In this Shabbat’s weekly Torah portion Matot-Massei Numbers 30:2 – 36:13, Moses conveys the laws governing the annulment of vows to the heads of the tribes of Israel. War is waged against Midian for their role in plotting the moral destruction of Israel, and the Torah gives a detailed account of the war spoils and how they were allocated amongst the people, the warriors, the Levites and the high priest.
The tribes of Reuben and Gad (later joined by half of the tribe of Manasseh) ask for the lands east of the Jordan as their portion in the Promised Land, these being prime pastureland for their cattle. Moses is initially angered by the request, but subsequently agrees on the condition that they first join, and lead, in Israel’s conquest of the lands west of the Jordan.
In this week’s Haftara Prophets reading Jeremiah 2:4–28; 4:1–2, is the second of a series of three “haftarot of affliction.” These three haftarot are read during the Three Weeks of mourning for Jerusalem, between the fasts of 17 Tammuz and 9 Av.
The prophet Jeremiah transmits God’s message to the Jewish people, in strong tones chastising all the sectors of the people, including the leadership, for their abandonment of God. “What wrong did your forefathers find in Me, that they distanced themselves from Me, and they went after futility and themselves became futile?” He reminds them of the kindness God did for them, taking them out of Egypt and leading them through the desert and settling them in the Promised Land, yet they repaid kindness with disloyalty. “For My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken Me, the spring of living waters, [and furthermore, this was in order] to dig for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that do not hold water.”