Haftarah Parashat Pinchas
July 7, 2018 | 24 Tammuz 5778
This Shabbat we read the first of the three special haftarot for the period between Shiva Asar b’Tammuz and Tisha b’Av. These haftarot, known as the “Tlata d’Poranuta” – the “Three [haftarot] of Admonition” mark the period between the breaching of the walls of the city of Jerusalem and the destruction of both the first and second Temples. The week’s haftarah is taken from the first and second chapters of the book of Jeremiah, which aside from marking Jeremiah’s initiation as a prophet, deal with the growing threat from the nation’s northern neighbor, Babylonia. Jeremiah, the prophet, foresaw the pending tragedy, while the rest of his brethren seemed oblivious to their tragic fate.
Jeremiah’s initiation as a prophet included the charge “to uproot and pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” (1:10) This message is immediately followed by two anomalous visions: one, a branch of an almond tree (shaked) and the other, a “steaming pot (sir nafuah) tipped away from the north”. Each time, God explains, somewhat cryptically, how the images allude to the future. The almond branch plays on the word “shaked” which can also mean “watchful”, implying that the prophecy will soon come to fruition (1:11-12). Rashi explains this association: “Just as the almond tree brings forth its flowers earlier than any other tree, [so, too, the promised evil in the second image will soon break forth].”
The steaming pot is a bit less clear; with God only saying that it alludes to a disaster which will come from the north (1:13-14). Targum Yonatan, the Jewish Aramaic “translation” of Jeremiah, provides a fuller interpretation of the verse, rendering it: “a king who boils over like a pot… whose forces are aligned and ready to break forth from the north.” What seems clear is that both of Jeremiah’s visions are bleak foreshadows of doom.
Rabbi Benjamin Lau, however, offers a an entirely different take on these prophecies. He tries to link these visions to Jeremiah’s suggested mission. Since Jeremiah was charged “to build and to plant,” Lau asserts, perhaps these visions were intended to offer the nation options. The “shaked,” for Lau, represents life and growth, while the “sir nafuah” can be understood to be a “sira” – a thorn bush, something used to provide kindling for a fire, and meant to represent destruction. (Jeremiah – Goralo Shel Hozeh, pp. 40-41)
Seen this way, Jeremiah’s prophecy is not about Judah’s inevitable destruction. Rather, he was emphasizing that fateful times were ahead, and that making the right choice would be critical to their future. For Lau, Jeremiah’s vision is a reminder that one must see the world we live in clearly and critically, weighing our options wisely and, most importantly, to choose the path of life and not destruction
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.
The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives.
Rashei Yeshiva: Rabbi Joel Levy & Dr. Joshua Kulp.
Rabbi Joel Roth, Rosh Yeshiva Emeritus .
Sponsors – The Conservative Yeshiva would like to thank the following for their generous support of the Haftarah Commentary: