Jeremiah 2:4– 28; 3:4; 4:1-2
Jeremiah (prophet) c. 655 BCE -.586 BCE.
Haftarat Masei is the second “Haftarah of Rebuke” and is read during the “Three Weeks of Mourning” (17th of Tammuz to the 9th of Av).
The path the Israelites followed from Egypt to Canaan is described in both the parsha and the haftarah, so that became the theme for this week’s painting. The route is described in great detail in the first 49 verses of the parsha. It was a long and arduous journey for the Israelites and they strayed from Gd’s lessons throughout. Although they didn’t always follow Gd’s rules, after 40 years they arrived in the Promised Land.
In the haftarah the prophet Jeremiah reminds B’nei Yisrael how Gd led His people “out of the land of Egypt, through the wilderness, through a land of deserts and pits, through a land of drought and of the shadow of death…. And into a land of fruitful fields…” (ch.2: 6,7). However, reproach is the real message of the haftarah.
Jeremiah was a prophet who lived through a tumultuous time in Jewish history. His life spanned the reign of 5 kings- Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah. It was a time of idolatry and war. Jeremiah warned B’nei Yisrael that they were going to be punished for their idol worship, using very direct and damning language. At the end of his life, in 586 BCE, Judah was destroyed and Jerusalem was sacked by Nebuchadnezzar. The majority of Jews were exiled to Babylon. Jeremiah, who never married and was reviled for his messages, escaped to Egypt. He continued his prophecies from Egypt and died there.
The haftarah begins with the word “Shim-u”- “Listen” or “Hear” the word of Gd. The rabbis remind us that these words are reminiscent of “na’asei v’nishma” –we will do and we will hear– the words B’nei Yisrael used at Sinai to affirm their covenant with Gd. The word “Eich”- How? is used twice in the haftarah asking how Israel can have changed so much, turning to sinning and base behaviour. This reminds us of the word “Eicha”- the name of the book we read on Tisha B’Av.
There is negativity and sadness in the haftarah. Jeremiah reminds B’nei Israel of the difficult trek through the desert and how Gd brought them to the Promised Land. Then Jeremiah describes B’nei Yisrael’s sins. At the very end of the haftarah Jeremiah mitigates the message slightly by telling the people that if they return to Gd “in sincerity, justice and righteousness nations will bless themselves by you and praise themselves by you.”
In the midst of what is happening in Israel the messages from the haftarah still resonate today. We are blessed to be in the “Land of Milk and Honey”. Brave Israelis are fighting for our survival, for the right to live on our land and for the existence of our crops, our farms, our education and our nationhood. As well as fighting physically for our survival we are reminded to act morally and do good deeds- an echo from Jeremiah’s prophecies.
May the battles be over soon. May there be no more loss of life. May Israel live in peace and security, unbothered by bombs and rockets. And may we all endeavor to live a life of goodness and be an “ohr l’goyim” (“a light unto the nations”).
This haftarah is dedicated to Noam ben Nicole.
On a side note, there is a program pairing people with soldiers and people on guard duty in Israel called The Shmira Project. Go to http://www.shmiraproject.com/SignUp.aspx. You then pray and/or perform mitzvot with that soldier in mind, asking Gd to answer your good deeds with protection for that soldier. There is no charge, and it takes 30 seconds to sign up.