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Mattot 5768

Parshat Mattot
(Jeremiah 1:1-2:3)
July 26, 2008
23 Tammuz 5768

This haftarah is the first of three special haftarot which precede Tisha b\’Av. These haftarot are known as the \”tlata d\’puranuta – the three of rebuke\”. This first haftarah examines Jeremiah\’s initiation as a prophet. What makes someone a prophet? This question has been debated throughout the course of history. If we examine the content of Jeremiah\’s initiation, we do not see an individual who desires the position, nor do we see someone who sees himself as worthy of task. Rather, God must impose the commission upon him: \”Before I created you in the womb, I selected you; I appointed you a prophet concerning the nations. I [Jeremiah] replied: \’Ah, Lord God! I don\’t know how to speak, for I am still a boy.\’ And the Lord said to me: \’Do not say, \’I am still a boy,\’ But go wherever I send you and speak whatever I command you. Have no fear of them, for I am with you to deliver you – declares the Lord.\’\’ (4-7)

Who qualifies to be a prophet? The answer of Jeremiah\’s prophecy seems to be anyone chosen by God. This midrash from the period of the Talmud establishes a different criterion. Who is a prophet? Someone who is similar to Moses:

\”Rabbi Judah bar Simon opened with the following verse: \’I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brethren; and I will put My word in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not give heed to my words which he will speak in My name, I myself will require it of him.\’ (Deut. 18:18-19) Elsewhere it is written: \’There arose no prophet again in Israel like Moses. (Deut. 34:10) [How are we to understand this contradiction?] This means that there is no one who can rebuke like you. [Otherwise,] you find that whatever is written about Moses is also written about Jeremiah. [1] This one prophesied for forty years and that one prophesied for forty years. [2] This one prophesied concerning Judah and Israel and that one prophesied concerning Judah and Israel. [3] This one, his own tribe stood in opposition to him and that one, his own tribe stood in opposition to him. [4] This one was cast into the Nile and that one was cast into the pit (prison). [5] This one was saved by a slave woman, and that one was saved by a slave. [6] This one came to offer rebuke and that one also came to offer rebuke. This is why Scripture introduces Jeremiah, as it is written: \”These are the words of Jeremiah.\” (Jeremiah 1:1) (adapted from Pesikta d\’Rav Kahana 13:6 Mandelbaum ed. p. 229)

Who is a prophet? According to this midrash, someone who shares a biography similar to that of Moses. The prophet is someone who cares deeply about his people, someone who cares about their fate and destiny, about keeping them on the right path, who is undeterred by their response and will carry out his mission without submitting to the difficulties which might confound or complicate that mission. The Jewish people should thank God that it has had such individuals in its history and should pray to God that he share such individuals with it in the days to come.

About This Commentary

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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