May 8, 2010
24 Iyar 5770
Jeremiah shows a tremendous concern for the problem of idolatry. Its eradication among his own people is an immediate concern for him. Universal recognition of God and the denial of false gods is his ideal hope for the nations: \”O Lord, my strength and my stronghold, my refuge in a day of trouble, to you nations will come from the ends of the earth and say: \’Our fathers inherited utter delusions, things that are futile and worthless.\’ Can a man make gods for himself? They are not gods. Assuredly I will teach them My power and My might. And they shall learn that My name is Lord.\” (16:19-21)
What will be the impetus for this acknowledgment of God? Jeremiah notes that this change will be a process. As he sees it, in the future the nations will attempt to overcome Israel, will fail, and as a consequence of experiencing God\’s strength will realize that their current beliefs are a delusion. This sort of religious transformation is also cited in an early rabbinic midrash (2nd-3rd century CE) comparing the events of the exodus from Egypt with this future event: \”And it was not Israel alone that recited the Song [of the Sea], the nations of the world also recited the Song. When the nations of the world heard that Pharaoh and his troops had perished in the sea, that the empire of the Egyptians was over and done with, and that disaster had been inflicted on their idols, all of them renounced their own idol worship, and acknowledging God, they all burst forth with the exclamation, \’Who is like unto You, O Lord, among the gods!\’ The same is also true of the nations. In the future they will renounce their idol worship, as it is said: \’O Lord, my strength and my stronghold, my refuge in a day of trouble, to you nations will come from the ends of the earth and say: \’Our fathers inherited utter delusions, things that are futile and worthless.\’\” (Mechilta de Rabbi Ishmael Shirta 8, Horowitz-Rabin ed. pp. 141-2)
Throughout history, victory in war was thought to be an indication of the superiority of one deity over another. This idea is certainly reflected in both Jeremiah\’s message and in that of the midrash. There is, however, more here than just that. The nations are impressed not just by God\’s might. They are impressed that God has overcome the Egyptian empire and what it represents. It is no wonder that the Exodus from Egypt has been recognized as a powerful symbol for all who seek freedom from oppression and tyranny, prompting people to cast off the false gods of oppression. May this recognition come about soon.
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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