Dr Annette M. Boeckler

Reflections Massei 30 July 2011

Dr. Annette M. Boeckler


With Parashat Massei we finish the book of Bemidbar. It began with a list of person's names; it ends with a list of places. The individuals, who were standing at Sinai in chapter 1, have become a wandering people, finally a people who will teach the next generation how to act differently, as the generation of the scouts is about to die on the move (14:29-34), and the long sermon, the book of Devarim, which we will start next week, is their intellectual heritage and warning to the future generation(s).

What is the relationship between this weeks Haftarah to Parashat Massei? I wonder how much attention it gets anyway - this is the usual "You really behaved badly!" style of prophetical admonition. Honestly: Will this disturb your shabbes today?

Are we not used to have admonitions as Haftarah, luckily read in Hebrew so that most of us wouldn't pick up by accident this or that phrase and feel uncomfortable?


Today's Haftara prepares us for Tisha beAv. It is the second Haftarah of the three of admonition (telat defur'anuta תלת דפורענותא) leading to Tisha beAv, which is then followed by the seven [Haftarot] of comfort (sheva denechamta שבע דנחמתא) leading up to Rosh haShana. The Haftarot cycle connects Tisha beAv and Rosh haShana, so that, similarly as with Purim followed by Pessach, we look at a new beginning from two very different perspectives.


Today's Haftara - together with last weeks and next weeks - explains in a very delicate, difficult and dangerous way, why congregational catastrophes and completely new situations happen. The message is not easy and I would warn to simplify it. We can not better-knowingly simply say: "They have forsaken the Eternal One their God" (Jer 2:19), so that's why that catastrophe happened. First of all: a confession of sins can only be done by the congregation or the individuals themselves, never used as an outside logical explanation. The Talmud said the temple was destroyed because of baseless hate (Gittin 55b-56a). Again: we have to treat this suggestion most carefully. But what we may learn from a Haftarah like today's one is that blessed conditions for a congregation and its individuals can't be taken for granted. We permanently have to work to improve ourselves and ask ourselves, if the admonitions of today's haftara really do not apply to us. It's better to constantly self-check to try to avoid catastrophes and a forced new beginning after a painful learning process. The core check according to our haftarah today is about our relationship with God, not about this or that outer aspect.


But, allow me to feel like the prophets: admonitions won't work, human beings will identify the real mistakes and change for sure only after the crisis, won't they?



Dr. Annette M. Boeckler is a member of KNM.