Torah Readings for Saturday, July 22, 2017
(30:2-32:42) Bamidbar (Numbers)
Matot is the ninth sedrah in Bamidbar (Numbers). The sedrah takes its name from the first significant word in the first sentence of the portion, “And Moshe spoke to the heads (Matot) of the tribes of the children of Israel saying.” The text actually uses the word “hamatot.” In Hebrew the letter “hay” placed in front of a noun may be translated as “the” so the text is saying “the tribes.” The sedrah divides into three parts - Vows and Oaths, The War with the Midianites and The Land of Rueben, Gad and Manasseh.
Vows and Oaths (30:2-30:17)
The first section of the sedrah deals specifically with two kinds of obligations, the vow or “neder” and the oath or “shevuah.” (See Themes for a discussion of the difference between the two.) As we shall see, the text provides a springboard for commentary on the importance of the spoken word in Judaism. In a break from his usual practice, Moshe gives the rules about vows and oaths to the heads of the tribes and not to the Children of Israel as a whole. The leaders are expected to communicate these rules to the people at a later time. Commentators give three reasons for this difference. In seeking favor with their followers, leaders may be tempted to use words people want to hear. The words of leaders may lead the people astray or to greatness. According to Halachah, under certain circumstances a leader or special court of three may be able to annul an ill-considered vow or oath. The spoken word has great power in Judaism. Creation was the result of words. For example in creating man the word preceded the deed. “And God said, ‘Let us make Man in Our image…So God created Man in His image.’” And when one utters a promise invoking the divine name, one is expected to honor that obligation. “According to whatever comes from his mouth he shall do.” (30:2). However, all vows and oaths are not equal. The sedrah presents a rather detailed formulary by which fathers and husbands may annul the vows and oaths of their daughters and/or wives. This portion of Matot certainly is not consistent with our modern views of equality regardless of sex. But we have seen the Torah is not necessarily consistent when it comes to matters of equality between the sexes. For example, commandments like honoring parents or observing Shabbat apply to everybody regardless of sex. Yet when it comes to inheritance laws or offering sacrifices the Torah presents what we would call a sexist bias. Regardless of one’s view on this question, we must ask ourselves why the section on Vows and Oaths appears at this point in Bamidbar. Perhaps further reading of the sedrah will provide a clue.
War with the Midianites (31:1-54)
Matot now picks up where the previous narrative left off. It returns to the story of the Midianites versus the Israelites started in Balak and continued in Pinchas. Having defeated the Midianites’ attempts to overcome the Israelites, the Lord tells Moshe, “Take vengeance for the Children of Israel against the Midianites” (31:2). To fulfill God’s command, Moshe creates a special army made up of an “eleph” from each tribe. Accompanied by Pinchas this special fighting force is to destroy the Midianites. The victorious Israelites kill, among others, the five kings of Midian and Balaam of talking donkey fame. However, when the troops return, Moshe is furious because they have let the women live. Moshe orders them to kill all the male children and all of the women except for the virgins. While this command may sound discordant in our ears, from Moshe’s point of view it was quite sensible since it was these women who had attempted to seduce the Israelites and turn them to idolatry. The chapter continues with the ritual purification of the soldiers who had come in contact with the dead, the purification of the booty and the division of the spoils. Unlike Arthur Andersen, the Torah provides a very detailed accounting of all items taken and the distributions made to the soldiers, the general population and the Kohanim. The soldiers are surprised to find that they have suffered no casualties and are moved to give an additional offering to the Lord in thanksgiving for a bloodless (from their point of view) victory. This fight with the Midianites is unique in that it was not about territory or any temporal issue. Rather it was a holy war designed to bring the Lord’s vengeance on transgressors. Also, the Torah’s account may lack for some purely historical accuracy. There are later mentions of the Midianites and fights against them. There may have been more than one group with that name in the ancient world. The Israelites may have only destroyed one group. From Moshe’s point of view, there are two unique elements to this fight. First, he does not lead it. While no specific military commander is named, Pinchas is the one who is commanded to go with the troops. Secondly, and more importantly, God has told Moshe that once the war is won, “you shall be gathered to your kin.” (31:2). Could this knowledge that he was about to die have accounted for some of Moshe’s rough attitude in talking to the troops and dealing with the Midianites? You be the judge.
The Land of Rueben, Gad and Manasseh (32:1-42)
The leaders of these two and one half tribes come to Moshe and tell him that that they want to settle on the eastern bank of the Jordan. Before they can finish their sales pitch, Moshe begins to rebuke them for not being willing to join their brethren in the fight for the Promised Land. He compares them to the Generation of the Spies, the generation that would not fight for the land. In fact he is concerned that just as the spies turned the Israelites away from entering the Promised Land, so will the timidity of the two and a half undermine the courage of this generation of Israelites. They assure Moshe that he has misunderstood them. As soon as they have built “sheepfolds for our flocks and homes for our children,” they will be the shock-troops for the invasion Canaan. What is more, they will not return to their homes until the conquest is complete. Moshe accepts their promise. (Now do you see why the sedrah started with a section on the importance of fulfilling vows and oaths?) Since Moshe will be dead by the time they will have kept or broken their promise he tells Elazar and Joshua about the bargain. He also tells them that if the two and a half tribes fail to keep their word, they will have to settle in Canaan and give up their holdings in Trans-Jordan. Traditionally, Rueben, Gad and Manasseh have been criticized for their decision. By saying that they wanted to settle outside of the Promised Land because it would be good for their cattle and that they wanted to build shelter for their sheep and for their children (instead of the other way around) they are seen as shallow and materialistic. And that may be a fair assessment. On the other hand, they may just have been a little ahead of their times. As you know, the Torah gives more than one description of the boundaries of the Promised Land. Sometimes, the eastern boundary is the Jordan River. But at other times it is the Euphrates River. According to at least one source, this Euphrates River boundary was for the time of the Moshiach. So who knows, maybe the leaders of these two and a half tribes were just a little ahead of their time, trying to hasten the coming of the Moshiach. This is not the usual interpretation, but then this is not your usual Torah study either. The sedrah ends with the two and half tribes securing their hold on the land that will ultimately be their portion in the future Kingdom of Israel.
406. The specification and procedure for fulfilling ones vow (30:3).
407. The specification and procedure for nullifying a vow when necessary (30:8).
Biblical Literacy by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin
Vows and Oaths
The first section of Matot deals with two distinct types of commitment. The first is a vow or in Hebrew a “neder.” The second is an oath or in Hebrew a “shevuah.” As the notes in the Stone Chumash point out, the term “neder” really means something more than just a vow. It is more than a simple promise to do something. Rather, a “neder” gives a person the right to do something that heretofore could be done only by God: to create a new halachich status. For example, one can make a vow to deny himself something, for a limited period of time, which the Torah permits. The invoking of the “neder” changes the nature of the thing itself. On the other hand, “by means of an oath or ‘shevuah’ one may either prohibit oneself or require oneself to perform an act.” To use Stone’s example, “if I have made an apple forbidden to myself (this is an example of ‘neder’) the apple has the status of a forbidden food to me and therefore I may not enjoy the apple.” The status of the apple has changed. But if I have taken an oath (“shevuah”) to eat an apple, I have accepted an obligation but from the point of view of halachah, the status of the apple has not changed. This may seem a little esoteric, but it is a concept with which we should have some nodding acquaintance as we go forward. (And that is all I have, a nodding acquaintance.) As Rabbi Telushkin points out, vows are so important that “many observant Jews, when announcing something that they plan to do, append the Hebrew words “bli neder (without a vow), to protect themselves in case they cannot fulfill their word.
This sedrah provides the basis for the method of purifying various items acquired from non-Jews. (31:21-24). More specifically it provides the method of purification for utensils and kitchen items so that may be used in accord with Jewish Dietary Laws. In telling the soldiers how to purify some of their booty the Torah states the following. “Any article that can withstand fire-these shall you pass through fire and they shall be pure, except that they must be purified with water of lustration; and anything that cannot withstand fire you must pass through water ” (31:23). This last statement about purifying by water has led to a practice called toiveling coming from the Hebrew word “tovel” meaning to immerse. For more information at the easy reading level, I suggest you look at Spice and Spirit.
The Complexities of Moshe
Moshe continues to show himself to be both a great leader and a very complex person. When God told Moshe to wipe out the Midianites, Moshe did not tarry. He moved quickly to obey God even though God told him in the same sentence (31:2) that once this was done, Moses was going to die. A lesser man might have stalled around; but not Moshe. Just as Abraham got up early in the morning to take Isaac up to Mount Moriah, so did Moshe move with alacrity. This is a reminder that as the sages say, a righteous man is quick to do the work of the Lord.
A Few Last Words about Words
The readings from the Tanya that are read at this time deal with the concept of creation coming from the word of God. Perhaps this is coincidence. Or perhaps it is a way of reinforcing or expanding on this important concept found in Matot.
“According to the Hebrew Bible, God made the world with words. God just spoke and the world became reality. The Aramaic for ‘I create as I speak’ is avara k’davara, or in, magicians’ language, abracadabra.” The Book of Words by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner
Matot on the Campaign Trail
The sedrah reminds of the importance of words, especially of the impact of words spoken by leaders. In the 21st century the misuse of words has had a corrosive impact on our political and social discourse. Too often our leaders, regardless of party or belief, use language that is intended to inflame and not inform. There are two things we can do about this. We can avoid this kind of language in our own discourse and we can let our leaders know that we do not want to hear this kind of language. It also reminds us of the importance of vows - promises. It would behoove our leaders to only promise that which they can reasonably deliver. And it would behoove us not to force them to make promises that they cannot keep.
(33:1-36:13) Bamidbar (Numbers)
Masay is the tenth and final sedrah in Bamidbar. The sedrah takes its name from the second Hebrew word in the first verse of the portion, “These are the journeys (Masay) of the Children of Israel.” Masay may be divided into three sections - The Travelogue, Political and Social Institutions in the Promised Land, and The Conclusion. Masay marks the end of Bamidbar. It marks the end of the Israelites’ time in Bamidbar, in the Wilderness. It also marks the end of the narrative of the Torah. As you know from having read Devarim, the death of Moshe is the only additional piece of the story of the Israelites’ stay in the Wilderness that is not covered in Bamidbar. Masay should be studied with this sense of journeys in mind if we are to grasp its full meaning.
The Travelogue (33:1-49)
God commands Moshe to make a written record of the journeys through the Wilderness starting with the departure from Egypt and finishing with the encampment on the plains of Moab, across the Jordan from the Promised Land. The text lists forty-two way stations or names forty-two journeys depending up which commentator you read. Editors of various Chumashim all cite Rashi who contends that when you subtract the movement during the first and last years, there were only twenty different encampments during the remaining thirty-eight years. This would indicate that there was really only a limited amount of travel by the ancient Israelites and that they spent a fairly long period of time in one spot. This more sedentary view of things would certainly answer some of the earlier questions about how the Levites and Kohanim were able to pack and move the Tabernacle without any difficulty. The text itself is quite spare, giving only the names of the stopping places. It doesn’t mention the events that occurred at any of them such as the giving of the Ten Commandments, the appearance of Manna or the episode of the spies. This would indicate that the names were well known to the reader and that the reader connected these places with certain historic events. It would be like mentioning Pearl Harbor or Normandy. Everybody knows without further explanation that one marked the start of World War II for the United States and the other is D-Day, the invasion of Europe. Only when it comes to the mention of the stop at Mount Hor does the text describe the events connected with a particular place. In this case it is the death of Aaron and the meeting with the king of Arad. So far, I have not found an explanation for this apparent anomaly. Yes, Aaron was a great man and his death is worth mentioning. But why mention the king of Arad and not manna or the Ten Commandments?
Political and Social Institutions in the Promised Land (33:50-35:34)
Having dispensed with the history lesson the sedrah now turns to political and social institutions to be adopted once the Israelites cross into the Promised Land. First, Moshe describes the manner in which the land is to be conquered and divided (33:50-56). The Israelites are to drive out the indigenous population and destroy their places of worship. In a world of idol worshippers, the land of Israel will be the one place where there is no idolatry. Here, only God will be worshipped in the manner He has commanded. If the Israelites fail to do this, the inhabitants will harass the Israelites and God will add His own punishment for good measure. There are those who think this portion was inserted at a later time to explain the misery that befell the Israelites during the time of the Judges and/or to justify the wars waged by Saul and David. Moshe announces that placement of the tribal lands will be by lot but the size of the allotment will be based on the population of the tribe. The Torah then provides us with the boundaries of the land. It is important to mark these boundaries now because there are many laws that only apply to Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel (34:1-15). Also, the tribal apportionments, with the exception of those in Trans Jordan, will occur within this landmass.
The different Chumashim provide maps based on the description provided. Unfortunately, there is some confusion about some of the boundaries since we are not sure where all of these places are. This is especially true when it comes to fixing the northern border because there seems to be some controversy as to where Mount Hor is located. We do know one thing for sure. The Mount Hor mentioned here is not the same as the Mount Hor mentioned in connection with the death of Aaron. Since the Torah specifically mentions Canaan, the author may have been trying to describe the land of Canaan when it was an eastern province or satrap of the Egyptians in the twelfth or thirteenth century. We do recognize the broad outlines including the Mediterranean on the west, the Negev to the south and the Jordan River and Dead Sea to the east. Having taken care of the land for the other tribes, Moshe now turns to the landless tribe of Levi (35:1-15). The Levites may not own land. One commentator says the decision to keep the Levites landless was based on the experience in Egypt. There, the Priestly Class was a major landowner and sided with the wealthy over the common people. By keeping them landless, the Levites should be a force for morality favoring neither the rich over the poor or vice versa. But the Levites had to live some place so they are assigned forty-eight cities in which to live. The Torah goes into some detail describing their land allotment. The Stone Chumash provides three detailed sketches of the holdings based on the interpretations of Rashi, Ramban (Nachmanides) and Rambam (Maimonides). Six of these cities were of a special character. They were Cities of Refuge. Three were to be on the east bank of the Jordan, where the two and one half tribes had settled. The other three were to be on the western bank of the Jordan in the Promised Land. The cities served two purposes. They provided a place of sanctuary for somebody who had taken a life but whose guilt or innocence had not been determined by a court of law. They also provided a place of sanctuary for one whom the courts had decided was guilty of taking a life but not in a manner that warranted the death penalty. This second category of miscreants was to remain confined until the death of the Kohein Gadol. The Cities of Refuge were established to put an end to blood feuds. Having recognized that there are different circumstances under which one might take a life, the Torah goes into great detail to describe each of them and the penalty attached thereto (35:16-34). While the Torah allows for the death penalty, it is very scrupulous in how it should be applied. At the same time, the Torah recognizes that human life is a gift from God and one may not buy his or her way out the punishment for killing. Unlike the concept of monetary compensation that was attached to the “Eye for an eye” commands, the Israelites are precluded from accepting “ransom” from convicted murders. Additionally, the Israelites could not accept “ransom” from one who had been confined to a City of Refuge. Why so much law? Why so many rules? The spilling of blood “pollutes the land.” The Land of Israel is God’s special place and He would tolerate such pollution.
We are at the end of Matot. We are at the end of Bamidbar. We are at the end of a journey that started with the Exodus and finds the Israelites poised to conquer the Promised Land. So what is the momentous conclusion to these events? There is no Hollywood ending. Instead we are faced with what appears to be a Biblical afterthought; a piece of unfinished business from a previous sedrah. We read about a continuation of the story of the five daughters of Tzlaphchad. Remember; they were the women who went to Moshe and complained that the laws of inheritance were unfair because they disinherited men who had no sons. So Moshe consulted with God and re-shaped the laws of inheritance to take into consideration a variety of contingencies, including the one they had brought to his attention. The five daughters went away happy because now they would have a portion in the Promised Land. At the end of this sedrah, the leaders of the tribe of Manasseh approach Moshe to point out a problem with these modifications in the inheritance laws. (Manasseh is the tribe of Tzlaphchad.) If the daughters marry men outside of the tribe, the tribes of their husbands will inherit the land and the tribal portion of Manasseh will lose its territorial integrity. It is interesting to note that this concern is being expressed by one of the tribes that is settling east of the Jordan; one of the tribes Moshe had previously accused of turning its back on its fellow Israelites and the Promised Land. This is another one of those bothersome points for which I cannot find any commentary. Moshe sees their point and adds yet another addendum to the inheritance laws. Women who inherit from their fathers must marry somebody from with their own tribe. This will ensure territorial integrity. But such women are to “be wives to whomever is good in their eyes.” (36:6). In other words, they get to choose whom they are going to marry and they may not have a mate thrust upon them. The question still hangs in the air. How can we end such momentous events with such a minor issue? For a possible explanation, see Themes below. Matot ends with a final statement that what we have read are all of the laws given by God through Moshe to the Israelites since they encamped at the plains of Moab. These would be all of the laws starting with the sedrah of Balak.
408. The commandment to assign cities to Levites in which to live (35:2).
409. The commandment that murderers not be executed before they stand trial and are convicted (35:12).
410. The obligation to confine inadvertent manslayers to a city of refuge until the death of the Kohein Gadol (35:25).
411. The requirement that it takes the testimony of two witnesses to convict and execute an alleged murder (35:30).
412. The prohibition against accepting money from a murderer to save him or her from a death sentence (35:31).
413. The prohibition against accepting money from an inadvertent manslayer to free him or her from banishment to a city of refuge (35:32).
Biblical Literacy by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin
The List of Resting Places
The sedrah provides a detailed list of places where the Israelites stopped during their wanderings in the desert. Some critics claim that since these places cannot be found, the list is proof that the Torah is something less than what traditionalists claim it to be. Oddly enough, the Rambam claimed that God wanted all of the places written down along with the miracles that occurred at those places so that future generations would not doubt the authenticity of the events described. Who has the better of the argument - Rambam or some modern critics? This sounds like another question to consider as we continue our annual wanderings through the Torah.
Wars of Extermination
The war against the Midianites and the commands about conquering the land of Canaan sound harsh in our modern ears. One of the reasons they do is because the TaNaCh is filled with laws about social justice, mercy and the like. In the case of Canaan, we know that the Israelites did not totally dispose of the inhabitants because they had to keep on fighting with them long after the time of Joshua. And we know that some of our ancestors went astray, following the idolatrous path of the natives just as had been predicted. I am not making a case for genocide. But it is worth noting that there are great challenges in leading a Jewish life while living among the temptations of the non-Jewish world. It was true three thousand years ago and it is true today. Once again, the message of the Torah is timeless.
The Land of Israel
The Torah contains different geographic descriptions of the Land of Israel. But at one level, the geography is unimportant. The message of the Torah is that the land of Israel is more than a piece of dirt. The land of Israel is only the Promised Land if it is a land of Torah. Without the Torah we may inhabitant the land but we will be like those with “stings in our eyes,” “thorns in our sides,” “harassed in the land in which we live” and punished by God in a manner He had reserved for our enemies.
Alexander’s Empire stretched from Macedonia to India and included parts of Africa. The Roman Empire stretched from the British Isles east to Mesopotamia from North Africa to the Banks of the Rhine River. The British Empire girdled the globe to the extent that it was said “the sun never sets on the British Empire.” In each case, the size of the empire was determined by the might of armies and navies; by the will of politicians and the economic drive of merchants and manufacturers.
Now consider the fate of the Israelites. As “God’s chosen people,” some might think that their domain would include the entire planet or at least some large, bountiful portion, thereof. You would think that the Israelites would do at least as well as those relying on the military. Instead, the omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent Lord of the Universe gives His people a small, very well defined slice of the earth. What is the meaning of this apparent disproportionate distribution of land? First, God is the God for all people which means everybody is entitled to a portion of land in this world. Second, the Israelites were chosen to receive and practice the law of God. They needed enough space to do this, but they did not need some immense imperial domain. Third, the land holdings that were the basis for these empires have all disappeared. Yet the basis of the Jewish greatness, the teachings of the Lord are timeless and with us today as they were with our forefathers on the plains of Moab.
The Daughters of Tzlaphchad
One of the messages of Bamidbar has to do with change. The Israelites literally changed from a nation of ex-slaves to a nation of free people ready to play their role in the next act of history. The Israelites took the lofty words of Sinai and began to make them a part of daily life. The various rebellions against Moshe were about change - the wrong kind of change. For example Korach did not come to Moshe to discuss the matter of leadership. Instead, he set himself up to replace Moshe and, in effect, to supplant the will of God. The Daughters of Tzlaphchad showed the right way to seek change. (Once again, leave it to the women to show the way.) They did not like the law. But they did not condemn it or ignore it. Instead they approached Moshe and made their case. Moshe then found a way to modify the law to meet their needs without violating the original intent of the law. The request for further refinement by the leaders of Manasseh is a fitting way to end the journey of change. They did not like the law. But like the daughters, they did not condemn it or ignore it. They came to Moshe, made their case and he refined the law even further. Change is a necessary part of Judaism. It is our ability to change in an effective manner that has kept us around for four thousand years. Effective changes, as we can see from the Daughters of Tzlaphchad, includes being aware of the evolving world in which we live, knowing what the existing rules and traditions are and having leaders who are wise enough to know how to harmonize the two. Maybe this is why Jews study this on an annual basis. Maybe this is why we have made the journey through the Torah each year just as our ancestors journeyed through the Wilderness.
Roots: Linguistics Leads to LearningThe book we have finished reading is called Bamidbar in Hebrew. Hebrew is a language of roots, prefixes and suffixes. In this case “Ba” is a prefix meaning “in the.” In this case, the Hebrew word “midbar” is translated as “wilderness” or “desert.” Citing Maimonides, Susan Afterman reminds us that in Hebrew “midbar” is spelled mem, dalet, beth, resh. The Hebrew word for speech, utterance, or talk is also spelled mem, dalet, beth, resh. This linguistic anomaly offers a variety of philosophic possibilities. It was in the Wilderness that the Israelites first heard the utterances speech of God. Elijah went to the Wilderness where he ultimately heard the speech of God - in the still small voice. People go into the Wilderness or Desert to seek quiet and solitude. In the peace and quiet of the Wilderness they are able to talk with themselves and hear their own speech. At the same time they hope that God will talk to them and that they will be able to hear His Divine utterances.
“Chazak! Chazak! Venischazeik! Be strong! Be strong! And may we be strengthened!”
HaftarahJeremiah 2:4-28; 3:4 (Ashkenazim)
Jeremiah 2:4-28; 3:4; 4:1-2 (Sephardim and Chabad)
The Man: “Jeremiah began to prophesy in Jerusalem about seventy years after the death of Isaiah.” More is known about his life and teachings than about any other prophet, since the book of Jeremiah contains a mass of historical and biographical material. He was gentle and sensitive. He yearned for the comforts of a normal life; yet he felt impelled to speak the truth and be ‘a man of strife and content,’ delivering messages of doom and foretelling the fall of Jerusalem. He was often imprisoned and in danger of his life, yet he did not flinch. He was cruelly insulted and accused of treason by the people he loved tenderly - those whom he sought to save. After the fall of Jerusalem in 586 before the Common Era, those who fled the wrath of the Babylonian conqueror forcibly took him into Egypt. Tradition has it that Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had instructed his general to treat Jeremiah with consideration and kindness. But the prophet insisted on sharing the hardships and tortures that were inflicted on his people. Afterwards Jeremiah was killed in Egypt, where he had continued his fiery speeches for some time. Jeremiah also foretold the restoration of Israel, and those who survived the agonies of captivity were promised a safe journey home to Judea. He looked forward to a reunion of departed Israel with the people of Judah, to an in ingathering of all the exiles. The book of Jeremiah is the longest of the prophetic books, even though it has fourteen chapters less than Isaiah. Jeremiah’s dictations to his faithful secretary Baruch were written down upon a scroll of leather which the king of Judah slashed with a knife and burned. But the prophet was not easily discouraged. He ordered his scribe to take another scroll and write therein all the words of the book which he had burned.” (From A Treasury of Judaism by Philip Birnbaum) I am sorry if you feel as if I have taken the coward’s way out by giving you this long quote from Birnbaum. I have written several summaries about Jeremiah and was afraid that I would start repeating myself. On the other hand, Jeremiah is entitled to proper treatment and you are entitled to a full measure each week.
The Message: This haftarah is an example of why Jeremiah was so unpopular with his contemporaries and held in such high regard by succeeding generations. The same magnificent language which makes us pause and consider our own shortcomings angered the original audience. After all, his words are a stinging rebuke of the people’s behavior and promise of national destruction. A seemingly confused God asks how the Israelites can turn their back on Him after all the divine beneficence they have experienced. Once again, these words should be read aloud. For in majestic flowing tones, Jeremiah calls the people to account for their betrayal of God. His contemporaries are like a nation of “Esaus” trading their birthright, God and His Torah, for a bowl of soup i.e., idolatry and iniquity. Jeremiah has special words of disdain for the leaders of the land; the “kings…princes… (idolatrous) priests…and (false) prophets” who have allowed the Israelites to behave like “a wild donkey well acquainted with the wilderness who inhales the wind” giving in to her lusts. After castigating the people for calling a piece of wood, “my father” and venerating a piece of stone as the one “who gave birth to us” Jeremiah asks to whom they will cry out to for help in times of peril. Once again, hear the majesty of the language. “So where are your gods that made you for yourself? Let them arise, if they can save you in the time of your distress; far as the number of your cities was the number of your gods, O Judah.” (2:27-28). But even this haftarah cannot end on such a note of negativity. So the Ashkenazim (3:4) and the Sephardim and Chabad Chassidim (4:1-2) add additional words of consolation. The prophet reminds the people that all they have to do is return to the ways of the Lord and not go astray again to ensure their own redemption and to lead the other nations to the blessings of God.
Theme-Link: This haftarah is the second of the Three Haftarot of Rebuke. The first of the rebukes ends with chapter 2, verse 3 and this haftarah starts with chapter 2, verse 4. Thus the second haftarah literally as well as thematically, picks up where the first haftarah left off. The people have not only forsaken God. They have forsaken His teachings, the Torah, as well. As the walls of Jerusalem were being breached by the Babylonians, Jeremiah was telling the people that the national calamity was their fault. In a post-Auschwitz world, we must look for other causes of the calamities that have befallen our people in modern times. This might prove a fitting topic for a discussion when people gather in a couple of weeks to observe Tisha B’Av.
Torah Readings for Monday, July 24, 2017
Rosh Chodesh Av (Menachem Av)28:1-15 Bamidbar (Numbers)
This is the standard reading for each Rosh Chodesh. Rosh Chodesh is the name of the minor holiday that marks the start of each month. The term Rosh Chodesh is translated as New Moon. The first day of the month is referred to as Rosh Chodesh because the months are lunar and the first day of each month comes with the start of the new moon. In the days of the Temple special sacrifices were brought in honor of the new moon. With the destruction of the Temple, the sacrificial system ended. In place of the sacrifices, Jews read a description of the sacrificial offerings, which is described in the first fifteen verses of chapter 28 in the book of Numbers. The Torah reading takes place during the daily morning service. There are many Jews who have no desire to return to the sacrificial system. They use these readings as a way of providing a connection with the past which is one of the keys to our future preservation. Because of Rosh Chodesh a shortened form of Hallel is recited. Tefillin are worn until Mussaf or Additional Service. Because of its connection with the moon, Rosh Chodesh is thought to have special meaning for women and should be used as a way of honoring Jewish wives. There are those who use this as a gift-giving event for their spouses. (This is just a thought; not a plug for our Cedar Rapids jewelers, Herman Ginsberg, and the Siegels). Alternatively, they give Tzedakah in honor of the women (wives, sisters, daughters, etc.) in their lives.
Av or Menachem AvThis week marks the beginning of the month of Av. It is the fifth month on the Jewish religious calendar (starting from Nissan). It is the eleventh month on the Jewish Civil Calendar (starting from Tishri i.e., Rosh Hashanah). While there are references to “the fifth month” in the TaNaCh, there is no mention of the month of Av. Since the fall of the Temple in 586 B.C.E., Av has been considered a month of disaster by Jews including the destruction of the Second Temple, the expulsion from Spain and the start of World War I, to name but a few. Av is also referred to as Menachem Av. “Menachem” is a Hebrew word meaning “comforter.” Part of this has to do with the concept of “comfort” which is offered to the bereaved Jewish people starting with the Shabbat after Tisha B’Av. Part of it has to do with a belief that the Moshiach (Messiah) who will bring comfort to us all will be born during the month of Av.
Av 2, 5050: In 1290, King Edward I (England), pressured by his barons, the Church and possibly by his mother, announced the expulsion of all the Jews.
Av 6, 5416: In 1656, philosopher Baruch Spinoza was excommunicated in Amsterdam.
Av, 26, 5705: In 1945, The Atomic Bomb named Little Boy is dropped on Hiroshima.
Copyright; August, 2017; Mitchell A. Levin