April 9, 2024
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April 9, 2024
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This week’s haftarah, the second of the “t’lat d’pur’anuta,” three haftarot of punishment that precede Tisha B’Av, is a direct continuation of the selection we read last Shabbat from the first chapter of Sefer Yirmiyahu. Given this truth, it is somewhat difficult to understand how the prophet could open the chapter with the beautiful description of Hashem’s love for Israel and His promise to destroy all who attempt to harm her (the closing words of last week’s haftarah) with the opening declaration of Yirmiyahu in this week’s haftarah decrying Israel’s faithlessness and abandonment of God. The prophecy fits well into the theme of these three weeks, but the harsh critique of Israel stands in marked contrast to the prophet’s words that open the second perek.

In his absorbing essay analyzing this haftarah, Rav Moshe Lichtenstein compares this prophecy of Yirmiyahu to the opening perek of Sefer Yeshayahu, next week’s haftarah that we read each year on the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av. Among the many points he makes, Rav Lichtenstein argues that the words of Yirmiyahu were couched as questions that were posed to the sinful nation. Rather than being a sharp condemnation of the people, as Yeshayahu’s message was, these words of Yirmiyahu are a cry exhorting the people to examine their ways; more than angry criticism, they are an attempt to bring the people back to God.

The prophet sees the idolatry of his nation as a tragic mistake rather than a conscious rebellion. Their abandonment of Hashem was an act of desperation and fear and not a sign of corruption or rejection. He therefore challenges Israel by reviewing their history and the many acts of kindness performed for them by Hashem and, based upon this history, questions their ungrateful behavior toward God. Yirmiyahu compares their actions to those of the idolatrous nations who do not worship other gods but remain faithful to their own. Yet, the navi understood the fears of the people who faced enemies far greater and powerful than they. He therefore reminds them of how God has saved them in the past and will do so in the future if they but remain faithful to Him. Tellingly, the prophet directs his words of condemnation to the leadership, primarily, implying the relative “innocence” of a people led astray and the hope that they will now change their ways.

In reality, therefore, the opening message of Yirmiyahu is, indeed, quite fitting for the rest of the chapter. God still loves His people, He still wishes to protect them as He has all along. What He demands is no more than faith and faithfulness. It is more a call for return than a cry of condemnation. Yirmiyahu prays for a time when the final verse (taken from the third perek) states: “If only from now on you would call me ‘my Father, the Master since my youth.’”

By Rabbi Neil N. Winkler

 Rabbi Neil Winkler is the Rabbi Emeritus of the Young Israel of Fort Lee and now lives in Israel.

 

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