From HaGaon Rav Zevadia HaCohen, The Head of the Batei Din in Tel Aviv
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy, Leeds UK)
During this period known as Bein HaMetzarim (the Three Weeks) we read in the Haphtara, Yirmiyahu the Prophet’s rebuke: “Shall a nation [attempt to] swap their G-d and not have a G-d! And [yet] my people swapped His Honour to no effect!” (Yirmiyahu 2:11).
The Dubno Maggid z”l (1741-1804) gives a beautiful parable to explain the prophet’s words.
A newlywed chatan was supported by his father-in-law, after some years his father-in-law said to him that the time has come for him to work and support himself. He gave him a decent sum of money and sent him off to the [famous] Leipzig Trade Fare [this Trade Fare dates back almost a thousand years and still functions today], so that he should buy some competitively priced merchandise and return to his city and turn a profit.
The young chatan was a bit of a waster with bad luck. He travelled to the fare and returned with wagon loads of toothpicks! When he presented his father-in-law with the merchandise, he screamed at him “You fool! This merchandise won’t sell in years! Who will purchase so many toothpicks?!” Left with no choice, he reverted to supporting his ill-fated son-in-law and stored away the merchandise.
Some years passed and the father-in-law said to himself again, what will be my son-in-law’s end? Shall he be supported by me forever? He called him and again gave him a substantial sum of money and sent him to the Trade Fare. This time, cautioning him not to buy merchandise that nobody wants.
Heeding his advice the son-in-law returned to the Trade Fare. It was the High Holiday period so he decided to buy a large consignment of shofarot, thinking that these are essential items for these days and he will turn a handsome profit.
When he presented the merchandise to his father-in-law, he was beside himself with anger. “You waster! These shofarot will suffice until Mashiach comes! Who needs so many shofarot?”
Left again with no choice he reverted to supporting his son-in-law. Whilst storing away the huge consignment of shofarot next to the toothpicks.
As time went by the father-in-law thought what will happened to the two consignments? He immediately sent for a talented middleman and tasked him with selling the toothpicks, desperate to just have them removed from storage.
He turned to another middleman and presented him with the challenge of selling the shofarot or to swap them with other [more profitable] merchandise. He just wanted shot of them.
Not long passed until he received two messages from the two middlemen. The first joyously told him that he managed to barter the toothpicks swapping them for…shofarot, whilst the second one joyously informed him that he managed to swap the shofarot for…toothpicks.
Seeing as this was now the third time that he was unsuccessful with this merchandise, he decided to turn his attention to the rest of his daily affairs.
This time, however, his son-in-law accompanied him and asked him quite poignantly, “Surely my father-in-law is a well-seasoned tradesman yet has been unsuccessful in this venture, [moreover] why when I bought this merchandise did you get angry with me and called me a waster?! [Yet you did not get annoyed with the middlemen or even yourself]?”
His father-in-law replied, “I had two consignments that were simply unsellable so I had no choice [but to try and salvage at least something], but you were presented with cash and you wasted that opportunity, buying useless merchandise!”
Likewise argues the Prophet Yirmiyahu to the Jewish People, “Shall a nation [attempt to] swap their G-d and not have a G-d!” When the other nations swap their gods with other gods, it is futile, they swap nothing with nothing, valueless merchandise with other valueless merchandise. But “…and [yet] my people swapped His Honour to no effect!” The Jewish People do have a G-d, the G-d of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov and [yet] they [attempted] to swap Him for gods of gold and silver, wood and stone, this is comparable to swapping cash for worthless merchandise, such behaviour is worthy of the Prophet Yirmiyahu’s rebuke.
A wise man shall take heed and contemplate further, let us consider and understand that Hashem, the source of blessing, created us for his honour and separated us from those that stray, giving us a true Torah whilst planting in us eternal life.
Shabbat Shalom and be blessed!