Haftarah Parshat Matot- Masei (Jeremiah 2:4–28; 3:4) outside of Israel
August 6, 2016 / 2 Av 5776
Please note: in Israel we read Parshat Masei
Jeremiah sought with all of his heart to convince his people to turn from their disastrous behavior so that Jerusalem and the First Temple would be saved from the destructive hands of the Babylonians. He urged the people to listen to his message: “Hear the word of the Lord (devar HaShem), O House of Jacob, every clan of the House of Israel.” (2:4)
Jeremiah admonished his people and expected them to alter their behavior accordingly. The Pesikta d’Rav Kahana, an Eretz Yisrael midrash from the period of the Talmud, proffers a midrash on this theme for this second of three Shabbatot which precede Tisha b’Av (Tlata d’poranuta). In it, the author explores the human tendency to ignore guidance which might help avoid tragedy: “Listen to the words of the Torah so that you will not have to listen to the words of the prophet; listen to the words of the prophet so that you will not have to listen to words of admonition; listen to words of admonition so that you will not be forced to listen to words of reproach; listen to words of reproach so that you will not have to hear the sound of horns and pipes (the decrees of foreign kings); listen in the land (the homeland – Eretz Yisrael) so that you will not have to listen outside the land (in exile); listen while you are alive so that will not have to listen after you are dead; listen with your ears so that you will not have to listen with your bodies, listen with your bodies so that you will not need to listen with your bones.” (14:4 – Mandelbaum ed. p. 243)
This midrash urges attentiveness. People are often blind to the reality which faces them. Disaster does not strike overnight. It often happens incrementally, in a way which could have been avoided if proper precautions had been taken. Jeremiah warned his people of the challenges which faced them. He cajoled them to mend their ways, but no one was willing to listen. Things got progressively worse until it was too late.
We often face similar challenges and let problems fester until they are too large to be conquered. If only we would have heeded the warnings when the problems were manageable. It is not without irony that the problems which cropped up in the final generations of the First Temple resemble those of the last generations of the Second Temple. It is just human nature. And it is tragic. The antidote seems simple – to listen, to discern and remedy before it is too late.