In the opening of this week's haftarah, God ask a rhetorical question. "What wrong did your ancestors find in Me that they distanced themselves from Me, went after empty things, and thus became empty themselves?" (Jeremiah 2:5). The image is clear. When we run away from things of real value in life and chase after illusions, we become delusional. Empty pursuits yield empty lives.
That is a rebuke that should make each of us more than a bit uncomfortable. Who will deny that his or her life has more than its share of empty pursuits? I think about the energy I put into learning about the latest electronic gadgets and the time I spend following the ups and downs of sports teams. Is Jeremiah speaking to me? Is he reminding me that my time is better spent with family, community and making a difference in people's lives? Is he saying that I am digging a hole of emptiness in my life? What is he telling you?
We know it's true. We see it in others and, when we are being honest, we see it in ourselves. When people spend their time preoccupied with triviality, vanity and self-indulgence, they become trivial, vain, and…well…unhappy. When we look at our own lives, we realize that our greatest joy comes from moments focused on the things that are meaningful — building relationships, working for the good of others, sharing what we have, loving and being loved.
You can toss the rest. Happiness is filling up our otherwise empty hours with things that matter.
Jeremiah tells us this is what it truly means to be close to God. It's not about mouthing prayers or fulfilling empty rituals. God is what we experience when we connect with others — when we make our lives matter by doing things that matter. Then, instead of distancing ourselves from God, we draw close.
And Jeremiah reminds us that the rewards are very great. In the conclusion of this week's haftarah (according to Sephardic practice), we read, "If you return, O Israel…and swear by the living God in truth, justice and righteousness, then nations will find blessing in you…" (Jeremiah 4:1-2). When we attach ourselves to God by acting truthfully, justly and righteously, we not only secure our own happiness, we bring blessing to others.
So try it. The next time you find yourself filling up your time with things that don't really matter, make a different choice. Turn off the screen, put down the video game, stop the preening and posing. Instead, make the choice to do something — something that matters and brings blessing to the world.
Other Posts on This Topic:
Bamidbar: From the Wilderness Comes a Gift
Hope after Despair