Mattos/Maasei – Experience = Knowledge

This week’s Haftorah is the second of the Haftorahs that lead up to Tisha b’Av discussing the demise of the Jewish people by the destruction of the First Beis HaMikdash. It is read this week even though it is Rosh Chodesh Av on Shabbos and normally a special haftorah is read when the new month falls out on Shabbos.

Towards the beginning of the Haftorah Yirmiyahu prophesizes, “And I brought you to a forest land to eat of its produce and its goodness, and you came and contaminated My land, and made My heritage an abomination. The priests did not say, “Where is Hashem?” And those who hold onto the Torah did not know Me and the rulers rebelled against Me, and the prophets prophesied by Baal and followed what does not avail. Therefore, I will still contend with you, says Hashem, and with your children’s children will I contend” (Yimiyahu 2:7-9).

Yirmiyahu is speaking for Hashem about how He brought the Jewish people into such a precious land and they did not live up to their promise of following His will and taking care of the land. Therefore Hashem felt He must exact punishment against them for generations unless they repent.

The Radak explains that Hashem had claims against the Kohanim, who serve Hashem in the Beis HaMikdash every day, for not rebuking and questioning the Jews, ‘Where is Hashem in your life that you choose to worship idols instead?’ Or the kings, who are referred to as shepherds since they are supposed to be guiding the nation; but they are rebelling. Also, the false prophets who were leading the Jews astray to worship the idol of Baal. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Hashem also had an argument against “those who hold onto the Torah,” for they “did not know Me.” What does that mean? The Radak explains that this refers to the wise men, learned in Torah, ‘who don’t know Me for they did not learn Torah Lishma, for the Sake of Hashem, in order to fulfill what is written in it, rather they learned it with their mouth and heart.’ This is what it means by, ‘did not know Me,’ because good thoughts and good deeds is its knowledge, not just the learning of it (referring to the Torah).

The Radak is teaching us that a person can know the whole Torah by heart and be able to rattle it off to anyone and answer questions on any subject of the Torah. But if he just uses the Torah as an intellectual pursuit and does not actively fulfill what he has learnt then he does not truly know it. Not only does he not Know Hashem but he does not really know the Torah of Hashem, that he had supposedly learned and knows well.

But how can this be? The pasuk refers to these people as “those who hold onto the Torah” and the Radak says they learned it with their mouths and heart, and do not just pay lip service but they internalized it in their hearts. This sounds like they aren’t just repeating what they memorized but they can think and ascertain what they have learned and give answers to questions they are asked. It makes sense that they are sinners for not doing Hashem’s will, for serving Hashem is doing His mitzvos. It also makes sense that these wise men don’t really understand Hashem because although learning Torah is equal to all the other mitzvos, Hashem still expects one to “follow what he preaches” and learns. However the Radak also says that Hashem is referring to a lack of knowledge of the Torah itself; how can that be?

It would seem that if one does not practice what he learns he cannot truly understand or know it. Experience is part of knowledge. If a person does not fulfill and practice what he has learned, he does not really know what he is talking about, even if he can repeat the halacha and logically answer questions on it.

The wise men of the generation right before the first Beis HaMikdash was destroyed were criticized for not knowing Hashem. It is hard to hear that they did not fulfill the Torah at all, but it was purely an intellectual pursuit. However, it makes sense that the more one practices the Torah, acting with proper manners, doing good deeds, and performing the mitzvos properly the more he knows Hashem, and His Torah. It would seem that these sages on some level were not as meticulous in their Torah and mitzvos performance and that is why Hashem criticized them for not knowing Him.

At this time leading up to Tisha B’av may we approach it with more brevity in fulfilling Hashem’s Torah and mitzvos, doing good deeds and polishing up on our positive thoughts. In this way we can turn the fast of Tisha b’Av into the holiday of Tisha B’Av. If not now, then when!