January 31, 2009
6 Shevat 5769
Jeremiah\’s prophecy was linked to this week\’s parashah because it is a prophecy aimed at imperial Egypt. While Jeremiah\’s Egypt was separated by many centuries from Moses\’ Egypt, still, the very idea of Pharaoh\’s Egypt being put in its place seemed attractive in every age. Nevertheless, the clash of mighty nations like Pharaoh\’s Egypt and Nebuchadrezar\’s Babylonia was bound to bring about fear for the stability of the world and its effect on the tiny nation caught between these two tremendous powers. This is why Jeremiah ended his prophecy against Egypt with words of solace for the people of Israel: \”But you, have no fear, My servant Jacob, be not dismayed, O Israel! I will deliver you from far away (mei-rahok), your folk from their land of captivity; and Jacob will again (v\’shav Yaakov) have calm and quiet, with none to trouble him.\” (Verse 27)
It is well-known that the Hasidic masters often took texts from the Biblical tradition which spoke of events and reinterpreted them to refer to the internal spiritual life of the Jew or the Jewish people. Rabbi Zadok Hacohen from Lublin (19th century Poland) understood this verse in this manner. Trained in the Lithuanian tradition, Reb Zadok came to the Hasidic tradition late, becoming a disciple of the Izbitzer Rebbe, Mordechai Joseph Leiner, whose theology was decidedly deterministic. Reb Zadok\’s interpretation of this verse reflects both of these lines of thinking.
Jeremiah offered words of consolation for those who were physically exiled. Reb Zadok reinterpreted these words to be aimed at those who were spiritually exiled from God: \”Jacob feared when he saw that there were those among his offspring who would go astray [from the tradition]. With regard to these offspring, God said to Jacob: \’I will deliver you from afar\’, that is to say, those who are distanced (meruhak) from God blessed be He. And even the one who is truly alienated from God, in any case, behold, \’I will save you\’ even without your knowledge. \’And return Jacob (v\’shav Yaakov) – for they most certainly will return, as it says: \’And Israel is His dominion\” (Psalm 114:1) – for God will return them in repentance even without their knowledge for this is what is meant by saying that Israel is under God\’s governance.\” (See Pri Hatzadik Parshat Bo end)
The very idea that our lives are controlled by outside forces is disconcerting. I imagine that such an idea developed among discerning 19th century thinkers from their observations that many of the people around them were being swept up by movements much larger than themselves and that the individual\’s identification with any given movement may have had very little to do with the person\’s independent thinking. (Times have not changed.) Jacob, in this drasha, could very easily have been any parent who had lost a loved one to one of these movements. It was Reb Zadok\’s ardent hope and belief that God was much stronger than these impersonal forces which swept these lost souls away from Him and would ultimately bring them home. Only such an idea could bring solace to father Jacob\’s heart and to ours as well.
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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