Mattot & Masei
For the week of July 22, 2006 / 26 Tammuz 5766
Torah: Bemidbar / Numbers 30:2 - 36:13
Haftarah: Jeremiah 2:4-28; 3:4


Ask the Question

They did not ask, "Where is the LORD, who brought us up out of Egypt and led us through the barren wilderness, through a land of deserts and rifts, a land of drought and darkness, a land where no one travels and no one lives." (Jeremiah 2:6)

The Jewish people have endured many hard times during our long history. While the Holocaust and the present troubles in modern-day Israel are much closer in memory and experience, these events are only two examples of one of our nation's ongoing themes.

The prophet Jeremiah lived during one of our more difficult periods of history. He stood as a lone voice among the people as he was given the sad task of foretelling the end of an era. Under the dynasty of King David the nation of Israel became an established kingdom in what we now call the Middle East. Under David's son and successor, Solomon, the kingdom and influence of Israel extended significantly. The symbol of Israel's grandeur was the Temple in Jerusalem, a magnificent structure that was Israel's center of worship. The Temple became a sign to the people of God's presence and favor. Even though the Kingdom of Israel did not continue in the same glory it knew during Solomon's reign, the Temple remained an assuring symbol of God's relationship to his people.

That God would ever allow his house to be destroyed was unthinkable to the point that to do so was seen as being disloyal to both God and the nation. Yet this was the message entrusted to Jeremiah. After centuries of warning through many other prophets before him, God's judgment was at hand. The Temple was to be destroyed and the people exiled to Babylon, the world power of that day.

With a broken heart and in tears Jeremiah faithfully delivered this most difficult message. Reading his words today provide us with insight on how we can truly know and serve God as well as avoid the destructive path Israel found itself on so long ago.

One of the things that Jeremiah said the people had failed to do was ask a certain question. That question was "Where is God?" Through Jeremiah, God was calling his people to ask this most important question. I believe he is telling us this again today.

You may be thinking that as a people that this is a question we have asked more times than we can count. Have we not asked - especially with regard to the Holocaust - "Where was God?"

But this is not the same question to which Jeremiah refers. The "Where was God" that we commonly hear is not actually a question. It is a statement: a statement of grief, of disappointment, and bitterness. It is used as a criticism against God for not doing what we hoped he would do. It is rhetorical question. Its expected answer is that either there is no God or if there is he was either uncaring or unable to do anything about our suffering.

The question that God invites us to ask is totally different. Instead of a rhetorical question it a true question of inquiry: "God, where are you?". When everything around us gives us the impression that God is absent, we need to cry out, "Where are you?" What the answer to this question might be we cannot predict, but when it comes we must be eager to accept it.

When God seems absent, it is usually for one of two reasons. Either he is not absent and we have lost sight of him. Or he is absent, but not because he has taken off without us, but because we have failed to keep up with him.

Whatever the reason, the only way to get the answer is to ask the question. But if you intend to ask the question, you must also be willing to accept the answer.

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