you making an alliance with Pharaoh King of Egypt who cast your male children into the Nile and why do you making a covenant with the Assyrians to exile you to the other side of the Euphrates.” Rashi sees this political question as a betrayal of God: “Why should you leave Me (God) and trust in Egypt who drowned your male children in the Nile and why should you rebel against Me that you should be exiled to over the Euphrates?”

Y. Hoffman, a modern Israeli commentator, follows this same line of thinking but adds his own nuance: “Considering the bad things brought upon you by these nations, how can you request help from them?” Moreover, he points out, it is not just a question of requesting their help geo-politically, Jeremiah questions the adoption of the ways (derekh) of these civilizations, which might serve as a means for alienating the people from God. (See Jeremiah, Mikra L’Yisrael, p. 136)

These interpretations chastise the nation for aligning itself with political forces which have proven unreliable in the past – the Egyptians at the time of Moses and the Assyrians when they exiled the northern kingdom of Israel. Trust in these nations is contrasted with trust in God who has a proven track record of redeeming His people. Hence, a political question has been transformed into a religious one. Hoffman goes one step further when he says that Jeremiah’s intention was not only to criticize false alliances with these alleged allies, but also to caution against adopting their ways or standards for measuring right and wrong because they are equally unreliable.

These words pain me, living in the modern world where our interactions with those outside the Jewish world are incredibly important to us. But one has to wonder sometimes at how the outside world applies its standards and its morality. Sometimes, you just have to do what is right.

About This Commentary

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.

The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives.
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