May 21, 2005
At the outset of this week\’s haftarah, Jeremiah recieves a prophetic message. He is told that Hanamel, his cousin, will visit him in prison and ask him to redeem Hanamel\’s land from the hands of creditors who would wrest the land from the family. This is Jeremiah\’s obligation to his kinsman as outlined in this week\’s Torah reading. What makes this story extraordinary is that the country is under siege by the Babylonians and land purchases of any sort do not seem to be a very practical activity. Nevertheless, when Hanamel does show up to visit Jeremiah, as God had predicted, Jeremiah responds positively to his request: \”And just as the Lord had said, my cousin Hanamel came to me in the prison compound and said to me, \’Please buy my land in Anatoth, in the territory of Benjamin, for the right of succession is yours, and you have the duty of redemption. Buy it.\’ Then I knew that it was indeed the word of the Lord. So I bought the land in Anatoth from my cousin Hanamel…\” (Verse 8-9)
Jeremiah\’s response to God\’s prophetic message was curious on two counts: first, in his affirmation after the event that the message that he had received was indeed a prophecy – \”Then I knew that it was indeed the word of the Lord\” and second, that he seemed assured that by carrying out the redemption of the land, he was fulfilling God\’s will even though God had not commanded him explicitly to do so in the prophecy.
Rabbi David Kimche (12th century Provance), probably basing himself on the Spanish grammarian, Rabbi Yonah Ibn Janah (11th century), asserted that the answers to these two questions is intrinsically linked: \”I [Jeremiah] knew that the prophecy was from God that I should buy the land, for why else would he tell me that Hanamel would come to me to sell his field.\” Y. Hoffman (Jeremiah, Mikra L\’Yisrael, p. 619) takes this as an indication that Jeremiah was not always certain of his ability to discern the authenticity of God\’s message. In this case the events verified the message and he was certain how he must act.
Rabbi Joseph Kara (12th France) explores a different possibility for Jeremiah\’s state of mind. He claimed that Jeremiah acceded to God\’s request under duress: \”[Jeremiah did this] with great difficulty and bitterness for the Chaldeans were laying siege to the city to capture it, so when Hanamel asked me to buy his land in Anatoth, I did it only because God requested it and I could not refuse.\”
Rabbi Don Yitzchak Abrabanel (14-15th century Spanish) rejected Hoffman\’s twist on Kimche (above) since, as he phrases it, \”prophets never doubted their prophecies since prophecies carried with them an especially strong [prophetic] experience.\” Jeremiah\’s intent, when he noted that the prophecy was \”the word of God\”, was to signify that only at that moment did he realize that God\’s message meant for him to take action to carry out God\’s prophecy.
Since Jeremiah\’s action was meant as a note of optimism in a rather bleak situation, God\’s message to Jeremiah is clear. Optimism isn\’t built on cheery thoughts but on action. Only deeds of affirmation and concrete acts of faith will ultimately bring hope out of despair and redemption out of exile.
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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