Parashas and Haftaras Mattos

In this week’s parashah, we read of the war the Jewish People waged against Midian – at Hashem’s command – for luring them into lowly acts of idolatry and immorality. We will develop a link between this episode and the closing passage of this week’s haftarah. The passage reads (Yirmiyah 2:1-3):
The word of Hashem came to me, saying: “Go forth and cry out in the ears of [the people of] Yerushalayim, saying, ‘Thus said Hashem, “I recall on your behalf the devotion of your youth, the love your bridal days – how you followed after Me in the wilderness, in a land unsown. Yisrael is holy unto Hashem, the first of His crop; all those who consume them shall be held guilty – evil shall come upon them,” – the word of Hashem.’”
The Midrash comments (Bamidbar Rabbah 2:13):
Why are the Jewish People compared to sand [in Hoshea 2:1]? If a person puts a handful of sand in a dough or a cooked dish, this addition has a marked effect – the sand blunts the teeth of anyone who eats the food. Thus it is with the Jewish People: whoever despoils them or steals from them in this world has his teeth blunted in the world to come. Thus it is written: “Yisrael is holy unto Hashem, the first of His crop; all those who consume them shall be held guilty – evil shall come upon them.” Whoever lays his hands on holy goods is subject to the penalty of death.
The Maggid explains this Midrash with a parable. A rabbi with a very wise son made a match between his son and the daughter of a certain villager – a man who was very rich, but also very unlearned. The young man spent a lot of time in the villager’s house, was exposed to the lowly ways of the villager’s family and friends, and started to turn into a degenerate. The young man’s saintly father heard what happened, and he took his son back home. The villager rushed to the rabbi and asked: “My master, why have you taken this step, to separate the young couple from each other? What fault is it of mine that your son has taken an evil path?” The rabbi replied: “Look, every since he was a little boy, my son has been exemplary in his conduct – diligently devoted to Torah and mitzvos and refined in his dealings with other people. He adopted the righteous ideals that I transmitted to him. It is only when he began spending time with you that he turned to lowly and empty pursuits. You exerted a negative influence on him, and so I hold you accountable for what happened to him.”
Similarly, when others exert a negative influence on us and cause us to fall short in fulfilling our holy duties, Hashem calls them to judgment. They may ask: “Why do You blame us for their lapses?” To this question, Hashem has a ready answer. He recalls on our behalf our formative years as a nation – the devotion of our “youth,” the love of our “bridal days,” the way we followed after Him in the wilderness, in an unsown land. He notes that when we were under His wing, we carried out our duties faithfully and wholeheartedly. He declares further: “Yisrael is holy unto Hashem, the first of His crop.” Here, Hashem is alluding to our forefather Yisrael – the Jewish People’s primary forefather, whose offspring all remained part of the Jewish People – and noting that Yisrael’s holy home is the source from which we all stem. It is in our blood to tread the path of life of holiness and devotion to Hashem. We step off this path only because of negative outside influences that lead us astray. Ultimately Hashem will exact retribution from all those who emitted such negative influences. All those who consumed us by ravaging our souls will be held guilty: evil shall come upon them – the word of Hashem.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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