Posts Tagged ‘exile’

Once again I offer a new, narrative presentation of the 3rd chapter of the book of Jeremiah, incorporating classic commentaries into the text. The color coding is as follows: 

Rashi

Targum

Radak

Metzudah

My own words (for clarity)

Please enjoy, comment and share. And without further ado:

Jeremiah continued speaking in the name of HaShem. (1) “I could say you are no longer worthy of me, for if a man sends away his wife, and she goes from him and becomes the wife of another man, will the first husband return to her again? Behold, the land would surely be corrupted by such an act! And you have been unfaithful with many lovers! Nevertheless, return to Me! (2) Lift up your eyes upon the high places and see! Where have you not lied down? Upon the ways you have sat, ready for your lovers, like an Arab in the wilderness, and you have corrupted the land with your unfaithfulness and your evil. (3) The early rains have been held back, and the latter rains did not occur, yet you have had the brazenness of an unfaithful woman, you have refused to be ashamed. (4) If only from this moment you would repent of your wickedness and call to Me, ‘My Father, You are the Teacher of my youth!’ (5) Would your Lord bear against you forever that which you sinned toward Him? Would He hold onto it for eternity? He would not hold onto it! Behold, you have declared, ‘We will not come to You again,’ and that evil you will perform, paying no mind to repentance, and you will succeed in rebelling absolutely.

(6) In the days of King Josiah, HaShem commanded Jeremiah to bring back the Ten Tribes of Israel. A portion of them returned in the 18th year of Josiah (Rashi, v. 12). HaShem said to Jeremiah, “Did you see what the wayward Ten Tribes of Israel did? They would go up on every high mountain, and under every fresh tree and act unfaithfully to Me there, serving idols. (7) And I said through My prophets Amos and Hoshea son of Be’eri and others, after she (Israel) had done all this, ‘Return to Me!’ but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw that Israel was exiled, but Judah did not learn their lesson. (8) And I saw that Judah saw everything that happened because wayward Israel was unfaithful, that I sent Israel away, and I gave to Israel her document of divorce, but treacherous Judah, Israel’s sister, did not fear that I would send her away also, and did not consider repentance, rather, Judah went and acted unfaithfully also. (9) Because her unfaithfulness was light in her eyes, the land became corrupt; in her unfaithfulness she served stone and wood. (10) And even with all this, having seen the downfall and punishment of Israel, her treacherous sister Judah did not return to Me with all her heart, rather falsely.” The generation of Josiah showed themselves to be righteous while they were actually wicked. They made images of idols on the insides of their doorways, half on one side and half on the other, so that when those seeking to eliminate idolatry would inspect the homes, the door would be open and the images were not recognizable.

(11) HaShem said to Jeremiah, “Wayward Israel has exonerated herself of judgment, for she did not have from whom to learn, as opposed to treacherous Judah. (12) Go and call out these words to the north, to the places where Israel was exiled, to Assyria, and say, ‘Return O Wayward Israel! I will not send my wrath against you, because I am abundant in kindness. I will not hold your sins against you forever. (See v. 6 above.) (13) But know your sin, for you rebelled against HaShem your God, and you were unfaithful to HaShem, spreading your legs for strangers under every fresh tree, and you did not listen to My voice. (14) Return, O rebellious sons! For I have been your master, and you have therefore been called by My name, and for you to remain among the nations takes away from My honor. Therefore, I will take you out of exile, even though you remain one in a city of gentiles, or two among an entire gentile nation, and I will bring you to Zion. (15) I will give you leaders who perform My will, and they will lead you with knowledge and wisdom. (16) And it will be, when you multiply and increase in the land in those days, they will no longer say, ‘The Ark of the Covenant of HaShem,’ nor will it even be a thought, nor will they remember it, nor will they consider it, nor will that be done with it which was done in Shiloh, when the Ark was brought out to war against the Philistines in the days of Eili the High Priest, for whole congregation will be holy, and I will dwell in the congregation as though it is the Ark. (17) At that time they will call Jerusalem the Throne of HaShem, and all the nations will gather to it for the sake of HaShem’s name, to Jerusalem, and they will not go anymore after the thoughts of their wicked heart. (18) In those days, the House of Judah will walk with the House of Israel, and they will come together from the land of the north to the land that I have given as an inheritance to their forefathers, becoming one kingdom.

(19) “I had thought, ‘How can I place you, My daughter, My congregation and My nation, among sons, among other nations, among idol worshippers?’ Therefore I set aside a better portion for you, giving you a desirable land, a portion that is the envy of the host of nations, and I said, ‘Call me Father, and do not turn away from Me.’ (20) However, you did not do as I wished, rather like a woman who betrays her beloved because he is unable to provide her needs, so you betrayed Me, O House of Israel, though I provide you with every good thing. (21) Over the rise, in the near future, the sound of the begging cries of the Children of Israel can be heard, for they have perverted their ways, they have forgotten HaShem their God. (22) Return O rebellious sons! I will forgive your rebellion!’”

Yirmiyahu then instructed the people to confess to HaShem and say, “Behold, we have come to You, for you are HaShem our God! (23) Indeed, for naught we hoped for salvation from false gods that we worshipped upon hills and in multitudes upon mountains! Indeed, by HaShem our God is the salvation of Israel! (24) Because of our shame, that we worshipped false gods, the toil of our fathers has been consumed from our youth, their sheep and their cattle, their sons and their daughters. (25) We will lie down in shame because of our sins, and our degradation will cover us, for we and our fathers have sinned to HaShem our God from our youth until this day, and we did not listen to the voice of HaShem our God.”

I have rendered Jeremiah Chapter 1 into a flowing English narrative incorporating selections of classic commentaries, primarily Rashi, also drawing from Targum and Radak. I would love for this to be a springboard for discussion.

Jeremiah, Chapter 1

Jeremiah son of Hilkiah, a Kohen (priest) from Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, was descended from Rahab the harlot. Despite his humble lineage, he was more righteous than those in his generation who were of prestigious lineage, and therefore was chosen by God to rebuke his generation. Jeremiah began prophesying in the 13th year of King Josiah son of Amon, when the Divine Presence (Shechinah) began to dwell upon him. He prophesied throughout the rest of Josiah’s reign, and throughout the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah, and the reign of Zedekiah son of Josiah, until the 11th year of Zedekiah, in the 5th month, when Jerusalem was exiled.

God said to Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. I had already revealed to Adam, from the beginning of time, who the prophets of each generation would be for all time, including you. Before you emerged from the womb, I prepared you for this purpose. I already told Moses, ‘I will raise up a prophet for them… like you’ (Deuteronomy 18:18). This prophecy refers to you, Jeremiah. You are a prophet like Moses, for just as Moses rebuked Israel, so shall you rebuke Israel. Just as Moses prophesied for forty years, so shall you prophesy for forty years. I have made you a prophet who will prophesy to Israel, a nation that behaves as though it is the same as the other nations of the world, not fulfilling the unique mission that I have commanded them. You will also prophesy regarding the calamities that will befall the nations of the world because of their wickedness.”

Jeremiah said to God: “But Lord, behold, I am unable to rebuke the people, for I am yet a lad. Moses rebuked the people close to his death. By that time, Israel already regarded Moses highly because of all the miracles he had performed for their benefit throughout many years. He took them out of Egypt and split the sea for them. He brought down the manna and swarms of quail for them to eat. He gave them the Torah and drew water from the rock. Therefore he could also rebuke them and they would listen. But you ask me to rebuke them at the very beginning of my career!”

God said to Jeremiah: “Do not say, ‘I am a lad,’ for you shall go to the nations of the world if I send you to them, and you shall speak to the people of Israel the words I tell you. Do not fear them, for I am with you, to save you.”

God sent His prophetic words and arranged them in Jeremiah’s mouth. God said to Jeremiah: “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have appointed you this day over the nations and over the kingdoms to uproot and to smash and to annihilate and to destroy, for as you prophesy regarding them, so shall befall them. But as for Israel, you are appointed to build and to plant, if they listen and repent.”

God spoke to Jeremiah, saying, “What do you see, Jeremiah?”

Jeremiah said, “I see an almond branch, representing a king who is quick to do evil, as the almond tree is quicker to blossom than other trees.” 

God said to Jeremiah, “You have seen well. Just as this almond blossoms more quickly than other trees, so am I quick to carry out my word. It takes twenty-one days for the almond to ripen, just as there shall be twenty-one days from the 17th of Tamuz, when the walls of Jerusalem will be breached, until the 9th of Av, when the Temple will be destroyed.”

God spoke to Jeremiah again, saying, “What do you see?”

Jeremiah said, “I see a boiling pot, bubbling up on the north side.”

God said to Jeremiah, “From Babylonia, which is in the north, shall the evil come forth upon all the inhabitants of the land. For behold, I am calling to all the families of the kingdoms of the north, and each man shall set his seat at the opening of the gates of Jerusalem, and upon all its walls around, and upon all the cities of Judah. And I shall pronounce judgment upon Judah and Jerusalem for all their evil, for abandoning me and burning incense to other gods, and bowing to the works of their hands. And you, Jeremiah, brace yourself, and rise up, and speak to them all that I shall command you. Do not fear them, lest I break you before them. Behold, today I have made you strong as a fortified city and as a pillar of iron and as copper walls to pronounce retribution against all the inhabitants of the land: the kings of Judah, its officers, its priests and the common people. They will judge you and strive against you to suppress your prophetic words, but they will not succeed against you, for I am with you, to save you.”

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In the final chapter of the book of Isaiah, amidst a description of the return of the Jewish exiles to the land of Israel, the prophet tells us:

They (the gentiles) will bring all your brethren from all the nations as an offering to the Almighty… and I shall take from among them (the gentile nations), too, for Kohanim (priests) and Levites, said the Almighty.

Astounding! The Kohanim (priests) and Levites were appointed based on lineage, namely, the Kohanim were the descendants of Aaron and the Levites the descendants of Levi. These groups, respectively, were granted special privileges among the Israelites, notably regarding special service in the Temple for which all other Israelites were disqualified, as well as receiving tithes and other portions as gifts. If even fellow Israelites were disqualified from these positions, how could gentiles, at some later stage in history, be chosen to perform these roles? Let us examine Rashi’s comments here:

“and I shall take from among them, too, for Kohanim and Levites” – ‘From the peoples bringing them and from those brought I will take Kohanim and Levites that are presently concealed among the gentiles due to coercion,* though before Me the Kohanim and Levites among them are revealed, and I will sift them out from among them…’

*[NOTE: “Coercion” here may refer to forced conversion, kidnap or rape that took place over the generations.]

Rashi’s comments are brought to even greater light in the wake of modern genetic studies that have not only shown a genetic link between all Jewish communities worldwide, but most famously have confirmed the accuracy of those Jews that self-identify as Kohanim, an identity preserved over thousands of years by oral tradition alone! Modern science has isolated a genetic marker shared uniquely by male Kohanim, proving their descent from a common ancestor (Aaron) dating back to Biblical times. As an extension of this study, a number of non-Jewish communities have been tested for this genetic marker, and in some cases it has been found to exist even among some non-Jewish individuals, indicating genetic admixture at some point in history, usually occurring, as mentioned in the earlier note, through forced conversion, kidnap or rape.

For more on this, see “The Cohanim-DNA Connection”“Jewish Genes”; or for a more technical discussion, see “Y-chromosomal Aaron.”

As such, these new genetic discoveries have brought us closer to the fulfillment of yet another Biblical prophecy!

Isaiah 48:1-2:

Hear this, House of Jacob, who are called the name Israel, and who went forth from the waters of Judah, those who swear in the name of the Lord, and who make mention of the God of Israel, not truthfully and not justly. For  from the Holy City are you called, and upon the God of Israel have you relied, the Lord of Hosts is His name.

Rashi (ad loc):

‘You were not worthy to be redeemed except because you were called those from the Holy City (Jerusalem).’ It was she (Jerusalem) that caused them not to be exiled in the days of Sancheriv with the Ten Tribes… who have no redemption.

Isaiah 10:17:

“And the light of Israel shall be for a fire, and his Holy One for a flame; and it shall burn and devour his thorns and his briers in one day.”

(JPS 1917 translation)

Rashi comments:

“‘The Light of Israel’ — the Torah in which Hezekiah is engaged [in study] will be for a fire for Sennacherib.”

This chapter of Isaiah concerns the conquest of the Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrian Empire under King Sennacherib (Heb. ‘Sancheriv’). The prophet foretells that while the Tribes of Israel will be vanquished and carried away into exile, the Kingdom of Judah, comprised of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, under the leadership of King Hezekiah, are to survive, protected by a miracle.

What is that miracle? The fire and flame produced by “the light of Israel and his Holy One.” And what is that light? “The Torah in which Hezekiah is engaged [in study].”

According to the prophet Isaiah (as understood by Rashi), the merit by which Israel is protected during times of siege from its foes is the merit of Torah study.

Ironically, as Israel’s very existence once again stands threatened by its formidable rival to the east, Iran, with its development of nuclear weapons capability, the very issue of the stability of the core (or corps) of Torah learners has become threatened from within Israel’s own ranks. Much heated debate and division prevails now as forces within the Israeli legislature move to suspend the laws that since the founding of the state have protected the Jew’s right to defer military service in favor of full-time Torah study. This “status quo” has been attacked by left-wing elements for decades as promoting a system whereby the religious community “leeches” off the state while not paying for their privileges with military service. However, this view is not only one-sided, but shortsighted.

During my years of study in yeshiva in Israel, the Rosh Yeshiva (dean of the yeshiva) made a point of explaining that our responsibility to learn Torah is not merely to ourselves or our community, but to the entire nation of Israel. Our learning, he told us, granted the Jewish people the merit to continued Divine favor despite constant existential threat. His words were but an echo of Isaiah’s above sentiment.

Occasionally, the Israeli government would send “inspectors” to the yeshiva to meet and make an account of each individual student to make sure the yeshiva had not fabricated the names on their roster to garner larger financial benefits from the government. On these days we would usually be interrupted from our studies to wait on a long line outside the office until our turn to come in and present our IDs to the inspecting officer.

The Rosh Yeshiva related that on one of these occasions, the inspector asked him, “You religious folk choose not to serve in the Israeli army. You do not support your country. You are not true Zionists! Why then do you take money from our government?”

The Rosh Yeshiva replied, “On the contrary, we are the staunchest Zionists in all the land!”

“How so?” asked the inspector, puzzled.

“If we were to refuse this money from the government, we would be preventing the state from accruing the immeasurable merit of supporting Torah study. It is this merit that grants the State of Israel its strongest warrant for Divine protection. So you see, sir, by allowing ourselves to be the benefactors of government funds, we offer the state the strongest support possible. We are the true Zionists!”

If only these wise words would be heard and understood by the powers governing the modern Jewish State. If only our political leaders would be wise enough to learn the lessons of our glorious history, recorded by our prophets not for the purpose of textbook study but to be implemented as our ethical compass for all generations.

May the Jewish people become wise to these lessons, and embrace the community of Torah learners as “the light of Israel,” the greatest contributors to Jewish survival, and the true illuminators of Jewish destiny.

(Also see this post.)

(Check out this current news item on the topic.)

(July 16, 2012: Hear it from Rabbi Ovadia Yosef or from Rabbi Shlomo Amar.)