21 Jul 2017

Haftara for Matot-Mas’ei 5777: Go With the Flow | WITH AUDIO READING 

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Haftara for Matot-Mas’ei 5777: Go With the Flow

‘Trust should be guarded to the end: without trust we cannot stand’.

— Baroness Onora O’Neill

Jeremiah 2:4-28, 4:1-2 (Sephardim)[1]


Yirmiyah presents a scathing rebuke to the nation addressing their lack of trust, faithfulness and gratitude to God. The accusations begin referencing history — ‘Your fathers…never asked themselves where is God Who brought us up from the land of Egypt, Who led us through the wilderness, a land of deserts and pits…’. Turning to the present generation they are judged for leaving God in favour of other deities, acts of futility and emptiness. All of their investments in these frivolities will leave them bereft in times of trouble — then, as they always do, they will turn to God. Sephardim conclude the haftara with a note of conditional promise: ‘If you return to Me, if you remove your abominations from My presence and do not waver, and swear ‘As God lives’ in sincerity, justice and righteousness — nations shall bless themselves through you and praise themselves by you’. (4:1)


The second haftara of ‘the three weeks’[2] is filled, as one would expect, with the scolding voice of God. The theme of the rebuke is that Israel has left God and has instead chosen emptiness and the nation itself has become empty. They turned their back on God and yet call out to Him for help when they are in trouble. Worst of all, rather than working at building a relationship with God Almighty and journeying through life together with Him, they have created their own deities and have set themselves as the sole sources of energy and strength in their lives.

The prophet Yirmiyah illustrates the circumstances with the following analogy:

They have forsaken Me, the source of the waters of Life, and [instead] hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns, which cannot even hold the water. (2:13)

To see God as the ‘source of the waters of life’ is to see Him as life’s sole source and to recognise the power of being as a flow. The flow of the waters of life brings existence to all things. One can choose to be within that flow or to be removed from it holding on to control and autonomy, digging private wells that ‘cannot hold the flow of water’.

The loss we incur as a result of needing to control is grave. It is not just that the water leaks from the broken wells, but that the potential waters that could and should flow through to a person, cannot because they are insufficiently held by the small and broken vessels that we provide. With our need for control we forsake the grandeur of life that God wishes to bring flowing into and through us. His dreams for us are always greater than our own.

Those who choose to do it themselves, must always change, adjust and repair their vessels to deal with life’s unpredictability. They will need to replace the broken ‘containers’ — the mindset, approach, philosophy and psychology through which they live — numerous times, recognising that their own devices simply do not hold the immense flow of complexity and development that life brings.

And where are the gods you made for yourself?…Your gods have become, O Judah, as many as your towns! (2:28)

Trust, or the lack of it, is at the heart of this haftara. It speaks of a refusal to accept the world as alive and an expression of God and therefore, a refusal to trust that God will take care of us. Without this trust we are left to our own, local, confined, meagre devices. The worst outcome of it all is that such people end up seeing the universe as dead — without a soul and without God.

Trust is never without risk. We do not trust simply based on reliability and predictability. The sun will rise and spring will come. With trust comes the understanding that we can be disappointed. Trust is therefore an integral component to relationship. Although the real possibility of disappointment is there, we rely on the reciprocity of a trusting relationship for its potency. Trust works only when it is reciprocated.

Our trust in God is directly connected to the degree that He can trust us. When we fail at this and breach the trust we alienate God and, left to our own limited powers, we inevitably resort to the antithesis of trust: manipulation. 

The kohanim did not ask ‘where is the Lord?’;
The possessors of Torah do not know Me. (2:8)

There are those who aim to know and trust God and those who aim to control Him. To know Him is to study His world, His ways and His Torah and be open to His presence. To know God is to love His creations in all of their diverse and wondrous formats and to love Him.

It is a mitzvah to love…this glorious and awesome God, as it states (Deut., 6:5): “And you shall love God,  your Lord”…What is the path to love…Him? When a person contemplates His wondrous and great deeds and creations and appreciates His infinite wisdom that surpasses all comparison, he will immediately love, praise, and glorify [Him], yearning with tremendous desire to know [God’s] great name….(Rambam)[3]

We have been granted the ability to enhance the divine flow in our lives or restrict it, and we live our best lives when we aim all our thoughts and deeds to be in line with it.

The choice is in your hand, if you want to strengthen the contact [between you and God] and broaden its flow,  do so. If you want to weaken and restrict it little by little until you block it, do so. This contact only gets stronger with active love and walking in the direction that I have explained….(Rambam)[4]

The loss of this connection is the issue that Yirmiyah raises with the people on behalf of God.  God is not simply lamenting over the lack of the people’s trust in Him, but that He can no longer trust them. It is as Nietzsche said: ‘I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.’

No matter how powerful one may be — no matter how wealthy, connected or protected we are, we simply are not big enough to run through this life trusting only in our selves. The wells do not hold the water!

The one who trusts in God knows that He holds our greatest achievements and futures most dear and will ensure that we achieve them if we so choose. There is no one who roots more for our success in life than our Creator.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Joseph Dweck
[1] Ashkenazim end instead with 3:4.

[2] The 3 weeks between the fast of 17th Tamuz and 9th Ab.

[3] Mishne Torah, Hilkhot Yesode haTorah, 2:1

[4] Moreh Nebukhim, III:51

Parasha Perspectives

IX  Matot 

84                Laws of vows  (30:2-17)
85a              War against the Midianites:
1000 from each of twelve tribes, led by Pinchas.
Bilaam killed, spoil taken  (31:1-12)
85b              Moshe is angry about the spoil and instructs a
purification process  (31:13-20)
85c               Purification of the fighters  (31:21-24)
85d              Apportionment of the spoil  (31:25-54)
86a              The tribes of Reuven and Gad introduce their plea
86b              They request to settle where they are, but Moshe
responds very forcefully  (32:5-15)
86c              The two tribes compromise and agree to inherit
only after the People are safely settled  (32:16-19)
87                Both sides confirm the details of the agreement and
Moshe gives them their inheritance  (32:20-42)

X  Masei 

88a              List of journeys from Egypt to Hor haHar  (33:1-39)
88b              List of journeys from Hor haHar to plains of Moav
88c              Commands about settling Cana’an and
dispossessing its inhabitants  (33:50-56)
89                God identifies the southern, western, northern and
eastern borders of the Land  (34:1-15)
90                 A prince from each of ten tribes (not Reuven, Gad
or Levi) is chosen to divide the Land  (34:16-29)
91                48 cities, with accompanying lands, to be assigned
or tribe of Levi’im, 6 of which are Refuge cities
92                Description of the Cities of Refuge for those
convicted of unintentional manslaughter  (35:9-34)
93                Laws of Heiresses based on Machla, Tirza, Chogla,
Milca and Noa   (36:1-13)
Responding Menashe tribes’ question, Zelafchad’s
daughter married within the tribe to preserve allotments.

Taken from, ‘Torah for Everyone’ by Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum, Dean of LSJS