July 10, 2004
Jeremiah’s initiation as a prophet marks the first of three special haftarot which precede Tisha b’Av – t’lata d’poranuta (the three haftarot of rebuke). Jeremiah, the prophetic messenger most associated with the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem, was one of only a few prophets whose mission was inaugurated with a special introductory prophecy (Moses – Exodus 3:1-4,17; Gideon – Judges 6:11-24; Samuel – 1 Samuel 3:4-14; Isaiah 6; Ezekiel 1:3-3:3,9). Each of these initiations describe how a regular individual, without prior preparation, was chosen by God to bear His message to others. These prophetic initiations were marked by a dialogue between God and the prophet which included the following elements: the prophetic first meeting, the appointment, description of the mission, an attempt by the prophet to decline the appointment, God’s refusal, a divine sign, and divine encouragement. (Yair Hoffman, Jeremiah – Mikra L’Yisrael, p. 104)
The following midrash singles Jeremiah out among this select group as being the one prophet comparable to Moses: “Rabbi Judah bar Simon opened his drash with the following verse: “I will raise up for them a prophet like you [Moses] from among their brethren.” (Deut. 18:18) It is written elsewhere: “There arose no prophet again in Israel like Moses. (Deut. 34:20) So how can it be said that He [God] will raise up a prophet like you? In what sense will the prophet be like you? He will be like Moses in giving rebuke. You find that whatever is written about Moses is also written about Jeremiah. This one prophesied for forty years and that one prophesied for forty years. This one prophesied about Israel and Judah and that one prophesied about Israel and Judah. As regards Moses, the members of his tribe opposed him, and as to Jeremiah, the members of his tribe opposed him. Moses was thrown into the river and Jeremiah was thrown into the pit. Moses was saved by a slave girl (his sister) and Jeremiah was saved by a slave boy (see Jeremiah 38:10). Moses came with words of rebuke and so did Jeremiah. (adapted from Pesikta d’Rav Cahana 13:6 Mandelbaum ed. p. 229)
The role of the prophet as moral barometer is, of course, fitting for this Shabbat since the period of three weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av is a time of national contrition since Jews look inward when faced with tragedy, but this role is not where religious leadership ends. Professor Y. Muffs has noted another similarity between Moses and Jeremiah. Both of these prophets also acted as bold advocates for the people before God (see Jeremiah 14-15). (Muffs, Love and Joy, pp. 27-30)
These two roles mark the signs of biblical prophecy and remain the cornerstone of Jewish religious leadership throughout the ages – messenger of God to the people and advocate for the people before God.