Hevel: Haftara for the Three Weeks – Week Two

I know,  I know. What a creative and exciting title. But there is so much to say about this Haftara, and unfortunately, I have such little time!

Once again, we are reading from Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah Chapter 2). I really don’t have much time to delve into this, and there are such great turns of phrase that really get the message across. Please read it closely and see for yourself – and if you are in need of a translation – the New JPS translation does a good job of making things readable and refined  for the contemporary reader.

I am thinking about the phrase וילכו אחרי ההבל ויהבלו – which cannot be perfectly translated, especially since there are many ways of translating “hevel!” But in short – it constitutes a rebuke at those who abandoned God and the ways of goodness and substance to wander – transfixed? (my insertion – after vapour – after that which is worthless, ephemeral, illusory, fleeting. There is also a neat play on words in that it sounds like “Ba’al” (the foreign deity which they were following), and there also may be a connection between “hevel” here (literally “vapour” and the sad metaphor about them abandoning God, a “living natural spring” (mekor mayyim hayyim) to instead hew themselves leaky cisterns which cannot contain water. In other words – they are going after mere vapour – evaporated nothing – instead of water.

This idea resonated with me, partly because I am thinking and reading about the meaning and function of the word “hevel” within the book of Qoheleth and within certain Psalms (mizmorim), and partly because I, and I imagine many of us – struggle with wandering or straying after vanity. In my case, I waste far too much time on Facebook, and I am trying to cut it down by blocking my newsfeed on my computer (at least in Google Chrome).  But I still have it on my phone, etc. So many “news” stories are about unsubstantial topics and devolve into mere gossip, if not worse.

Anyway, part of a message of Yirmiyahu’s prophecy is to take stock of ourselves, and to undergo some soul searching – are we staying true to what is truly important, or are we willfully or passively letting ourselves stray, distracted by instant gratification and other vacuous vanities? How much do we value and cherish our time, and how much are we mindful of how we use it?

There is a lot to think about, and there are many more specific messages. I hope to perhaps examine these passages more in the future, but for now, here is some food for thought.