July 15, 2023 | 26 Tammuz 5783
Torah: Numbers 30:2-36:13 Triennial: Numbers 30:2-31:54
Haftarah: Jeremiah 2:4-28, 3:4
Shabbat Shalom from Bruce Washburn:
With the closing of many churches, we have lost expressions of spirituality and community. This loss needs to be recovered. I hope that the recent focus on the foundations of indigenous culture can be a saving grace for our society. The people of the beautiful river, which includes us, may need to take care of their streams.
Here is this week’s haftarah commentary:
My God is a Spring, Your God is a River
Many a prophet has rebuked the people for their lack of loyalty to God. The difference is in the details. Reading this haftarah from Jeremiah we understand that “Man is but an imprint of his native landscape” (Shaul Tchernichovsky). The imagery for Jeremiah’s message is taken from the land that surrounds him. His world stretches from Anatot, just north of Jerusalem, to the big city, the capital, Jerusalem. He lives on the edge of the desert, on the border of the territory of Judah. He grew up in its nature.
To deliver a message about faithfulness to one’s own God, Jeremiah defines the local and the foreign by their water sources. To Jeremiah, the native of the arid desert-edge town, the disloyalty of the leaders is illustrated by the water sources they choose. Judah is turning to Egypt to seek support. From a leader’s point of view, it is a simple matter of military strength. To Jeremiah it is favoring a foreign culture that reflects the flowing river Shihur – the eastern tributary of the Nile.
When Judah adapts to the Mesopotamian empires, Jeremiah cries out, “and what are you doing on the road to Assyria to drink water from the river?” (Jer. 2:18). “The Great River” in Tanakh is the Euphrates River, the farthest imaginable border of the land of Israel, and the boundary of the region of the Levant. All that lies beyond that is beyond the pale, strange, foreign. In the days of Jeremiah, the Mesopotamian empires, first Assyria and then Babylon, had been impacting the region for over a century. It was not only a matter of warfare and conquest, but it was also a cultural and cultic export. The people whose formative experience with God was in the desert (as Jeremiah reminds us in the beginning of the haftarah) should not emulate the culture of the “land between the rivers.”
The ideal water source in Jeremiah’s mind is a well or a spring, a small source of flowing water. One that requires work and prayers. No wonder God speaks in those terms: “My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn themselves cisterns—broken cisterns that cannot hold the water.” (v.13) The alternative to the living waters are the man-made cisterns containing standing water; when cracked, they lose their precious water, the source of life. Man-made sources of life are not reliable. Jeremiah’s image invokes the prophets’ battles against the local gods; those that are culturally close and present the danger of a fake alternative.
In Jeremiah’s mind, a nation’s relationship with its God (or god) is a reflection of its native landscape. Loyalty to its land is also loyalty to God. When they seek their fortunes elsewhere, is it surprising that God says in disgust: “they have turned their back to Me, and not their face!”