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Friday, July 18, 2014

The Words of Jeremiah....Helping Us to Find Compassion in Silence (The Hafatarh/Prophetic Portion for Parshat Matot)

This week we conclude reading from the book of Bemidbar/Numbers with the parshah/portion of Matot. However, instead of focusing on the Torah, I would like to focus the Haftarah, or prophetic portion, which is traditionally read in synagogue following the reading of the Torah . 

Usually the Haftarah is related thematically to the Torah portion. However, this is the first of three weeks when the prophetic portions are linked instead to the calendar. This is the first of the the Prophetic Portions of Admonition. These special portions are read during the three weeks prior to the Fast Dayof Tisha B'Av, which commemorates the destruction of the First Holy Temple by the Babylonians and the Second Holy Temple (and Jerusalem) by the Romans.

The Haftarah starts at the beginning of the Book of Jeremiah and continues through Chapter 2, verse 3. In the Haftarah (thanks to a synopsis by Saul Beck) God starts off by telling Jeremiah that he was selected as a prophet before he was even born. Jeremiah objects much as Moses did before him, describing himself as a boy who cannot speak well. Symbolically, God touches Jeremiah's mouth and proceeds to give him his first prophecy. This prophecy consists of two visions – one of an almond tree, and one of a steaming pot tipped away from the North. The almond tree represents God's watchfulness, and the steaming pot represents an invading enemy against the Kingdom of Judah and Jerusalem. This enemy, God explains, is a punishment against Judah for worshiping other gods and idols.

As I sat reading the Haftarah I kept trying to determine how it might connect with the terrible events happening currently in Israel and Gaza. More than that, I tried to imagine how I might make that connection from an apolitical perspective, as well as one which was still rooted in the idea of mindfulness which I try to keep at the heart of this blog.


I have no doubt that there are those who will use the words of prophecy concerning those who attack Israel as a warning to the Hamas. And there are still others who I'm sure will use the words by which God prophecies the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem as words of warning to the Israelis. But, beyond the fact that I do not want to be political, I don't think either of those prophecies are applicable here. They were written for a different time and different circumstances. However, both prophecies can still serve to remind us that our actions, whatever they may be, always have consequences. But we do not have the “luxury”of knowing ahead of time what those consequences will be. 

Mindfulness teaches that we must try our best to live life in the moment, without judgment, and guided by compassion for all of God's creation. And so we must remember that during these difficult times.


It is so easy for us to judge others, though ultimately judgment makes it impossible for us to truly be compassionate. And we need to be guided by compassion at all times. Especially trying times. These thoughts which arose in the moment caused me to focus on Jeremiah's description of himself as a boy who cannot speak well, and the fact that, after this, symbolically, God touches Jeremiah's mouth and proceeds to give him his first prophecy, that of the coming destruction.


A lesson in this passage is that in each moment we must each view ourselves as if we were a child unable to speak. And often this is true. Much of the time this is because there is so much going on in our minds that we cannot put it into words. However, I would like to urge us all to view this differently. Let us imagine that we are unable to speak because we are simply trying our best to be in the moment. We do not need to comment on what is happening nor tell others, or ourselves, what to do or think. We must simply be present in silence. 

Just as last week in the Haftarah, Elijah realized in his prophetic encouter that God was to be found in the small, imperceptible voice within, and not inside the storm or thunder, And so we too must be silent in order to experience God. We too must be silent to hear the small, almost imperceptible Divine voice of compassion within each of us.


In every moment we are bombarded, literally and figuratively, with imagines and words which can cause us to become angry and even hateful. But if we can be silent and imagine ourselves unable to speak, like Jeremiah and Moses, perhaps that anger and hate will be replaced by compassion and understanding. And hopefully....eventually....by love.


In the Haftarah God touches Jeremiah's mouth and Jeremiah begins to receive his first prophecy. But remember, a prophecy is not necessarily of what WILL happen in the future. It is a vision of what MAY happen if the people do not change their ways. And so, when God touches our lips, and our hearts, in that place of silence and compassion, perhaps we will then be able to catch a glimpse of the potential for us and our world. But the potentials are not absolutes. The potentials are, by definition, possibilities. When we are touched by the divine we can see the future of war/peace, compassion/jealousy, love/hate. It is how we live our lives each moment which determines which becomes reality.


As we enter Shabbat, the day of rest and peace, let us do our best to be present to the silence and to hear the compassionate voice of the divine within it. In that way, no matter what our religion, our creed, our political belief, we can spend each moment imagining a world of peace and love. For it is by experiencing that particular prophecy that we can hopefully bring it to fruition.


Shabbat Shalom.


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