With this week’s haftorah, we introduce a new function for the weekly prophetic selection. Until this point, the purpose of the haftorah was to strike a theme similar to one found in the parsha, thereby reminding those who were prohibited by government decree from public Torah reading, what the weekly portion contained. From this week until we begin sefer Breishit, the haftorah (with the exception of V’zot Hab’racha and, on some years, Ha’azinu) has no connection to the parsha but, rather, ties in to the time of year, reminding us of the theme of the season—not the weekly portion.
Today’s haftorah is the first of the “t’lat d’pur’anuta,” the three haftarot of ‘punishment,’ that detail the sins of our people that led up to the destruction of our Beit Mikdash. The selection is taken from the very beginning of sefer Yirmiyahu and describes for us Jeremiah’s consecration as God’s agent to the people. Most striking are the parallels we find in Hashem’s first conversation with Yirmiyahu and the one He had with Moshe Rabbeinu. Both humble prophets were reluctant to take on their God-given mission with the excuse that they were not worthy and both claimed that they could not speak—Moses saying he is a “k’vad peh,” “slow of speech,” while Yirmiyahu contending that “na’ar anochi,” “I am too young and inexperienced.”
But the contrast between the two is perhaps more fascinating than the parallels. Moshe was sent to warn the Egyptians of God’s punishments, lead Israel out of Egypt and bring them to the Promised Land. Yirmiyahu was sent to warn Israel of God’s punishments, he eventually led them out of the Promised Land and brought them back to Egypt.
However, it would be a mistake to see each prophet as one-dimensional. Moses too saw Israel sin and be punished, as did Jeremiah, and he too prayed for them. While Yirmiyahu was given the mission “lintosh v’lintotz, ul’ha’avid v’laharos,” “to uproot and smash, to destroy and overthrow” but also “livnot v’linto’ah,” “to build and to plant” (Yirmiyahu 1;10).
Leaders of Israel must be able to see the shortcomings of their people—but never to be blinded by them. Jeremiah would see the exile of his beloved people but would also prophesy “Od yikanu vatim v’sadot uch’ramim ba’aretz hazot,” “houses and fields and vineyards will yet be purchased in this land” (Yirmiyahu 32;15).
How fortunate are we to see the words of the prophet realized in our own time.
Rabbi Neil Winkler
Rabbi Neil Winkler is a past rabbi of the Young Israel of Fort Lee and now lives in Israel.