Haftaras Masei

In haftaras Masei, Yirmiyahu declares (verse 2:2): “Thus says Hashem, ‘What wrong did your forefathers find in Me, that they distanced themselves from Me and pursued insubstantiality, and became insubstantial?’” I present here an essay on this rebuke that appears in the commentary on the haftarah in Kochav MiYaakov. The bulk of the essay is taken from the work Shemen HaMor (first discourse, chapter 14, in the section Mor V’Ahalos) by Rav Avraham Beirush Flamm, who compiled this segment (as well as other segments) of Kochav MiYaakov.
It is a basic fact that everything that happens to a person is decreed and brought about by Hashem. As the Gemara says (Chullin 7b): “No man bruises his finger here on earth unless it was so decreed against him in heaven.” At the same time, we cannot claim, far be it, that Hashem does us evil. On the contrary, when blessing comes our way we should attribute it to Hashem, but when misfortune comes our way we should attribute it to ourselves.
Hashem bestows upon us a vast array of blessings that we could not possibly earn through our own efforts and merit. The Midrash brings out this fact with a simple example. Shlomo HaMelech asks (Koheles 1:3): “What gain does a man achieve from all his labor that he will labor beneath the sun?” In Vayikra Rabbah 28:1, expounding on this question, tells us that Hashem does not owe us anything on account of our laboring to perform good deeds, for it is enough that He causes the sun to shine down upon us. No amount of good deeds suffices to repay Hashem for the benefit He provides us through the sun. It is all the more so with all the many other benefits He provides us. The benefits we receive all come to us only through Hashem’s kindness, which he gladly extends to us, for He desires kindness (Michah 7:18).
By contrast, when Hashem punishes us He is acting against His desire. Thus, in Yechezkel 33:11, Hashem tells us that He does not desire that the wicked man die, but rather that he repent from his evil ways and live. Misfortune does not come upon us at Hashem’s initiative; we bring it upon ourselves through our sins. As David HaMelech puts it in Tehillim 9:17, the wicked man is ensnared through his own doing.
Hashem tells Avraham (Bereishis 12:3): “I will bless those who bless you, and those you curse you I will curse.” Rav Flamm presents an interpretation of this statement which he conveys in the name of a scholar he refers to as Rav Menachem Manish HaLevi. Note that in connection with blessing, Hashem mentions Himself first and afterward the target of His action, whereas in connection with curse, He mentions the target of His action first and afterward Himself. Now, as we explained above, when a blessing comes about, Hashem is the causal agent, granting good solely because of His desire to grant good, whereas when a curse comes about, bringing the curse on himself through his evildoing. Thus, the phrasing in Hashem’s statement to Avraham is natural, for, when an occurrence is reported, the causal agent is usually mentioned first and then the effect or the entity being affected.
Rav Menachem Manish HaLevi notes some additional instances of the same pattern. The pattern appears in Bereishis 4:4-5: “Hashem turned to Hevel and to his offering, but to Kayin and his offering He did not turn.” In regard to Hashem’s acceptance of Hevel’s offering, Hashem is mentioned first, for it is due to His graciousness that the interchange had a positive outcome. But in regard to Hashem’s rejection of Kayin’s offering, Kayin is mentioned first, because it was due to his inappropriately bringing an inferior offering that the interchange had a negative outcome. The pattern appears again in Malachi 1:2-3: “I loved Yaakov. But Eisav I hated.”
In Bamidbar Rabbah 2:16, the Midrash states:
Hashem said to the Jewish People: “I come first in connection with good and last in connection with bad. I come first in regard to good, as it is written (Hoshea 2:25): ‘I will say to Lo-Ammi [Not My People], “You are Ammi [My People], and he will say, “[You are] my God.”’ But I come last in connection with bad, as it is written (ibid. 1:9), ‘Call his name Lo-Ammi, for you are not My people, and I will not be yours.’”
This Midrash ties in with our discussion above. In regard to good, Hashem is mentioned first, because He is the causal agent. But in regard to bad, Hashem is mentioned last, because bad does not come about on His initiative, but rather is caused by our evildoing.
In the same vein, in Hoshea 13:9, Hashem tells Yisrael: “You have destroyed yourself, O Yisrael, for in Me is your help.” Here, Hashem is telling Yisrael that they themselves are the cause of the destruction that came upon them, for He brings them only aid and good.
The same idea underlies the rebuke the Yirmiyahu conveyed in the verse we quoted from the haftarah. We can read Hashem’s statement as follows: “What wrong have your forefathers found in Me, that they distanced themselves from Me? They pursued insubstantiality and became insubstantial.” Hashem is saying: “Is it because of some fault in Me that your forefathers distanced themselves from Me? No! It is because they pursued insubstantiality and became insubstantial. This is the reason they became distanced from Me.” It is like a sick person who rejects delicacies. The problem is not with the food, but rather with him – his illness has caused him to lose his sense of taste. Similarly, it is because of our forefathers’ engaging in futile pursuits that they lost interest in Hashem and drifted away from Him.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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