Rosh Hodesh Av
(Jeremiah 2:4-28, 4:1-2)
August 6, 2005
The period of the three weeks between Shiva Asar b\’Tammuz and Tisha b\’Av is a period of national introspection – a time of spiritual and political awareness intended to mend the breech between God and the nation as well as the fissures that have formed within the nation itself. Jeremiah\’s prophecy captures a particularly anguishing element of the alienation between God and Israel and also has a message concerning the interrelation of the various elements of the nation. Jeremiah challenges the people: \”They never ask themselves, \’Where (ayeh) is the Lord, who brought us up from the land of Egypt, who led us through the wilderness, a land of deserts and pits, a land of drought and darkness.\’\” (Jeremiah 2:6)
In its context, this remonstration comes to make the people aware of how much their false allegiance to idolatry has caused them to be totally unaware of God\’s absence from their lives. They also fail to realize the reasons for God\’s absence. This failure is all the more astonishing because God\’s role in the world was so pronounced that His absence should have been startling. Rabbi Yitchak Abrabanel (15th century Spain) noticed a correlation between this verse which contains the word \”ayeh – where\” and a verse from Isaiah which uses the same word. He asserts that the comparison of these verses makes Jeremiah\’s point more pronounced: \”But they rebelled and grieved His [God\’s] holy spirit, then He [God] became their enemy and Himself made war against them. Then they remembered the ancient days, Him [God] who pulled His people out of the water: \’Where (ayeh) is He who brought them up out of the sea, along with the Shepherd of His flock?\’…\” (Isaiah 64:10-11)
Isaiah\’s audience became aware of their wrongdoings and in their time of trouble became aware of God\’s absence. More significantly, they asked themselves why it was that God who had always accompanied them appeared to be against them. This realization allowed for reconciliation. Those to whom Jeremiah\’s words were addressed did not have this awareness, so bridging the chasm between God and His people could not yet begin. Only when the nation would become aware of God\’s absence from its national life would it come to realize that the restoration of God\’s intimacy would require it to mend its ways.
This same awareness holds true on an interpersonal level as well. The restoration of relationships requires an awareness of the absence of the \”other\” from our lives and cognizance of the reason this is so. Only when this absence causes pain and a state of sensing that one is alone will the individual seek reconciliation and the wholeness of a restored relationship. This rings true for God and His people. It is wise for those who represent competing ideologies. It is true as well for relationships between individuals.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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