Parashat Matot Masei- We Never Lose by Doing the Right Thing
The Haftarah for the second Shabbat of the Three Weeks (the period leading to Tisha B’Ab) is taken from the Book of Yirmiyahu, and in this prophecy, G-d sharply condemns the people for abandoning Him in favor of other beliefs and practices. He announces, "Va’yelchu Ahareh Ha’hebel Va’yehbalu" – that Beneh Yisrael pursued "Hebel" – "vanity," things of no value, instead of living in His service.
Many commentators noted that this verse seems redundant – stating at first "Va’yelchu Ahareh Ha’hebel," that the people "followed vanity," and then repeating, "Va’yehbalu" – "they acted vainly." What does the word "Va’yehbalu" add? What is the difference between this word and the phrase "Va’yelchu Ahareh Ha’hebel"?
One of the explanations given is offered by the Ben Ish Hai (Rav Yosef Haim of Baghdad, 1833-1909). He writes that sometimes, we are tempted to compromise our spirituality for the sake of material pursuits. For example, a person might feel that he cannot pray with a Minyan because he might then lose valuable worktime. The Rabbis teach us that we never lose by doing the right thing, by fulfilling Hashem’s will. Even when it appears as though we are sacrificing and compromising our wellbeing by adhering to the Torah, in truth, we are only gaining.
This, the Ben Ish Hai explains, is what G-d is telling Beneh Yisrael in this prophecy. They abandoned His Misvot in order to pursue "Hebel," things of far less value. And, in the end, "Va’yehbalu" – their plan backfired. The term "Va’yehbalu," the Ben Ish Hai explains, means that the "Hebel" itself became "Hebel." Meaning, the pursuits which the people thought would succeed by abandoning their religion ended up failing. Even when it appears that we benefit by compromising our religious standards, we only lose.
We live in a world with many lures and temptations, which mislead us into thinking that we will have a better life by abandoning the Misvot and involving ourselves in "Hebel" – in the pursuit of wealth, and in various forms of entertainment and the like. We must remember that fulfilling Hashem’s will is always more valuable and beneficial to us than any of the "Hebel" around us, and that we achieve success by committing ourselves to the Misvot, not by abandoning the Misvot.