By Rabbi Yossy Goldman
The Jewish calendar and the parashah are somehow always synchronized. There is a deep connection between the two, and it is never coincidental that a particular parashah is read at a particular time of the year. This week’s parashah is always read during the Three Weeks of mourning when we recall the destruction of our Holy Temple.
I am not going to focus on these latent connections here but prefer to look at the haftarah and the message of Yirmiyahu HaNavi, which is also especially chosen for this week. The prophet castigates the Jewish people: Listen to the word of G-d, O House of Jacob . . . what wrong did your fathers find in Me that they distanced themselves from Me and went after (gods of) emptiness and became empty themselves? (verse 5). They are guilty on two counts, laments Yirmiyahu. “They have forsaken Me, the spring of living waters, (and furthermore) to dig for themselves wells, broken cisterns that hold no water.” (verse 13). What is the prophet saying? If you exchanged G-d and Torah for some other noble, exalted philosophy or for another highly principled ideology, nu, at least there might be some imaginary justification. But for what have you exchanged the lofty moral truths of G-d and Torah? For hevel—futility, emptiness, and nothingness. This is a terrible double blow.
Those who pursue a path of emptiness become empty people. Their lives are filled with nothing more than empty materialism—zero content and zero meaning. At least people like Warren Buffet gave it away. His single-minded focus on amassing wealth has been more than vindicated by his unprecedented philanthropy. But materialism for its own sake, with no higher purpose whatsoever, is futile and empty and can only lead to those practicing it becoming empty-headed themselves. Some generations sinned by denying G-d. Yirmiyahu weeps for a generation that worships nonsense and empty escapism.
What is the worst thing in the world that can happen to a teenager today? To be home alone on a Saturday night without a date! And the teenager’s parents need to chill after all the pressures of the workweek. So we build ourselves huge and magnificent entertainment edifices, towers of trivia, centers of senselessness. And we fill the void and the vacuum in our lives with escapist pleasures—drinking and gambling, smoking and snorting.
Generations ago, Jewish parents cried bitter tears because they lost their children to communism, socialism, a particularly toxic strain of anti-religious secular Zionism, hippie-ism, or other anti-establishment ideologies. The tragedy of our time is that we are losing our youth not to any form of political activism or social consciousness, but to emptiness and futility, to drugs and raves. At least the misguided young rebels of old believed in a cause. Right or wrong, they were trying to build a better world. Today, it’s “to hell with the world, pass the beer!”
Yirmiyahu pleads with us to forsake this fling with futility and empty cisterns and to embrace the eternal spring of living waters, the authentic truths of Torah and the way of G-d. Let us lead our children towards meaningful spirituality and sanctity. Sanity must surely follow. v
Rabbi Yossy Goldman was born in Brooklyn and was sent in 1976 by the Lubavitcher Rebbe as an emissary to serve the Jewish community of Johannesburg, South Africa. He is Senior Rabbi of the Sydenham Shul and president of the South African Rabbinical Association. His sefer “From Where I Stand: Life Messages from the Weekly Torah Reading” was published by Ktav and is available at Jewish book shops or online at www.ktav.com.