A Faith of Hope
Bamidbar (Numbers) 30:2-32:42; 33:1-36:13 | Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah) 2:4-28, 3:4, 4:1-2
Mattot and Massei are usually coupled together to make a double Torah portion; thus, the haftarah reading for this week will also be a double portion. Herein we are introduced to the ministry and the first messages of the prophet Jeremiah. After a few introductory words about his call, the Holy One speaks to the prophet three words of rebuke to Israel. The first two are brief word-images, those of an almond tree and a boiling pot. The third and last word of this haftarah is a longer sermon consisting primarily of stern rebuke for Israel's spiritual adultery. The haftarah concludes with portions of other sermons that Jeremiah preached. The one in chapter three is another section of rebuke and in chapter four there is an appeal for Israel to come back to the Lord.
According to the ArtScroll Stone Chumash, this portion was not chosen for its connection to the weekly parasha. Rather it was chosen that "the Sages ordained that the Haftorot read on the three Sabbaths between the Seventeenth of Tammuz and the Ninth of Av be drawn from the prophecies that forewarned the nation of the First Temple's Destruction. For it was on the Seventeenth of Tammuz that the enemies of Israel breached Jerusalem's walls and on the Ninth of Av that each of the two Temples was burnt to the ground." In these passages of Jeremiah, the Lord warns of this impending disaster. Two visions regarding the eminent destruction of Judea are particularly vivid.
The Almond Tree
Beginning in Jeremiah 1:11 the Holy One shows Jeremiah the rod of an almond tree followed by the explanation of the vision,
And the word of the Lord came to me saying, "You have seen well, for I am watching over My word to perform it." (Jeremiah 1:12)
Jeremiah surely understood God's explanation clearly. But we may need some help in understanding it. There are two elements of Hebrew thought and language that we need to know in order to unpack this revelation.
First, it is important to see the word play that Jeremiah uses. The Hebrew word translated "almond rod" in verse 1:11, shaked is the same root as the word translated "watching over" in verse 12, shoked . The first is a noun and has different vowels than the second one, which is a verb. This leads us to the second piece of information, the function of the almond tree in Israel. The almond tree is the first to flower in Israel, heralding the beginning of the spring. Thus the delightful blossoming of the almond tree is a harbinger of the season. The first flowers of the spring to blossom, the almond tree is watching for the spring and hastens to enter it.
Just as the almond blossom is a watchful herald of the imminent arrival of springtime in Israel, so God's words to Jeremiah will find their imminent fulfillment. The Lord will not waste time to bring about what He will tell Jeremiah He will do. Just as the almond blossoms tell us that spring will definitely arrive, so will God's words definitely be fulfilled.
The Boiling Pot
Next, in Jeremiah 1:13-19, he is given the vision of a "boiling pot, facing away from the north." The kind of pot being referred to in the Hebrew (sir nafuach) is a large cauldron used for heating a large amount of water, probably for washing. The Hebrew language indicates that the open end of the pot is facing toward the south. The image of the pot boiling is one of calamity, where trouble is stirred up. It seems that the promised trouble would come from the north into Judah and Jerusalem.
In this vision, the Holy One was speaking through the prophet and warning the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem that He was going to send them rulers who would act as judges over them. These rulers would especially surround Jerusalem and dish out their judgment from there (Jeremiah 1:16).
Why from the north? Except for an occasional inroad from the Egyptians in the south, Israel and Judah were continually facing trouble from the north. Their worst enemies, the Arameans and the Assyrians were all in the north of the Land and invaded from the north. However, by the time Jeremiah began his ministry, the main power of the Assyrians was broken by the Babylonians. Even though Babylon was due east of Jerusalem, they would invade Israel from the north because there was a vast desert to cross between Jerusalem and Mesopotamia. Hence, it is safe to assume that when Jeremiah prophesied about trouble coming from the north, it would have been understood that this trouble meant an invasion of the Babylonians.
The visions of the Almond Tree and the Boiling Pot are paradigmatic for Jeremiah's ministry. He will continually preach the coming destruction of Judea, and he will see his words fulfilled in his own lifetime. But in keeping with the custom that the Haftarah should not end on a note of gloom and despair, verses were added from chapters 3 and 4, depicting the recognition by Israel of God as Father and Guide. Though punishment and trouble were inevitable, there was still hope for the future. Ours is never a faith of doom, but a faith of hope.
1. The Stone Edition Chumash,1994, Mesorah Publications ltd., Brooklyn, pg. 1192.
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