Background

This week?s Haftorah is from the Book of Jeremiah, Chapter 16:19-21, and Chapter 17:1-14.



According to tradition, the prophet Jeremiah was born on Tisha B?Av - the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av ? a day that would later come to embody mourning and grief for the Jewish people, because it was on that date that the two Temples in Jerusalem would be destroyed. Jeremiah was born circumcised (Avot d?Rabbi Natan 2:5) and his father Hilkiah was a priest and a prophet (Megillah 14b). According to the Talmud in Tractate Baba Batra (15a), the prophet Jeremiah wrote the book named after himself as well as the Book of Kings and the Book of Lamentations (which is known in Hebrew as Eichah and is read on Tisha B?Av because it recounts the destruction of Jerusalem by the evil Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE). The Talmud in Tractate Megillah (14b) states that Jeremiah went to search for the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel who had been exiled by the Assyrians, and he is said to have found them and brought some of them back to the Land of Israel (Yalkut Shimoni, Melachim 248). Jeremiah prophesied for 40 years, and the bulk of his prophecies contain words of rebuke and warnings to the Jewish people to mend their ways and return to G-d. There is a midrash which states that Jeremiah was stoned to death by Jews in Egypt. According to this midrash, the Egyptians buried him, but King Alexander removed his bones and buried them in the Egyptian city of Alexandria. Another tradition has it that Jeremiah was buried in Jerusalem.



Summary:

The Haftorah begins with the prophet stating that G-d is his strength and his refuge and it is to Him that he runs in times of trouble. The day will come when the nations of the world will gather and say that they have inherited lies and falsehoods from their forefathers, for they have worshipped false gods which they themselves made. At the end of days, G-d will show them that He is the L-rd and they will know His might and power. The prophet then rebukes Judah, wondering how they can follow after false and empty gods. Their sin will not be forgotten quickly and G-d will punish them by exiling them from their Land and turning over their wealth to the enemy. The Haftorah then states that a person who places his trust in man and turns his heart away from G-d is accursed and he resembles a tree in the desert, in a parched and salty land, which lives an unenviable existence. However, he who trusts in G-d is blessed and is akin to a tree planted by the water, unaffected by drought and never ceasing to bear fruit. G-d examines man?s heart and his intentions, and He knows who puts his faith in Him and who does not. The wicked may prosper temporarily, but their ill-gotten gains will be taken from them. The Haftorah closes by reminding the Jewish people that G-d is the source of Israel?s hope, for when He heals us, we shall be healed, and when He saves us, we shall be saved.



Connection Between the Haftorah and the Parsha:

Both the Haftorah and the Parsha contain Divine warnings regarding the punishment that will ensue to the Jewish people if they do not adhere to G-d?s commandments. Rabbi Yehuda Shaviv, in his book Bein Haftorah LeParsha, suggests a slightly different connection. He says that since the central theme of the Parsha of Bechukotai is the Tochacha ? the Divine admonition of Israel ? the rabbis sought a Haftorah that, while appropriate, would also not add too much to the already frightening warnings contained in the Parsha. Hence, says Rabbi Shaviv, the Sages selected our Haftorah, because, while it contains verses of admonition, it also includes promises of blessing.



You Gotta Have Faith



After reproving those who place their faith entirely in man and turn away from G-d, the prophet contrasts them with people who rely on Him: ?Blessed is the man who trusts in G-d, and then shall G-d be his trust.? (Chap. 17, verse 7)



The Question:

Why does the verse seem to repeat itself by saying that G-d will be the trust of someone who puts his trust in G-d?



The Answer:

The Radak says the verse should be understood to mean that ?if he trusts in Him, then He shall be his trust and he need not fear any evil.? In other words, the verse is not repeating itself, it is conveying an important message as to how the world operates, namely that if a person wishes for G-d to serve as his trust and protect him, then the burden lies on him to launch the relationship by first putting his faith in G-d. Similarly, the Metzudat David explains, ?just as he trusts in Him, so too shall He be a trust and of help to him.? This seems to imply an even more direct correlation between the level of a person?s trust in G-d and the extent to which G-d then serves as a source of assistance and protection for him. Hence, according to the Metzudat David, the greater the investment which a person makes in faith, the greater will be the return on his investment from his Divine Broker.



The Lesson:

As the crisis with the Palestinians continues its roller coaster ride of ups and downs and twists and turns, one of the great unanswered questions remains: why is this happening to us? Haven?t the Jewish people been through enough already over the centuries of our dispersion, that we now have to wage an ongoing struggle to hold on to our Land? Why can?t G-d just solve this mess already and let us enjoy a little peace and quiet? The answer, it seems, lies in what we saw above, for implicit in these questions is the faulty idea that man has no role to play, that it is all up to G-d to act to solve our problems for us. However, as the Radak and the Metzudat David pointed out, the burden is on man to first take a step of faith toward G-d, to put his trust in Him, for only then will He be our trust, acting to protect us from those who do not wish us well. Sadly, however, we as a nation have yet to fully do so.



Israel worries a little too much about world public opinion, and not nearly enough about Divine opinion. Rather than doing what is right and necessary to protect Jewish lives, the Government prematurely withdraws from the nests of terror in Palestinian-controlled cities, simply because that is what US President George W. Bush demanded. Rather than acting like a proud and sovereign nation exercising its legitimate right of self-defense, Israel instead has behaved like a protectorate, conceding control over its decision-making to others. Rather than bringing Yasser Arafat to justice, as morality demands, Israel this week allowed him to go free. All of this testifies to a basic lack of faith in the justness of our cause and an unwillingness to act in the knowledge that G-d is on our side. The result is weakness, powerlessness and capitulation. Unless and until Israel stands ready to have a little more faith in itself and in G-d, this sorry state of affairs will continue. The great unanswered question we mentioned earlier, then, is no longer ?why is this happening to us?? ? but rather, ?why are we allowing it to occur??



Who Knows What Evil Lurks in the Hearts of Men?



Immediately following the prophet?s comparison of the person who trusts in man versus the person who trusts in G-d, the Haftorah states: ?The heart is deceitful above all things, and when it is sick, who will know? I, the L-rd, search the heart? to give everyone according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.? (Chap. 17, verses 9-10)



The Question:

What does this description of the heart have to do with the comparison that precedes it?



The Answer:

The Radak says that since the prophet Jeremiah has just discussed the matter of trusting in G-d versus trusting in man ? something that is dependent on the intentions of the heart ? he now proceeds to address the nature of the heart itself. The verse, he says, is telling us that the heart is the most deceitful organ, because, while a person may seem ? through his speech and actions ? to be good, his intentions might very well be evil. The only one capable of discerning this, as the verse states, is G-d, for only He that has the ability to look inside a person and see what their true aim is. Having searched the person?s heart, G-d then will ?give everyone according to his ways.?



The Lesson:

This past Wednesday night, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan gave up on trying to send a fact-finding mission to Jenin. Speaking to the Security Council, Annan reportedly said, ?There are lots of accusations, lots of rumors. We don?t know what is true and what is not. And I really felt that it was in everyone?s interest that we clarify this issue as quickly as possible.?



As innocent as the UN?s intentions may sound, there was hardly any reason to believe that to be the case, particularly given the UN?s long-standing hostility to Israel. As an article by David Tell in the May 6 Weekly Standard points out, the ?Security Council has devoted fully a third of its energy and criticism to the policies of a single country: Israel. The UN Commission on Human Rights, which regularly--and unreprovingly--accepts delegations from any number of homicidal tyrannies across the globe, has issued fully a quarter of its official condemnations to a single (democratic) country: Israel.? The UN refused to accept Israel?s reservations regarding the mission, it ignored Israel?s objections to the group?s make-up and it rejected suggestions that it should look instead into Yasser Arafat?s reign of terror. Though it sought to pose as an objective body that would conduct an impartial inquiry, the UN?s real intentions were clear from the outset: to lambaste Israel yet again for having the nerve to defend itself. This is precisely the type of false posturing that the prophet Jeremiah was referring to above when he said ?the heart is deceitful above all things.? While the UN may have succeeded in fooling much of the world, they did not fool Israel. Neither, as the prophet would surely remind them, did they fool G-d, for ?I, the L-rd, search the heart? to give everyone according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.?

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Michael Freund served as Deputy Director of Communications and Policy Planning in the Prime Minister?s Office from 1996 to 1999.