An introduction that I gave to the haftarah reading today at Congregation Beth Judah in Ventnor, NJ.
Today in this second of three haftarot of admonition, recited during the three weeks between the fast of the 17th of Tammuz and the destruction of the 9th of Av, we read the excoriations of the prophet Jeremiah.
We read of a people that has no concept of Wonder. Who has so quickly forgotten of being led through the wilderness. Who has turned to other Gods and prophesied by the them. Who has turned to idolatry in every form possible.
Shimu dvar Adonai, Jeremiah implores the people. Hear the word of God.
The people have not only forsaken God, but also created new cisterns which cannot hold water.
As the Hebrew idiom goes, ein mayim eleh Torah. Water is known exclusively as Torah. The people have restructured their entire world of following the Torah with a new, seemingly improved worldview. But they have done so with leaky plumbing!
During these three weeks of rebuke, we approach a day where we commemorate the destruction of the first and second temples, but also calamities in each generation. We read in Massechet Yoma of the Babylonian that the Temples were destroyed because of a breakdown in civil society, there was unchecked Sinat Chinam, acts of Senseless Hatred. Moral guidance stood in anarchy.
We read in today’s haftarah about ancient idolatry. So to are we conscious of modern day idolatry. Not in the form of bowing to idols, to offering incense to an iron, bronze or stone statue.
But the idolatry of paying more attention to a bright screen in our pockets than the people across the table from us. The idolatry of knowing the details of the contracts of three basketball players rather than honoring the vows in the marriage contract on our walls. The idolatry of when our hearts are stirred with more wonder by the pyrotechnics of Pentium chips than the crest of the sun making its way above the horizon line of the Atlantic Ocean each morning.
Where are those Gods you made for yourself? asks Jeremiah at the end of chapter 2.
Let them arise and save you, if they can, in your hour of calamity. For your Gods have become, Oh Judah, as many as your towns!
But don’t despair, we skip to chapter four of Jeremiah to conclude our haftarah on an optimistic note. If the people Israel returns to God. If it does not waver, then nations will bless themselves by the nation and praise themselves.
As we approach Tisha B’Av, we listen today to the scolding of Jeremiah, rebuke toward his generation and a message for us, as well. It’s a warning bell. Undergo Teshuva. Be aware of your actions.