This week is the first of the three haftarot of rebuke that span the three weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av. These correspond to the time between the breaching of the walls of Yerushalayim and the destruction of the First Beit HaMikdash. Our tradition teaches that both Batei HaMikdash were destroyed on Tisha b’Av, which was also the anniversary of the lamentation resulting from the malicious reports of the spies in the desert.
In past years we have examined these haftarot as a group and the underlying theme of an inauspicious time or one dedicated to rebuke and punishment. This week we will look a little more closely at the first haftara of rebuke, taken from the opening passages of the book of Yirmiyahu.
One thing worthy of note in our haftara is that the entirety of the first chapter is read, but the haftara continues three verses into the second. Broadly speaking, this means that the harsh tone of the haftara is mitigated somewhat by the more hopeful messaging of the closing verses. It also introduces a new idea: that Hashem “remembers” for our benefit the loyalty and affection we showed Him when we followed His signs into the wilderness (Yirmiyahu 2:2).
Radak points out on these passages that this is significant in the context of the dire warnings and rebukes that will be Yirmiyahu’s mission to deliver. Hashem is reprimanding us and will yet be bound to cruelly punish us for our transgressions. However, He has never written us off completely nor will He abandon us even in the face of our iniquity. Hashem is reminding us that we are still His people and He is faithful to us as we are to Him – that no matter what happens between us we will always have our time in the desert to remind us of the love between us.
At first glance this is a strange consolation. Our relationship with Hashem in the wilderness was, simply stated, a difficult one. We spent much of the time bickering and actively undermining the efforts of Moshe and Aharon and defying the express will of Hashem. The Yerushalmi in Sanhedrin (10:4) teaches in the name of Rabbi Akiva that the generation of the desert has no share in the World to Come. They are eradicated in this world and are stamped out in the next. But many other sages disagree with this reading. Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi teaches that every generation is entitled to a share in the World to Come.
We learn that in a future time when the “Great Shofar” will be sounded, the lost (or wandering) ones from the land of Egypt will be returned, along with those who disappeared in the land of Ashur. This refers to the generation of the desert and to the ten lost tribes. They will all “prostrate themselves before [Hashem] on the holy mountain in Yerushalayim” (Yeshayahu 27:13). This should come as good news to us, because there is an assertion that has been attributed to the last Lubavitcher Rebbe (but difficult to document) that the generation of the offspring of his followers – those that are middle-aged today – constitute the return of the generation of the wilderness. This was predicated in part on the idea stated in the Zohar that before the final redemption, the generation of the wilderness will return to the world, presumably to rectify and atone for their shortcomings in their previous incarnation.
One source for this idea is the Zohar on Vayera (390) which uses the text in our haftara as its basis: “Rabbi Yonatan said, Why did Moshe die outside the land of Israel? So that everyone in the world will learn that in the future Moshe will be resurrected, just as all the members of his generation will be. These are the individuals who received the Torah and of them the prophet said, ‘I remembered the kindness of your youth.’” According to this reading, Yirmiyahu is speaking to the wicked generation of his contemporaries and also to future generations until the advent of the final redemption. His message, and that of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, is that it remains within the power of all of us, even those who are closest to the end of history, and so furthest from the divine origins of mankind, to find within ourselves and reignite the love we once had for Hashem. Hashem has not forgotten this love, so neither should we.
We need to go deep within ourselves to find what went so wrong as to lead us astray in the face of the miracles we witnessed in the desert, or in the face of the warnings of the prophets in the days when the Beit HaMikdash was standing. We can be that generation that Yirmiyahu is addressing. Hashem remembers our kindness following Him into the wilderness. He doesn’t remember our wicked defiance. He is waiting for us to return to Him so that things may be restored as they should be and we can serve Him on His holy mountain in Yerushalayim as He always intended for us to do.