With this week’s haftarah, we introduce a new function for the weekly prophetic selection. Until this point, the purpose of the haftarah was to strike a theme similar to one found in the parsha. From this week until we begin Sefer Bereishit, the haftarah (with the exception of V’zot Habracha and, on some years, Ha’azinu) has no connection to the parsha, but rather ties in to the time of year, reminding us of the theme of the season—not the weekly portion.
Today’s haftarah is the first of the “t’lat d’pur’anuta,” the three haftarot of “punishment,” that detail the sins of our people that led up to the destruction of our Beit Hamikdash. The selection is taken from the very beginning of Sefer Yirmiyahu and describes for us Jeremiah’s consecration as God’s agent to the people. Most striking are the parallels we find in Hashem’s first conversation with Yirmiyahu and the one He had with Moshe Rabbeinu. Both humble prophets were reluctant to take on their God-given mission with the excuse that they were not worthy and with the claim that they “could not speak”—Moses contending that he is “k’vad peh,” slow of speech, while Yirmiyahu contending that “na’ar anochi,” I am too young and inexperienced.
But the contrast between the two is perhaps more fascinating than the parallels. Moshe was sent to warn the Egyptians of God’s punishments, to lead Israel out of Egypt and to bring them to the Promised Land. Yirmiyahu was sent to warn Israel of God’s punishments, he ultimately led them out of the Promised Land and tragically brought them back to Egypt.
However, it would be a mistake to see each prophet as one-dimensional. Moshe, too, saw Israel sin and punished, as did Jeremiah, who, like Moshe, prayed for them. And, although Yirmiyahu was given the mission “lintosh v’lintotz, ul’ha’avid v’laharos, to uproot and smash, to destroy and overthrow,” he also was charged “livnot v’linto’a,” to build and to plant.” (Yirmiyahu 1:10)
Leaders of Israel must be able to see the shortcomings of their people—but never be blinded by them. They must bring Hashem’s admonitions to the nation yet always defend them to God. Yirmiyahu would see the exile of his beloved people but would also prophesy of a future when “Od yikanu vatim v’sadot uch’ramim ba’aretz hazot, houses and fields and vineyards will yet be purchased in this land.” (Yirmiyahu 32:15)
Even in the darkness of tragedy, the navi spreads the light of hope. During these three weeks of mourning we must always recognize Hashem’s underlying love for His people. It is a love we see even more clearly today. For our generation has been privileged to see the hopeful future predicted by Yirmiyahu realized in our own time.
By Rabbi Neil N. Winkler
Rabbi Neil Winkler is the Rabbi Emeritus of the Young Israel of Fort Lee and now lives in Israel.