(Jeremiah 2:4-28; 3:4; 4:1-2)
July 21, 2012
2 Av 5772
This week’s haftarah is the second of the three special haftarot which precede Tisha b’Av (tlata d’puranuta – the three haftarot of admonition). The first two are brought from the beginning of the book of Jeremiah and the third from the first chapter of Isaiah. One element common to all three of these haftarot is God’s bitterness and disillusionment with Israel’s disloyalty. Jeremiah expresses this sense of betrayal in a particularly biting critique: “Just cross over to the isles of Kittim and look; send to Kedar and observe carefully. See if something like this ever happened: Has any nation changed its gods even though they are not gods? But My people has exchanged its glory (God) for that which can do no good. Be horrified, utterly dazed, said the Lord. For My people have done a twofold wrong: They have forsaken Me, the Fount of living waters and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, which cannot even hold water.” (2:10-13)
Put simply, God praises the loyalty of the idolatrous nations to their false deities while contrasting it with Israel’s anomalous disloyalty to Him, the true God. Targum Yonathan, the Jewish Aramaic translation of the Prophets, infrequently veers from the words of the text but here feels compelled to elaborate: “Behold cross over to the island of the Cuthites and look; send to the Arab states and observe carefully. And see a people that He (God) exiled from city to city and from state to state. They took their gods and brought them with them. Wherever they settled, they spread out their sanctuaries, set up their idols and worshipped them. Where will you find a people or a language that does like them, Israel? [namely, that shows loyalty like them.] That people did not leave their idolatrous worship even though they serve no need, but My people (namely, Israel) left its worship of Me even though I have brought them honor and went after that which offers them no benefit. Mourn, O heavens, on the likes of these, on the land of Israel, that in the future will be destroyed and on the Temple, that in the future will be vanquished and on the very evil deeds of My people, said the Lord.”
God is deeply disappointed with His children. He redeems them. He dependably supports them. Yet, they abandon Him and adopt the neighbors’ worship which has no substance. The neighbors show more loyalty to their false deities than Israel shows to God. Whatever is the cause of this human proclivity to disloyalty, it leaves God hurt and disillusioned. Jeremiah expressed God’s pain and the Targum Yonathan, in its translation, tacked on punishment for the nation’s faithlessness.
Still, one wonders about this tendency among people not to realize substance and instead to chase after the ephemeral. Jeremiah’s complaints reflect people’s behavior in our day no less than in the past. People’s priorities are astonishingly shortsighted, but wrong choices ultimately come at a price. God is not pained for nothing. He knows that making the wrong choices in life can lead to tragic consequences.
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.
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