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Parshat Behar

Parshat Behar (Jeremiah 32:6-27)
In Israel: May 9, 2015 /20 Iyar 5775

Jeremiah was the prophet of the destruction of the First Temple and the First Commonwealth. He constantly preached that Judea’s destruction was inevitable, with no possible reprieve. This unrelenting message remained unchanged throughout his entire career, eventually raising the ire of the king and landing him in prison. (See 32:1-5) If this was the crux of his message, what is one to make of the seeds of hope found in God’s message to the imprisoned prophet: “Behold, Hanamel, the son of Shallum your uncle, will come to you, saying: ‘Buy my field in Anathoth, for you are the next in succession to redeem it by purchase .’” (verse 7)

What makes this prophecy so dramatic? It occurs during the very siege which will bring about the downfall of Jerusalem, when the nation is at its nadir, distraught, doomed. This fate was the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s message. So, this new prophecy was surprising since it totally contradicted everything he had said until this time. Besides that, it seemed preposterous considering the nation’s impending doom. After all, who purchases land in the face of impending conquest? When this prophecy comes true and his uncle comes to him, Jeremiah faithfully fulfills its conditions in full but the impression it made on him is only felt in the prayer he offers afterward: “But after I had given the deed to Baruch ben Neriah, I prayed to the Lord: ‘Ah, Lord God, You made heaven and earth with Your great might and outstretched arm. Nothing is wondrous to You! You show kindness to the thousandth generation… You showed signs and wonders in the land of Egypt with lasting effect and won renown in Israel and among mankind to this very day. You freed your people Israel from the land of Egypt… Your gave them the land that You swore to their fathers to give them… but they did not listen to Your teaching; they did nothing of what You commanded them to do. Therefore You have caused all this misfortune to befall them… What you have threatened has come to pass – as You see. Yet You, Lord God said to me: Buy the land for money and call in witnesses – when the city is at the mercy of the Chaldeans (Babylonians)!’” (32:16-25)

Jeremiah is nonplussed! God’s message is contradictory. What does God really want? How do the pieces of God’s message fit together? Only the beginning of God’s message is contained in the haftarah:  “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too wondrous for Me?” (27) The intention of this ending is that God is capable of anything and for Him these seemingly contradictory messages are anything but contradictory. God’s complete reply is, however, more nuanced. He recounts for them the misdeeds which led to catastrophe and judgment but then adds His measure of hope: “I will bring them back and cause them to dwell safely and they shall be My people and I will be their God…  For thus said the Lord: ‘As I have brought this terrible disaster upon this people, so I am going to bring upon them vast good fortune which I have promised them. And fields shall again be purchased in this land of which you say, ‘It is a desolation, without man or beast; it is delivered into the hands of the Chaldeans.’” (41-43)  (See B. Lau, Yermiahu – Goral shel Hozeh, pp. 219-225)

God’s message is twofold. One’s actions in life are not without consequences. God wants us to know that. It is a crucial lesson. Still, He also wants us to know that this message is not of desperation. When we fall, there is still room to rise up again and rebuild. God will help and give the strength.

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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