Haftarah Parshat Mase
(Jeremiah 2:4-28; 3:4)
July 30, 2011
28 Tammuz 5771
In this second of the three special haftarot which precede Tisha b’Av (Tlata d’puranuta – the three haftarot of admonition), Jeremiah expresses God’s disillusionment over the people’s inexplicable abandonment of their relationship with Him. He asks rhetorically why, after all His benevolence, they could reject Him and attach themselves to meaningless idolatry. The second verse of the haftarah illustrates poignantly God’s frustration over their ingratitude: “Thus said the Lord: ‘What wrong (avel) did your fathers find in Me that they abandoned Me (God) and went after delusions and were deluded?” (2:5)
This verse uses the word “avel” to describe the imagined wrong which might have prompted the people to abandon God. What is meant by the word “avel”? In a verse from the Torah which uses this same word in reference to God, we find that this word seems to refer to unjust or false behavior: “A faithful God, never false (without “avel”), righteous and true is He.” (Deut. 32:4) In other words, the people have falsely attributed to God tendencies inconsistent with His treatment of them.
This verse is used by rabbinic sages to describe a sage who has abandoned his ties to Torah: “And the Sages say: Any sage who studied Torah and then withdrew, has no share in the world to come. As it is said, ‘Because he has despised the word of the Lord… that person shall be utterly cut off’ (Num. 15:31); it also says: ‘What wrong have your fathers found in Me that they have abandoned Me.’ (Jer. 2:5)” (Avot d’Rabbi Nathan version A, ch. 36 Schechter ed. p. 109)
The Babylonian Talmud offers an expanded version of this teaching which fleshes out its meaning: “Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai said: ‘One does not say. Examine the camel, examine the pig [for the purposes of sacrifices], rather, only examine the lamb. And to what does this refer? – A disciple of the sages who has abandoned the Torah.’ Rabbi Judah ben Lakish said: Any disciple of the sages who abandons Torah, of him Scripture says: ‘As a bird who wanders from her nest, so is a man who wanders from his place. (Proverbs 27:8) And it further says: ‘What wrong have your fathers found in Me that they have abandoned Me.’ (Jer. 2:5)” (Hagigah 9b)
The sages seem particularly distraught by a colleague who left the world of Torah. Why, beyond a sense of being betrayed? Probably, they were offended by the idea that someone could develop a close relationship with God through the study of Torah and then in an act of ingratitude abandon God for whatever reason, ignoring God’s past benevolence. Beyond this, Jeremiah and the sages seem to be bothered by the all too human tendency to show disloyalty to the roots from which we were nurtured when those roots become inconvenient or problematic – the “what have you done for me lately” attitude. They urge us to reconsider where we came from and not to be too hasty in leaving our heritage for that which will ultimately prove vacuous or even worse, specious.