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The Start of Yirmiyahu’s Mission

Parshat Pinchas

This week’s haftarah is—in a number of ways—a story of beginnings, or, better yet, of introductions. As the first chapter in the book, it begins with sefer Yirmiyahu and it introduces us to the Navi himself. We read of Hashem’s charge to Yirmiyahu to become God’s spokesman to the people and of the Navi’s reluctance to take on that weighty responsibility. Together with that, this perek also includes the first divine message that Yirmiyahu would deliver to the nation. Beyond that, as Chazal’s choice for the first post-Shiva Asar B’Tammuz haftarah, this selection also introduces the three weeks’ mourning period that precedes Tisha B’Av and sets the theme for the next two haftarot.

A close study of the perek underscores its function of “beginning” for, rather than simply condemn and threaten Israel with powerful admonishments and detailed punishments, as the two other “three-week haftarot” do, we are somewhat surprised to find that a mere two verses in the haftarah (verse 14-15) dwell upon a warning of an impending punishment and only one pasuk (verse 16) details Israel’s sin (one sin). Given the fact that Yirmiyahu was known as the “prophet of doom,” the one who condemned the nation for her multiple sins, warned her of the soon-to-arrive punishments and prophesied the ultimate churban and galut … we would have expected a far more powerful—perhaps, threatening—opening message to be addressed to the people.

If we compare this opening haftarah with the very next one (the very next perek also) we would realize the glaring contrast between them. In next week’s haftarah, Yirmiyahu, indeed, does excoriate Israel for her faithlessness and ingratitude, and he does so in 25 of the 26 pesukim of the selection—leaving only the final pasuk (taken from the next perek in Sefer Yirmiyahu) with words of comfort to close the haftarah.

Why, then, this disparity?

The answer will help us understand Hashem’s purpose in sending His neviim and the method He uses. God tells Yirmiyahu that He would, indeed, condemn and threaten His nation. However, He also tells him (verse 10) “livnot v’lintoah—to rebuild and replant.” Although the message of Yirmiyahu might often be misunderstood, it is important to recognize that Hashem’s purpose in sending a prophet was never to warn the nation in order to “prove” to the nation that Hashem correct in His predictions. The mission of the Navi is to caution the people—to inform them of how God sees them—so that they would recognize their aberrant behavior and return, rebuild and replant. Sending a “novice,”—a seer unknown to the people—with a fiery message of denunciation and censor, of threats and intimidations, would be doomed to failure.

Parents and educators—and most adults—know that any reprimand addressed to another—be it a child, a student or a friend—can succeed only when those receiving the reproach know that it is given through love by those who truly care for them.

It is for that very reason that Hashem’s harsh words of reproof are—almost always—accompanied by words of reassurance and hope. Note, that Yirmiyahu’s painful message delivered in next week’s haftarah is preceded by three magnificent verses that open that perek and that close our haftarah: “Zacharti lach chesed neurayich … ”

Yirmiyahu shares God’s reassuring words of how He remembers the kindness and the faithfulness of the nation that followed him through the unknown tracts of wilderness, which is why Israel remains holy to God and, all those who torment her will, themselves, meet with evil.

Only with these reassurances could the Navi issue forth the harsh messages that follow. Only with these words could Yirmiyahu start out on his mission.


Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel of Fort Lee, and now lives in Israel.

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