In this week’s haftarah, Jeremiah prophesies about the destruction of the First Temple. God commands Jeremiah to leave Jerusalem and travel to Anatot to buy a field from his cousin Chananel (Jeremiah 32).
It can be suggested that when God told Jeremiah the Temple was doomed, Jeremiah clung to the city. While he knew the word of God was true, his love for the Temple was so great that he did not want to leave. Part of him may have felt that by remaining nearby he would be able to infuse his very life, his very spirit, his very breath, into the Temple to keep it standing.
Jeremiah obeyed God’s word and left to buy a field. This truly was an act of faith, for it showed that even in the midst of doom one must always believe the Jewish people will prevail. Jeremiah certainly did what he knew he had to do. Still, by leaving Jerusalem he broke the umbilical cord between himself and the Temple. And the Temple was destroyed.
This interpretation was offered by Rav Soloveitchik after the death of his wife, Tonya. He explained how the circumstances of his wife’s death corresponded to the Jeremiah story.
The Rav often spoke of his wife in the most romantic terms. He said she was his bayit, his home, his Temple. When doctors told the Rav that Tonya was terminally ill, he understood the prognosis was bleak. But like Jeremiah, he felt if he remained with her physically he could keep her alive and infuse part of his being into her.
And so it was. For months the Rav prayed, studied and conducted his business while at his wife’s side. One day Tonya urged him to travel to New York to finalize a contribution made by a generous philanthropist to Yeshiva University. The Rav hesitated, but the doctors assured him that Tonya was not in danger that day. He flew to New York and was successful in securing the gift. As he stepped off the plane upon arriving back in Boston, he was notified that Tonya had lapsed into a coma. Entering his wife’s hospital room, the Rav found her unconscious. A short time later, Tonya Soloveitchik died.
While it is true that none of us has the power to keep alive everything we love forever, our physical presence sometimes has the ability to comfort and heal. Staying close to the people and places we cherish helps infuse them with life. This Shabbat let us remain close to those we love. Let us resolve to connect ourselves powerfully to Eretz Yisrael and Jerusalem.
About the Author: Rabbi Avi Weiss is founding president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and senior rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. His memoir of the Soviet Jewry movement, “Open Up the Iron Door,” was recently published by Toby Press.
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