Haftarah Parshat Pinchas
July 14, 2012
24 Tammuz 5772
This week’s haftarah marks the first of three special haftarot, the Tlata de’Poranuta (the three haftarot of admonition) read during the three weeks between the Seventeenth of Tamuz and Tisha b’Av. This period, known as “bein hametzarim – between the breeches” (See Lam. 1:3) serves to remind us, in particular, of two tragedies: the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem and subsequent destruction of the First Temple and then some six hundred years later, the Roman siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Second Temple.
The first haftarah opens with Jeremiah’s initiation as a prophet. God had designated Jeremiah as a prophet from conception, initiating him as a prophet in his youth. Jeremiah’s task was not to be an easy one since he was chosen to be the prophetic harbinger of the destruction of Judea, Jerusalem and the First Temple. When God apprised Jeremiah of his mission, Jeremiah attempted to beg off from the task: “Ah Lord! I don’t know to speak for I am still a youth.” (1:6) God, however, allayed Jeremiah’s fears: “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.” (1:7) Jeremiah is not unlike others who tried to avoid the role of prophet. Even Moses tried to refuse the role. He also pleaded an inability to speak articulately. (See Exodus 4:10) God, of course, would not accept his candidates’ refusals.
In 1894, Solomon Buber published a previously unknown midrash text he called Midrash Agaddah. This relatively late midrash (Buber assumes it is from the 12-13th century) contains an interesting embellishment of the dialogue between God and Jeremiah: “Said Rabbi Berechiah bar Yitzhak: It is written, ‘I will raise up a prophet for them from among their own people’ (Deut. 18:18) Now then Jeremiah, go out and prophecy amongst the people of Israel. Jeremiah replied: ‘Ah Lord! I don’t know to speak for I am still a boy.’ God replied: ‘You say you are but a youth! Regarding Moses, it was said that he was but a youth. The Israelites were also known as youth, as it written: ‘I fell in love with Israel when he was but a youth.’ (Hosea 11:1) Moses prophesied regarding Israel. You, too, will prophesy regarding Israel. Moses brought them out of Egypt and you (Jeremiah) will bring them out of the land of Israel. Moses crossed them over the sea and you will cause them to traverse the Euphrates River. Moses brought down the manna and you will say: ‘All her inhabitants sigh in their search for bread’ (Lamentations 1:11). Moses brought forth water from the rock and you will say: ‘The tongue of the infant cleaves to its palate for thirst.’ (Lam. 4:4) Moses taught them Torah and you will proclaim: ‘Her king and her leaders are in exile. There is no instruction (Torah).’ (Lam. 2:9) Moses purified them and you will say to them: ‘Her uncleanness clings to her skirt.’ (Lam. 1:9) So, don’t say: ‘I am still a youth, but go wherever I send you.’ (Adapted from Midrash Agaddah Parshat Matot Buber ed. p. 160)
Moses was the prophet of redemption. Jeremiah was assigned to be his opposite. Both were God’s messengers, carrying out God’s assignments. Neither prophet had an easy time. Still, according to the above midrash, both were necessary and each of these prophets delivered the requisite “medicine” when it was needed. Such roles are not always “fun”. Still, as this midrash indicates, this does not necessarily give us the possibility to decline when we are called to what is right.