This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein in Z’chus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandfather Moshe Ben Breindel, and my grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
הַפְטָרָה שֶׁל פַּרָֺשַת מַּטּוֹת
א׳ מתלת דפרענותא
Until now, we’ve sought to investigate the fundamental relationship between each Parshah HaShavua and its Haftarah and thereby glean whatever lessons can be learned from each pairing. But now, our project changes, as the next several Haftaros make up a new series of Haftaros whose primary goal is not to reframing the themes of the Parshah HaShavua.
Since the Churban Bayis Sheini, the Destruction of the Second Beis HaMikdash, Chazzal instituted ten Haftaros to be read between the 17th of Tammuz and Rosh HaShannah. The first three which culminate with Tish’ah B’Av are known as the Telas D’Puranusa, Three of Affliction, while the subsequent seven which finish by Rosh HaShannah are known as the Sheva D’Nechamasa, Seven of Consolation.
Obviously, through these Haftaros, the intended goal for us is to devote our attention to an apparently more pressing issue of the time period, that of the Churban. Perhaps, along the way, we might notice some hidden connections to the Sidros, but for now, in accordance with this apparently higher goal, we will turn to the “Churban” and these Haftaros themselves to see what Chazzal wanted us to during this sensitive time period.
With that, we turn to the Haftarah for Parshas Mattos, the first of the Telas D’Puranusa which is taken from the beginning of Sefer Yirmiyah [1:1-2:3].
Perhaps, when we think of this series of Haftaros, the “Three of Affliction,” as a preparation for the Churban of Tish’ah B’Av, we envision a passage of rebuke and admonition from a prophet, addressing the people directly about the destruction to come and bringing their attention to the err of their ways. That is likely what we’d expect, and rightfully so. Indeed, all of that does eventually make its way into this series; however, none of that appears in this Haftarah. In the first of the Telas D’Puranusa, we have basically no conversation between the prophet and the nation. Now, why should that be? And if there is no message being conveyed between the prophet and the nation, what is the takeaway message for us, the current audience?
Rather, than beginning with a conversation of rebuke between the Navi and the people, we begin with a conversation between Hashem and Yirmiyah about Yirmiyah’s chosen-ness for this task of breaking the bad news of the looming Babylonian Exile. That is how Sefer Yirmiyah begins, and it does provide some basic, helpful background for the admonition to come. However, is that the only purpose which this Haftarah serves? Is just an introduction, mere background to that which follows?
Perhaps, there is a crucial point that is being conveyed at the beginning of Yirmiyah, a message important for us, the audience, that could only be conveyed through this private conversation between Hashem and Yirmiyah. Perhaps, there is a nerve that could only be hit when we listen from the side, as spectators, and not as direct recipients of a full-out tirade. What is that message?
As one gets to the text itself, one might recall seeing this Haftarah earlier in the year, though if one does not, it is also understandable, as this Haftarah was in fact read before, but only according to the Sephardic tradition for Parshas Shemos. We defended this Haftarah selection for Shemos with some help from Artsroll’s Stone Edition Chumash by suggesting various parallels between Hashem’s selection of Moshe Rabbeinu in Shemos and that of Yirmiyah. Both Moshe and Yirmiyah were what we might call “reluctant” prophets, each one not confident in his ability to speak [See Yirmiyah 1:6, Shemos 3:11, 4:10]. Hashem reassures each of them that He will be with them [See Yirmiyah 1:8, Shemos 3:12, 4:11]. We might also suggest that like Moshe Rabbeinu, Yirmiyah also received visual signs from Hashem in preparation for his mission [See Yirmiyah 1:11-16, Shemos 4:2-9].
It certainly makes for a great Haftarah for Shemos, but does this comparison between Moshe and Yirmiyah bear any relevance to this time period?
As far as our first question goes, there is something quite stirring about the conversation between Hashem and Yirmiyah. As we’ve mentioned, Yirmiyah is not looking forward to his mission. But as we’ve pointed out back in Shemos, Yirmiyah’s reluctance is quite different from Moshe’s for a key reason. For whatever reason Moshe was hesitant, Moshe was ultimately charged to go encourage and ultimately free the B’nei Yisrael from their exile. Yirmiyah, on the other hand, is charged to the exact opposite; rebuke them and warn them about the oncoming exile. Nobody wants to do that. But, it is this hesitance perhaps which speaks volumes about the gravity of the situation.
In general, you know that something is the matter when a person in your life has a hard time telling you what he or she needs to tell you. You know that the process is going to be difficult and challenging when special preparations must be made for just conveying the news of that process. In fact, in some ways, this preparation for breaking the news is scarier than the breaking of the news itself. That is because the news itself can only be as bad as the audience receives it. The news can only be as scary as the messenger and speaker makes it sound in front of his audience. There may be hyperbole. There may be scare tactics. But, not here. Here, in our Haftarah, we become the witnesses of a conversation behind the scenes where there are no such theatrics involved. We just hear how genuinely bad the situation is. It’s like a doctor preparing to relay a painful prognosis and even more painful procedure to come. The doctor has no intentions of sugarcoating this message in any which way. Here, it is Hashem telling Yirmiyah simply what will happen and what he must tell the people. It just is what it is. It’s bad. Again, perhaps we can try to ignore it when we’re being yelled at directly. But, when we’re afforded the opportunity to watch the innocent “rehearsal” and experience the genuine fear, we cannot help but learn how bad it really is. It’s bad.
But, exactly how bad is it? To put things into perspective, the Haftarah tells us that Hashem makes Yirmiyah into a “fortified city” so that he can stand up against the B’nei Yehudah. And while at first glance, that sounds like it should be a comforting thought, our tradition suggests just the opposite message about fortification. Indeed, Chazzal tell us that when the Miraglim (Spies) were seeking out the strength of the nations in the Promised Land, the presence of fortified cities is a weakness of sorts [See Rashi to B’Midbar 13:18 citing Tanchuma 4]. That is because the need of fortification shows the need for such reliance. It is a sign that—although Hashem explicitly tells Yirmiyah not to be afraid [Yirmiyah 1:17]—there is certainly what to be afraid of. We are watching Hashem prepare Yirmiyah for the absolute worst.
And, indeed, it gets worse. In our second question we asked if there is any significance behind our parallels between Yirmiyah and Moshe in Shemos and the current time period. In light of the famous, heart wrenching Kinah (lamentation) that is recited on Tish’ah B’Av, “Eish Tukad,” it seems there is much significance behind these parallels at this particular juncture. This song infamously compares and contrasts our Exodus from Egypt, “B’Tzeisi MiMitzrayim,” with our Exile from Yerushalayim, “B’Tzeisi MiYerushalayim.” If we think about Tish’ah B’Av in its roots, the Cheit HaMiraglim (Sin of the Spies), the Exile we mourn at this time represents a complete undoing of the Exodus. In the Piyut itself, the song contrasts between the Shirah with which Moshe led the B’nei Yisrael with versus the lamentation of Yirmiyah. But, like the conversation between Hashem and Yirmiyah, this song too, is not just hyperbole or powerful imagery. It is exactly what it is. It is fundamentally the reversal of our Exodus to Exile.
Based on this comparison between the Exodus and the Exile, it is quite poignant that this Haftarah ends with a direct reference to the actual event of Yetzias Mitzrayim itself with the famous verse [Yirmiyah 2:2], “…Zacharti Lach Chessed Ne’urayich Ahavas Kelulosayich Lechteich Acharei BaMidbar B’Eretz Lo Zaru’ah”-“…I remember you, the kindness of your youth, the love of your marriages; when you followed Me into a desert [wilderness], in a land that is not sown.”
In all of this, there is some painful irony as our very Sidros at the end of B’Midbar are dealing with the B’nei Yisrael’s preparation to actualize their redemption by entering the Promised Land. This Haftarah, like the Galus itself, turns us in the opposite direction.
So, as we begin this painful journey through the Telas D’Puranusa, we have two important takeaways for us, for now. Number one is the gravity of the matter. Simply put, it’s not easy. That’s the nature of exile. By this Haftarah, we’re not even being yelled at yet. We’re just hearing it like it is. If we do not take the matter seriously, Chas VaShalom, the worst has yet to come. Number two is that as bad as it looks, our Haftarah leaves us off with a message of hope. Yes, Galus from Yerushalayim marks the reversal of our highest moments, our Geulah from Mitzrayim. But that memory of our Exodus is not merely here to serve as frame of reference for the extreme shift that comes with Exile. The memory represents an ideal we hope to reach again. It represents where we can be if we truly want to be close to Hashem. It represents where we can choose to be if we take Hashem seriously. Even if the worst seems yet to come, the Navi provides this silver lining to tell us that although things are looking bad, they really don’t have to be.
May we all be Zocheh to truly take Hashem’s warning seriously and consider where we can improve, and Hashem should reverse our Exile with a new Exodus in the form of the final Geulah and the coming of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂
הַפְטָרָה שֶׁל פַּרָֺשַת מַסְעֵי
ב׳ מתלת דפרענותא
[2:4-28, 3:4, 4:1-2]
After being prepared for the difficult mission of addressing a condemned nation, Hashem tells Yirmiyah exactly what he is to say to the people. With that, we have the Haftarah for Parshas Mas’ei, the second of the Telas D’Puranusa (Three of Affliction). Here is where Yirmiyah’s message of doom meets the people, the awaited words of rebuke. What does he have to say?
From the beginning of his rebuke [Yirmiyah 2:4-9], Yirmiyah challenges the people for abandoning Hashem for Hevel, nothingness, and for not seeking Him out. The Navi then proceeds to remind the people that it was Hashem Who led them securely through the deathly desert and wasteland and entered them into the fruitful Promised Land. We might say that all of the journeys Hashem led the B’nei Yisrael through as recounted in Parshas Mas’ei, the B’nei Yisrael had forgotten. He then blames them for contaminating that very land with their idolatrous practices. All around, it’s pretty bad, but pretty simple. They betrayed G-d’s kindness. It’s nothing sophisticated or novel.
Indeed, if that is all it is—a broadly religious betrayal of Hashem, it makes it kind of difficult for us to develop a specific takeaway. In other words, where should we seek to improve ourselves? Supposedly, everywhere. Don’t do idolatry. Devote yourself to G-d. Fulfill the entire Torah properly. Do we really need a prophet for this stuff? Is there anything more here that the Navi seeks to convey? Is that what the Churban is all about? That we didn’t keep the Torah and we served idols? Why didn’t you just say so? Seriously though, why do we need a lyrical prophecy and Haftarah to demonstrate the point? It’s simple. We’re pretty bad at serving G-d properly.
Yirmiyah continues his admonition by inviting the people to observe other peoples. “Pass through the isles of Kittim and see Keidar,” he urges them, “and see if such has ever been”—to see how other nations act towards their fake gods [2:10-11]. It’s like telling them to peek into a church or some other temple and see what the religious services look like. And here is where Yirmiyah begins to really make his point. Other nations don’t exchange their fake gods, but remain devoted, yet the B’nei Yisrael have exchanged the Real Thing, G-d Himself.
It is regarding this “exchange” that Yirmiyah blames the people for having committed what he refers to as “Shtayim Ra’os”-“two evils” [2:13]; what exactly are the two evils?
Oddly enough, when you look at the Pasuk, it sounds like there is one crime. In the Navi’s words, the B’nei Yisrael exchanged the Mekor Mayim Chaim, the spring of living waters, for Boros Nishbarim, broken cistern. Their sin was that they exchanged Hashem and His Torah for a cheap knockoff. It sounds like one crime. What are the two evils?
On the one hand, Rashi and others explain that that the first evil was that they rebelled against Hashem’s Will, and that the second one is the one articulated in our verse, that the B’nei Yisrael exchanged Hashem Himself as it were. Artscroll’s Stone Edition Tanach suggests alternatively that indeed, the exchange itself contains two inherent evils; (1) the forsaking or trading away of G-d is one sin, and (2) the substitution of G-d for something of an unlimitedly lesser quality. It’s enough that they have opted to trade G-d away, but that which they’ve traded Him for is the ultimate insult which harks back to the earlier verse [2:4-9] when the Navi decries the nation’s exchanging G-d for Hevel, utter nothingness.
Either way, it is perhaps this point particularly that the Navi appears to be calling to our attention more than anything else. Of course we have to keep the Torah and not serve idols. Those are the ABCs, and indeed, perhaps, it is juvenile for a Navi to have to remind us that. The problem is not merely that we have abandoned Hashem, something which should have obviously known better not to do. But we’ve added evil upon evil by “exchanging” G-d as it were, suggesting that there is a substantial alternative to G-d Himself in the makeshift gods, the “broken cisterns” we’ve placed in His stead. It is not just our actions themselves, but this despicable context which the Navi denounces, the doubled evil.
The evil, or evils, underlying this exchanging of G-d is significant because it actually gets to the heart of what we mourn on Tish’ah B’Av, the root sin of Tish’ah B’Av itself, the Cheit HaMiraglim (Sin of the Spies), as we’ve explained earlier in this Haftarah series.
Why was this particular sin is greater than any other which the B’nei Yisrael had committed during their time in the wilderness? The worshipping of the Golden Calf was borderline idolatry. If the B’nei Yisrael are now being blamed for their idolatrous practices, the Cheit HaEigel should be the sin of discussion, no? The Sin of the Spies was definitely bad, but it was not the B’nei Yisrael’s first sin, nor would it be the last.
Yet, for some reason, the nation’s response to the Miraglim’s negative report of the Promised Land would have such far-reaching ramifications. It would become a harbinger of national, generation-spanning mourning, as Chazzal tell us, the day on which the B’nei Yisrael rejected Hashem’s land was none other than Tish’ah B’Av, the day on which many future tragedies would occur, including the destruction of the two Batei Mikdash [Ta’anis 29A; Rashi to Tehillim 106:27]. What was so unforgiveable about the Cheit HaMiraglim?
In its larger context, the Cheit HaMiraglim occurred when the nation was about to complete the goal that had taken off with Yetzias Mitzrayim, the Exodus of Egypt. Yet, because they were so caught up in their new, more modern woes, they were prepared to reverse the effects of Yetzias Mitzrayim. That happened because they had convinced themselves that the “grass is always greener on the other side.” That could only happen if they had taken their previous salvations for granted. And when that happens, we do exactly what they would do later in the times of Yirmiyah; substitute Hashem and His goals with their own. Yes, at the scene of the Golden Calf, we betrayed G-d’s Will, but even that, Chazzal teach, was a mistake within their attempted service of G-d Himself. It was not a display of ingratitude. It was not a complete turning away from G-d. At the Sin of the Spies, by requesting to turn back on Hashem’s Promised Land and return to Egypt, we effectively exchanged G-d.
It is for this reason that, as we’ve also explained earlier in this Haftarah series, we sing the Kinah (lamentation) of “Eish Tukad” which is devoted to depicting the contrast between the Exodus from Egypt, “B’Tzeisi MiMitzrayim,” and the Exile from Yerushalayim, “B’Tzeisi MiYerushalayim.” Because, apparently, when the B’nei Yisrael shed their tears in response to the Miraglim’s report, they exchanged G-d and Yerushalayim for some alternative back in Mitzrayim.
And if we look even further in our Haftarah, it is not just conceptually that the B’nei Yisrael repeat their “exchange” of the Miraglim. In the wake of the Babylonian Exile, this “Egyptian preference” resurfaces. Indeed, the idols were not the only “broken cisterns” that the B’nei Yisrael have adopted. When the Babylonians began to conquer the B’nei Yisrael, the B’nei Yisrael sought allies in Egypt. Thus, the Navi argues that the Egyptian cities of Noph and Sachpancheis would ultimately smash their skull [2:17] and then challenges them to answer how the waters of the Nile in Egypt are going to help them [2:18].
Thus, the Navi mocks them for ascribing parenthood to wood and stones [2:27] and challenges “Where are your gods now?” [2:28]. Indeed, if they were so convinced of the exchange they’ve made, they should turn to their new gods to arise and save them.
The Haftarah, however, once again, leaves us off with a solution. At the very end, the Haftarah skips a few verses to where the Navi declares that if only from now, the B’nei Yisrael call Hashem “My Father, you are the Master of My Youth” [3:4], then things could turn around. Obviously, no one is perfect in any area of life, no less in Torah fulfillment and Avodas Hashem. But, if we can humbly express the foolishness of our exchange, appreciate the gravity of our exchange, and turn back on that exchange, we would naturally be on our way back to the Promised Land.
May we all be Zocheh to cherish our relationship with Hashem, never trade Him or His plan away for anything, and He cherish us and never trade us away forever, but return us securely to His Promised Land of Eretz Yisrael with the coming of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂