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Haftarah: Tisha B’Av: Waves of Tears

Jeremiah 8:13 – 9:23: I am proud that we continue to read this prophecy more than 2400 years after Jeremiah first spoke it. We stand up, two and a half millennia later, and accept the prophet’s words of rebuke. We chant this mournful Haftarah with full acknowledgment that we are responsible.  The centuries have not diluted our awareness. We have not used all this time to find excuses, reasons and explanations. We have not dumped Jeremiah’s thoughts on the “dustbin of history”. We read Jeremiah because we understand that his words are as real today as they were when first spoken to the people of Jerusalem 24 centuries ago.

(Please see Lamentations: Kinah 8: Lessons About Crying on The Foundation Stone Blog for insights into this Haftarah.)

One of the most emotionally intense prophecies in the bible, this Haftarah hits us with waves of passion. The first wave crashes over us with words of a warning that is not what may happen, to be determined by the people’s response, but a massive wave of what will happen: “I shall utterly destroy them. There will be no grapes on the grapevine and no dates on the date palm, the leaf will wither, and what I have given them will pass away. God has silenced us and given us poisonous water. We are hoping for peace, but there is no good; for a time of healing, but behold, there is only terror!” (8:13-15)

We are shivering, soaked, choking, when the second wave smashes us with God’s cry of rebuke: “Why have they angered Me with their graven idols, with their alien vanities?” (8:19)

We are flattened by Jeremiah’s tsunami, struggling to breathe, and we watch a small wave of tears approach us: “The harvest has passed, the summer has ended, but we were not saved” (8:20)

Are we ready to be inundated by Jeremiah’s pain? “Over the collapse of my people’s daughter have I been shattered; I am blackened, desolation has gripped me.” (8:21) How can we find the strength to stand up to Jeremiah’s agony? He stood up and warned us for so many years and we chose not to hear him, not to listen, not to change.

We sit on the ground, chilled to the bone, grasping onto anything firm that will allow us an illusion of security. We survey the destruction around us: the physical destruction, and the spiritual. We remember and consider the lost souls, the wasted efforts and lives, the unanswered questions, the gnawing doubts, the vacuous voices of authority, the lack of meaningful direction, and we mourn. How much more can we survive?

Another wave is forming. We are too defeated to run, but we watch as it grows into a huge beast: “Who is the wise man who will understand this, to whom the mouth of God speaks – let him relate it: For what reason did the land perish, become parched like a desert, without passerby?” (9:11) We believed in our sophisticated wisdom. We had confidence in our logic and intellect. We thought we had the answers, but now we cannot even answer this basic question.

“An intellectual is usually someone who isn’t exactly distinguished by his intellect. He claims that label to compensate for his inadequacies. It’s as old as that saying, “Tell me what you boast of and I’ll tell you what you lack.’ The incompetent always present themselves as experts, the cruel as pious, sinners as devout, usurers as benefactors, the small-minded as patriots, the arrogant as humble, the vulgar as elegant, and the feeble-minded as intellectual.” (Carlos Ruiz Zafon: The Angel’s Game)

This wave washes away the last of our illusions that we were too wise for the Torah, to pious, humble and devout to be punished. We are left with all our false constructs smashed to smithereens by the waves of tears crashing from Jeremiah’s eyes and words all over us.

“So says God: Let not the wise man laud himself with his wisdom and let not the strong man laud himself with his strength, and let not the rich man laud himself with his wealth. Only with this may one laud himself –discernment in knowing Me, for I am God Who does kindness, justice, and righteousness in the land, for in these is My desire,’ the words of God.” (9:22-23)

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