This is what the LORD says:
“What fault did your ancestors find in me,
that they strayed so far from me?
They followed worthless idols
and became worthless themselves.” — Jeremiah 2:5
The Torah portion for this week is a double reading, Matot-Massei, from Numbers 30:2–36:13. Matot means branches and Massei means journey. The Haftorah is from Jeremiah 2:4–28; 4:1–2.
A man was driving down the street frantically looking for a parking space. He had an important meeting and was running late. Not a space was in sight. In desperation, the man turned toward heaven and prayed: “God, if you find me a parking space, I promise to go to church every Sunday and give up swearing for the rest of my life!” Suddenly, the parking space in front of him opened up. The man looked back up and said, “Never mind, God, I found one!”
This story drives home two points. First, it demonstrates our tendency to turn to God only in times of trouble and crisis. Secondly, this story points out that although we may make all kinds of changes and commitments to God during our time of need, we often forget about our promises when we no longer “need” God’s assistance.
This week’s Haftorah reading from the book of Jeremiah echoes this message as the prophet repeatedly warned the children of Israel that they were about to go into exile because they had rebelled against God. God had done amazing things for the Israelites, but they forgot His kindness and repaid His goodness with evil ways.
The Haftorah opens up with a penetrating question from God: “What fault did your ancestors find in me, that they strayed so far from me?” God reminded the people of all the good He had done for them when He faithfully led the children of Israel through the desert, which our Torah readings recounted. God led them through “a land of drought and utter darkness, a land where . . . no one lives” (v.6). God brought the Israelites to the land of Israel, “a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce” (v.7).
Yet, with all God’s kindness and closeness that the Israelites enjoyed, they turned away from Him once they were comfortable in their homes. For this grave sin, Israel would be punished.
Friends, we need to learn from Israel’s mistakes in the Bible so we don’t suffer the same consequences. We can choose to remember God in good times as well as in difficult times. We can choose to honor the commitments we make when life gets tough, or even better, we can dedicate ourselves to becoming better people before we are in crisis.
Our God is good and faithful; He has done so much kindness for us in the past. The best kind of gratitude is to make Him the focus of our lives in the present.