Avraham ben Yaakov


The first part of Jeremiah Chapter 17 (until v 14) is read in the synagogue in the Haftara of Parshas BEHUKOSAI - a fitting match to the parshah that contains the blessings and curses at the end of Leviticus. This Haftara actually begins with the closing verses of Jer. Chapter 16 vv 19-20, which foretell how the nations will come from the ends of the earth and reject the idols they have inherited from their fathers. The opening verse of ch 17, "The sin of Judah is inscribed with an iron pen." is a continuation of the preceding verses, as if to say that since even the heathens will eventually abandon their idols, the sin of Judah in going after idols, as described in the ensuing verses, is even more serious (Metzudas David).

V 5: "Accursed is the man that puts his trust in man." Following on from the previous verses condoning the people's idolatry, this curse of those who put their trust in man can be construed as a curse against those who put all their trust in their own human efforts (turning human power into their idol) instead of trusting in God and following His law. Thus Rashi gives as an example of putting one's trust in man the farmer who says he will sow during the Sabbatical year in order to eat - not trusting that God has the power to send livelihood even to those who leave the land to lie fallow. The curse and blessing here in Jeremiah (vv 5-8) relate thematically to those in Leviticus, which are built upon a structure of sevens of which the Sabbatical year is an integral part. Later in this chapter, the section in vv 21-27 also centers on the concept of the Sabbath.

Vv 9-10: The heart is most deceitful, yet God knows the heart and gives each person according to his ways.

V 11: Rooted in the people's idolatry of wealth and human power was their exploitation and injustice - but according to the rule of "measure for measure", they would lose all their unjust gain, just like the cuckoo bird tries to draw other birds' chicks after her but cannot succeed for long.

V 12: RaDaK in the name of R. Saadiah Gaon interprets v 12 as the continuation from the end of v 11, which tells how the unjust will fall. What they will fall from is what is described in v 12 - God's Throne of Glory, from which the souls of Israel are "hewn". From this verse the rabbis learned that the earthly Temple is directly aligned to the Throne of Glory. Even in the midst of his reproofs and prophecies of the coming destruction of Jerusalem , Jeremiah evokes its supreme sanctity.

V 14: "Heal me, HaShem, and I will be healed." The Men of the Great Assembly introduced this verse (changed into the plural, "heal US.") into the blessing for healing in the Shmonah-Esray prayer repeated thrice-daily every weekday. As we see from the ensuing verses, here in Jeremiah this prayer is a personal prayer for himself as he struggles in the face of the recalcitrant people and in particular against his detractors and opponents.

Vv 19ff: "Go stand in the gate." Against the backdrop of growing conspiratorial opposition to Jeremiah's prophecies, God instructs the prophet to make a very high profile appearance at the main public gate of the city - where his words will reach the ear of the "kings of Judah " (i.e. the king and his sons/heirs, RaDaK) as well as the mass of the people. He was then to go to all the other gates of the city to make sure the message would reach everyone.

As a walled city whose gates were locked at night, Jerusalem was halachically RESHUS HA-YACHID, a "private domain" (Eiruvin 6b) with respect to the Sabbath law prohibiting carrying of objects from RESHUS HA-YACHID to RESHUS HA-RABIM, a "public domain" (such as a highway or unwalled public area). The purpose of Jeremiah's standing at the gates of the city to deliver his rebuke about the people's violation of the Shabbos laws was to emphasize that their principle offense was their blatant violation of the prohibition of carrying from domain to domain on Shabbos. The carrying of even a mere pin from inside the gate to outside or vice versa might not appear to be an act of labor of any importance such as to make it worthy of being forbidden on Shabbos. Yet the entire Oral Law relating to Shabbos begins with this prohibition (Talmud Shabbos 2a), which is learned from the written text in Exodus 36:6. There, "bringing" materials for the building of the Sanctuary is mentioned in the context of the labors involved in its construction, all of which are forbidden on Shabbos.

Jeremiah's rebuke about the violation of Shabbos in Jerusalem , which is echoed in Nehemiah 13:15, is of supreme relevance today. The rabbis teach that "all who keep the Shabbos according to its laws will be forgiven, even if they worshiped idols as in the generation of Enosh" (Shabbos 118b). Jeremiah 17:24-26 provide Biblical support for the rabbinic teaching that if Israel were to keep two Shabboses according to the halachah, they would immediately be redeemed.


Vv 1-12: Allegory of the Potter and its interpretation:

V 6: "Behold as clay in the hands of the potter, so are you in My hand, O House of Israel". This verse, which is woven into the fabric of the PIYUTIM (liturgical poems) of the Yom Kippur Kol Nidrey service, raises profound questions since it suggests that man's evil inclination is in God's hands such that man may not always have the power to control himself. If so, he could easily turn this into an excuse for his own failures, giving an opening to the wicked to justify themselves (cf. Berachos 32a). On the other hand, if the evil inclination is ultimately in God's hands, it does mean that we have the ability to gain mastery over it if we constantly ask and entreat God to give this to us.

Since God is the "potter" = YOTZER = "Creator", He has the power to make and/or break everything. The entrenched establishment of the priests and the powerful leaders of Judea wanted to believe that the holy city of Jerusalem was solid and could not be destroyed. But Jeremiah's message was that the "pot" was all too fragile, for (v 11) "thus says HaShem, behold I am fashioning (YOTZER) evil against you." because of the people's infidelity to the Source of living waters.

V 18: "They say, come let us devise plans against Jeremiah." The more assertively Jeremiah took his message of rebuke out to the people in the gates and public places of the city, the more his enemies began to plot against him. Jeremiah knew that they literally wanted to murder him (v 23) and prayed to God to punish them, because he had only sought their good while they had dug a pit for him (v 20).



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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