July 30, 2009
9 Menachem Av 5769
Shacharit:Haftarah – Jeremiah 8:13-9:23
Jeremiah is the prophet most associated with the destruction of the First Temple. Before destruction\’s onslaught, he examined its perceived causes, he adjured his people to reflect and mend their ways, and when the destruction occurred, he captured its horrific imagery in words, measuring its full impact on the nation and its people. The haftarah for Tisha b\’Av reflects the catastrophic consequences of these tragic times from beginning to end. The special haftarah for Tisha b\’Av captures this message and is unique among haftarot in that it does not offer a single word of solace. It seems that one day a year the sages wanted us to wallow in the bitter tragedies that have befallen our people.
Rarely, in their examination of national calamity, do the prophets find blame in the enemies of Israel. Instead, their focus is on the failings of the society that they live in. This introspective approach of the prophets is unusual if not unique in religious literature and to my mind in national literature as well. Jeremiah chalks up the destruction to moral malaise, and in particular, to the abandonment of God and His Torah: \”What man is so wise that he understands this? To whom has the Lord\’s mouth spoken, so that he can explain it? Why is the land in ruins, laid waste like a wilderness, with none passing through? The Lord replied: \’Because they forsook My Torah that I set before them. They did not obey Me and they did not follow it, but followed their own willful heart and followed the Baalim, as their fathers had taught them.\” (9:11-13)
In the following midrash, the above verses are used by sages who lived during the Talmudic period to describe the reason for the demise of Jewish life in the land during their lifetime: \”R. Abba bar Kahana opened with the verse What man is so wise that he understands this? To whom has the Lord\’s mouth spoken, so that he can explain it? Why is the land in ruins, laid waste like a wilderness, with none passing through? (Jer. 9:11). R. Simeon ben Yohai taught in a Baraita: When you see whole villages of people plucked up and removed from their place in the Land of Israel, know that this fate befell them because they failed to provide fees for teachers of Scripture arid teachers of Mishnah. What is the proof? The verse: Why is the land in ruins, laid waste like a wilderness, with none passing through it? (ibid.) These words are followed directly by: \”The Lord replied: \’Because they forsook My Torah\” (Jer. 9:12). [The midrash continues with an anecdote.]
R. [Judah II the Patriarch] sent R. Asi and R. Ammi to go and check up on [the teaching of Torah in] the villages of the Land of Israel. On coming into a settlement, they would say, \”Bring us the guardians of the settlement.\” When the commander of the watch or his lieutenant was brought, Rabbi Asi and Rabbi Ammi would say: Are soldiers the guardians of the settlement? Such may well turn out to be the destroyers of the settlement. Who, then, are the true guardians of the settlement? They are the teachers: the teachers of Scripture and teachers of Mishnah who guard the settlement day and night, imparting knowledge of that \”Wherein thou art to meditate day and night\” (Joshua 1: 8). As Scripture says, \”Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it; except the Lord keep the city, the watchman wakens but in vain\” (Ps. 127:1). (adapted from Pesikta d\’Rav Kahana 15: 5 Mandelbaum ed. p. 253-4)
The sages were well aware that there would be no continuity or growth without emphasizing the importance of education. This fact is true regarding the serious and vibrant future of the Jewish people and nation. It is true for the world as well.
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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