How jarring it is to read the Torah portion this week along with its companion Haftarah piece from the Prophets.
In the Torah, we complete Numbers, all full of anticipation of entering the Promised Land. We remember our long journey from Egypt. With God’s blessing, we begin to think of the new land and its opportunities – how it will be fairly divided, how we will live there, and by what standards we will be governed.
As with all things of great promise, the heart is full, and hope is high. Even with warnings that we must be true and right in our ways, the music of life is all in a major chord.
Yet, in Jeremiah, as the scene shifts centuries later, we read of God saying furiously, “I brought you into a fruitful land, to eat its fruit and bounty; but you came and contaminated My land, and made My heritage into an abomination.” The priests had forgotten God. Those charged with teaching of God “did not know” God. The people rebelled.
Instead of living in accord with the principles God had established for them, they wandered across the land “like a harlot.”
And, soon to be back on the road to Egypt and to Assyria, lands where there can only be pain and distress, the people face a future that only holds forth bitterness. The contrast with the scene we just read in Numbers could not be greater.
Here’s the gift of looking at both texts at the same time: there is no separation of centuries in our experience of learning. We see together both the promise of following God and the consequence of betraying God. The effect, I believe, should be to cause us never to lose sight of both truths, that of the promise and that of the consequence, however tempted we are, especially when things are going well.
Keep the promise of living true to the principles firmly in mind. And keep the consequence of betraying them in mind. Always.
Ashkenazi Jews add Jeremiah 3:4 at the very end of the reading: “If only from now on you would call Me “My Father! You are the Master of my youth.” If only from now on….