Rosh Hashanah Second Day
2 Tishre 5768
September 14, 2007
Jeremiah was the prophet of the generation of the destruction of the First Temple. He beckoned. He cajoled. He did all that he could to keep the nation from teetering over the precipice and falling into the abyss. When it was too late and the die had been cast, he described in full fury the repercussions of the destruction and exile, both physical and spiritual. This same Jeremiah is also the prophet who in his nation\’s bleakest hour inspired his people to hope for redemption and reconciliation with God. He let them know that they were still God\’s people, not forgotten nor abandoned. The return that he prophesied was not to be exclusively physical, a restoration to wellbeing in one\’s homeland; it would also be spiritual in nature, a reconciliation of the nation\’s relationship with God, which had unraveled through the nation\’s disloyalty and immorality.
In this special haftarah for the second day of Rosh Hashanah, Jeremiah addressed himself to the exiles of the southern kingdom who had been vanquished generations before the fall of the southern kingdom, Judea, and the destruction of the Temple. The northern kingdom, Israel, which was also sometimes known by the name of its dominant tribe Ephraim, was already in exile. Jeremiah sought to reassure them that this situation was not eternal and that their alienation from God should not be considered the norm: \”Thus said the Lord: \’The people escaped from the sword, found favor in the wilderness; when Israel was marching homeward the Lord revealed Himself to me [Jeremiah] of old (mei-rakhok), eternal love (v\’ahavat olam) I [God] conceived for you then; therefore I continue My grace to you.\” (Verses 2-3)
Jeremiah reminded the exiles of their sacred history and of their favor in God\’s eyes during their trek through the desert at the end of their exile in Egyptian. This was obviously intended to inspire in them an analogy with their present condition where they felt abandoned and unwanted. He then told them that even though God revealed Himself to them in earlier times and in a distant place (Egypt) far from their own experience that God still loved them. His love for them was not ephemeral nor fleeting but rather was and remained an \”eternal love\”. (See Y. Hoffman, Jeremiah, Mikra L\’Yisrael, pp. 586-7)
This same message should not be lost on our generation. We, too, often feel distant from God, often because of our actions or inactions. We, too, sometimes feel God\’s remoteness from us both in time and space; that the inspirational events of our tradition touched earlier generations but are distant from what is happening in our lives. This sentiment is particularly disquieting during these Days of Awe, when we really wish to restore our relationships with God. Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, the Sfat Emet (the second Gerer Rebbe), offers us a valuable insight into Jeremiah\’s words. He reads the word \”merakhok\” as \”from a distance\”. Even when God seems incredibly distant from us; from that very distance, God will reveal Himself, making Himself known and felt. (See Sfat Emet, Moedim 1, Or Etzion ed., p. 178) Out of this rapprochement will blossom God\’s eternal love.
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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