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Mattot-Mase 5767

Parshat Mattot-Mase
(Jeremiah 2:4-28; 3:4)
July 14, 2007

This week\’s haftarah is the second of the \”tlata d\’puranuta – the three haftarot of desolation\” recited to set the somber tenor of the three week period before Tisha b\’Av – the fast marking the destruction of the first and second Temples. The choice of these haftarot prompts a heightened sense of awareness of the Jewish attitude toward these monumental tragedies. The Jewish focus seems to be less on the tragedy itself and more on the perceived reasons for the tragedy. The message of this haftarah is a didactic one; one of correction, awareness and warning.

This week\’s haftarah is literally a continuation of last week\’s haftarah. Last week, we read the first chapter of the book of Jeremiah, with Jeremiah\’s initiation as a prophet and God\’s warning of the dire consequences of the nation\’s linking its fate to Egypt when its fatal destruction was likely to come from its northern enemy, the Babylonians. In true rabbinic fashion, the sages were unwilling to end even a haftarah of desolation on a bitter note, so they incorporated at the end of last week\’s message of rebuke, the positive message found at the beginning of the second chapter which contains this week\’s haftarah even though it is at odds with what precedes it: \”The word of the Lord came to me, saying, \’Go proclaim to Jerusalem: Thus said the Lord: I accounted to your favor the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride – how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown. Israel was holy to the Lord, the first fruits of His harvest, all who ate of it were held guilty; disaster befell them – declares the Lord.\” (Jeremiah 2:1-3) The reader is thus comforted in his or her knowledge that despite whatever failings the nation might have, still, God remembers the loyalty and fealty of Israel\’s youth when He brought them out of Egypt and they followed Him loyally into the desert as an act of faith.

The inclusion of these verses at the end of last week\’s message leaves its imprimatur on this week\’s haftarah. Without this comforting message at its beginning, the harshness of this week\’s message remains untempered in its severity. Jeremiah accuses the people of abandoning God (2:4;8;17;19), falsely prophesying in the name of Baal (8), idolatry (13,20,23,25,27,28), social injustice (34), and false dependence on foreign nations (18.25.36) The only consolation seems to be that the sages chose Jeremiah\’s indictment rather than that of Ezekiel who also challenged the people for their sins. Jeremiah attributed the people\’s sins to foolishness. Ezekiel, on the other hand, accused the people of open rebellion against God. (Ezekiel 2:3-6) What is clear is that both prophets saw their messages as a challenge to the people to repent and mend their societies and their society\’s relationship with God. (See Y Hoffman, Jeremiah, Mikra L\’Yisrael, p. 124)

With the harshness of this message, it is again not surprising, that the sages sought a closing verse for this haftarah to remind their audience of the message of solace removed from the beginning of the haftarah: \”Just now you called Me [God], \’Father!\’ You are the Companion of my youth.\’\” (Jeremiah 3:4) In in the end, we and all of God\’s creatures will recognize His truth!

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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