Haftarah Parshat Pinhas (Jeremiah 1:1-2:3) outside of Israel
July 30, 2016 / 24 Tammuz 5776
Please note: in Israel we read Parshat Matot
This week’s haftarah marks the first of the three special haftarot which precede Tisha b’Av (Tlata d’poranuta). It is also the prophet Jeremiah’s inaugural prophecy. Jeremiah is the prophet of the destruction of the kingdom of Judea. He is the one who sets out to warn the nation of the tragic future which faces them. God tasks Jeremiah with a mission: “See, I appoint you this day over nations and kingdoms: to uproot and pull down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” (1:10)
Immediately following this mission statement, Jeremiah is presented with two prophetic images which God calls upon him to interpret. In the first, Jeremiah is shown a staff which he identifies as a branch from an almond tree (verse 11), while in the second he sees a “seir nafuah” – “boiling pot tipped away from the north” (verse 13) intended to foreshadow the kingdom’s impending doom from the north. This second vision might also be an agricultural vision. As Lau notes, the word “seir” can also mean “thorn bush” which was often used as tinder for a fire. The image might then be that of smoke issuing from a fire.
In a recently published commentary, Rabbi B. Lau has sought to establish a connection between Jeremiah’s appointed mission and the visions which immediately follow it. Jeremiah is called upon to both destroy and to plant. Lau notes that the above visions are an interpretation of Jeremiah’s mission statement presented in chiastic form. His first vision is that of an almond branch which represents Jeremiah’s mission to build and to plant. The second vision is intended to show the alternative, namely, to destroy and overthrow. (Jeremiah – The Destiny of a Seer, pp. 40-41 and notes)
Jeremiah’s mission was to present the nation with its options and to chide it to make the decisions which might save it from destruction. This is not a simple task. Sometimes people and nations tend inexorably toward their fateful doom, blindly seeking out their own destruction without heeding those who would save them from this fate. Jeremiah was tasked with this responsibility but with all his beautiful words and with all of his prophetic insights, he ultimately failed to impress upon his audience the folly of their ways. One prays that in our generation we will not be blind to the choices set before us like Jeremiah’s compatriots.