Parashat Matot-Masei (three weeks of “bein hametzarim”) 5775
We are now in the peak of the period of the “three weeks”, called in Hebrew“bein hametzarim”, that goes between the fast of the 17 of Tammuz and the long fast of Tisha B’Av, the day our Temple was destroyed twice. These weeks are considered the saddest and hardest time of the year.
If the mourning for a person starts the hardest and with the strictest signs of mourning and then slowly goes towards a process of comforting and relaxing of the restrictions, it is not so with the mourning during these weeks. The mourning gets harder and stricter, till we arrive to the day of the destruction of the Temple and the expulsion of the people of Israel from their Land.
The calls of the prophets emphasize the responsibility of the people in this tragedy. The Haftorah we just read, the second of three Haftorahs of rebuke, brought Yermiahu the Prophet, Jeremiah, and his rebuking of the people because they went far from G-d and His Torah.
The Haftorah starts with the words: “Listen the word of G-d House of Jacob, all the family of the House of Israel. So says the Lord: What did your ancestors find wrong with me to make them go so far away from me, to make them go after vanities and become themselves vanity?” The destruction took place because of Israel’s treason. Even if Israel was once loved as a bride, now they left their G-d. Hashem hurts because of the rejection of the people, he asks why, how can it be that He was not enough for Israel?
It is difficult to check who is G-d’s competition, as it were. Israel betrayed Him and went after the vanities, hevel, a word we know from the Book of Kohelet: Vanity of vanities said Kohelet, vanity of vanities everything is vanity. We must ask ourselves what caused Israel to give up and go after vanity. It looks they were afraid that life it is indeed vanity.
Yermiahu continues in the Haftorah: “For my people have committed two evils: they have abandoned me, the fountain of living water, and dug themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water!”. If they would have been faithful to G-d they would have been connected to the source of living waters. I think we can hear in this verse an echo from the story of the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Life.
Adam and Eve were expulsed from Eden so they couldn’t access the Tree of Life after they ate from the Tree of Knowledge. In Bereshit G-d wants to keep the disconnection between the source of life and humankind. Separation, even if hard, was necessary. In Yermiahu is the people that chooses to disconnect. Instead of connecting into the Source of Living Waters they dug themselves broken cisterns, symbols of the broken World where we live.
There is a Midrash in Eicha Rabbati, a medieval book of midrashim, that opens the door to understand the drama between G-d and Israel. When G-d sees the Temple destroyed He cries and says to Yermiahu and the angels: “Oy, my House is destroyed! My sons, where are you? My cohanim, my priests, where are you? My beloves where are you? What can I do about you, I did warn you and you did not repent”. Then he says to Yermiahu: “Don’t you feel pain for me? Go and bring Abraham, Itzchak, Jacob and Moshe from their tombs, because they know how to cry”.
Even if there is a theology of sin and punishment present in the Midrash, it shows that G-d suffers as well. He is angry with Yermiahu because the prophet doesn’t cry, because he doesn’t completely understand the despair of G-d in front of the destruction and tragedy, so Yermiahu brings the fathers of the nation and each one of them explains to G-d why Israel deserves G-d’s mercy. No one of them is convincing enough till Rachel our mother jumps in front of G-d and reminds how in her nuptial night she and Jacob agreed on secret signs in order to be sure that Laban her father won’t cheat Jacob. Rachel, however, felt pity on Leah her sister and taught her the signs, even laying under the bed to speak with Jacob in her own voice and not Leah’s . Rachel says to G-d: If I, a woman of flesh and bones, made of dust and ashes, I was not jealous of my “competition”, Leah my sister, and I didn’t want to expose her to embarrassment, then how can it be that You, King of the World, merciful and good, why are you jealous of idolatry that there is nothing real about it, why do you send my children to Exile and give them to be killed by swords and their enemies to do with them as they please.
G-d hears Rachel’s words and has mercy on Israel and promises that they will go back to the Land and to Jerusalem. Rachel is very daring on her words and says that the sin of Israel is not real because there are not other gods to be unfaithful with, then G-d shouldn’t be so angry.
There is here a connection with vanity. Rachel said that the people became despaired of the World, that they didn’t have strength to keep their hope and faith, so they turned to idolatry, vanity, that is not real and that G-d instead of punishing them should have pity them. Don’t punish them more; take them close to You, the source of hope, the source of living waters.
Friends, we live in a World where there is an evident disconnection between us and G-d. Yes, we are more connected than ever and I suppose many of you are dying now because you can’t use your phones now. And still, we are more disconnected from G-d, disconnected from each other than ever. When we are experiencing this time of mourning in our calendar we can be comforted in knowing that G-d cries with us, about this connection, He wants us to return and be together. All the groups and divisions of the people will turn into one Nation, He promised through Yermiahu that there is hope, because “make us return and we will return, because You are the Lord my G-d”.