Haftarah Parshat Matot-Masei (Jeremiah 2:4-28; 3:4 ;4:1-2)
July 22, 2017 / 28 Tammuz 5777
During Jeremiah’s lifetime, Eretz Yisrael – the land of Israel – rested between the world’s great civilizations. At times, this meant getting trampled by the armies of the competing powers, from the south, Egypt, and from the north, either the Assyrians or the Babylonians. Here and there, however, there were periods of quiet which were no more restful. Jeremiah’s youth and the beginnings of his prophetic mission were in just such a period.
During these times, Israel’s peril was not physical. It was the threat of maintaining its unique religious identity without being swallowed up by the larger cultures which surrounded it. Jeremiah’s prophecy makes it quite clear that the assimilation of the religious ideas of the surrounding cultures was compelling to both his fellow citizens and much of their leadership. He challenges his people’s betrayal of God in favor of the false deities of the neighboring nations. This attraction to what others do and believe should not surprise us. After all, we in modern times know how hard it is to hold on to our distinctive identity in the larger society. We see it in others and perhaps even note in ourselves the pull of the milieu. For most of us, this is a tremendous struggle and we ponder daily how much we can afford to be like our neighbors without losing our authentic Jewish identities.
Jeremiah challenged the veracity of this very question. He chides his people, asking them whether the stories of how God founded their people mattered to them anymore. He asks them whether they challenge the foreign ideas which they find so attractive as critically as they treat their own spiritual inheritance: “For my people have done a twofold wrong: They have forsaken Me (God), the Fount of living waters, and hewn them out cisterns, broken cisterns, which cannot even hold water.” (2:13)
Rabbi David Kimche (12th century Provence) explains this parable in these words: “The good which influences Israel while they are loyal to the Torah is likened to a Fount of living water that flows without end, for this is what I (God) was for them, but they left Me to worship other gods who were for them like broken cisterns, which were built to collect rain water but since they are broken, the water drains out of them just as it enters them.”
Jeremiah’s point here is that people should not throw away their long-lasting identity for one which is ephemeral, at least without seriously considering what they are doing. It is quite possible that the identity which was hastily abandoned might be the one which offers true spiritual nourishment, if given the chance, while the newly adopted one, while trendy, might not offer much more than that.