Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
JEREMIAH CHAPTER 33
A second prophecy now comes to Jeremiah while still imprisoned in the king's prison, as in the previous chapter. This was in Tzedekiah's tenth year, one year prior to the destruction of the Temple , with Jerusalem under siege and the Babylonians encamped all around.
V 2: "So says HaShem its Maker, HaShem Who fashions it to establish it." God's goal is only to build and establish Jerusalem .
Vv 4ff: Just as in the earlier years of his ministry, when peace still reigned, Jeremiah prophesied the opposite of peace - the coming of the sword and imminent exile, so now, with the siege-ramps all around the city and the enemy preparing for the slaughter of its inhabitants, Jeremiah prophesies the opposite of war:
Vv 6ff: "Behold, I am bringing it a remedy and a cure, and I shall heal them and I shall reveal to them an abundance of peace and truth." With the calamity just about to strike, Jeremiah sees way beyond it to the final redemption and the restoration. Judah and the Ten Tribes will return (v 7) and they will be truly cleansed of their sins and forgiven (v 8).
Vv 10-11: "There will again be heard. in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem . the sound of joy and the sound of gladness, the sound of the groom and the sound of the bride." These words are included in the last of the Seven Blessings (SHEVA BRACHOS) recited before the groom and bride under the wedding canopy (CHUPAH), and until today they are customarily sung joyously at the conclusion of the marriage ceremony.
Vv 12f: "There will be yet again in this place which is now desolate. a cote for shepherds who rest their flocks." Despite the surrounding devastation, Jeremiah already sees the Israel of the future with their leaders pasturing the flocks of people in all parts of the Holy Land .
V 15: "In those days and at that time I shall cause a sprout of righteousness to sprout forth for David" - "This is King Mashiach, who will practice justice and charity" (Metzudas David).
Vv 17-18: From these verses until the end of the chapter, the prophet eloquently prophesies that the kingship of the House of David and the service of the Cohanim-priests and Levites will never cease.
We learn from verse 24 that there were those among the people who saw how calamity was overhanging the kings of Judah and the Temple priests and Levites, and inferred that God had rejected them and was bringing the kingship and the priesthood to an end, since the majority had already gone into exile and those remaining were subject to other nations. This was causing demoralization among the people to the point that some were ready to abandon the Torah and its commandments (see RaDaK on v 24).
The beautiful prophecies that God's Covenant with the House of David and the Priests and Levites can no more be nullified than the laws of heaven and earth are thus an answer to such ideas, promising that in the end God will turn around the captivity and show mercy.
The little that we know about what was actually going on in Jerusalem in face of the Babylonian siege and at the time of the destruction of the Temple mainly derives from the laconic accounts given in the closing chapters of II Kings and II Chronicles and from whatever we can glean from Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Our present chapter provides a revealing insight into the psychology of the people in Jerusalem at the height of the siege.
Jeremiah is sent to King Tzedekiah to prophesy that the city would fall to the Babylonians and that he himself would be captured. Tzedekiah - to whose lot it fell to be the last king of Judah and to witness the destruction of the Temple and exile of the people in his time - is an elusive and intriguing figure. It is written that Tzedekiah "did evil in the eyes of HaShem his God" (II Chron. 36:12) yet the rabbis of the Talmud viewed him more favorably than his older brother and predecessor, King Yeho-yakim, of whom we will get a close-up view in Chapter 36 (these chapters are not in chronological order).
The rabbis said: "The Holy One blessed be He wanted to bring the entire world back to desolation and devastation on account of Yeho-yakim, but He looked at the members of his generation and His anger cooled. The Holy One blessed be He wanted to bring the entire world back to desolation and devastation on account of the generation of Tzedekiah, but He looked at Tzedekiah himself and His anger cooled down. Then what does it mean that Tzedekiah 'did evil in the eyes of HaShem'? It means that he had the power to protest [against what the people were doing] but he did not protest" (Sanhedrin 103a). This implies that while Yeho-yakim was wicked, Tzedekiah himself was a Tzaddik.
Thus we see in the present prophecy in vv 2-5 that Tzedekiah would be punished by watching his city destroyed and by being taken into exile, yet he would not be put to the sword but would die in dignity on his bed and would be mourned with honor, unlike Yeho-yakim, who died outside the gates of Jerusalem while being cruelly dragged along the ground into exile, and who was "buried with the burial of a donkey" (Jeremiah 22:19). Furthermore, although Tzedekiah's eyes were gouged out, he was left alive and outlived his captor Nebuchadnezzar (Moed Katan 28b).
Vv 8ff: The little that is known about the episode recounted here, in which prior to the capture of Jerusalem the people freed their Hebrew slaves but then took them back, is all contained in our present text, and we have no other recourse than to make whatever inferences we can from the few hints it contains. The sources for the Torah law of the Hebrew slave to which our present text refers are contained in Exodus 21:2-6 and Deuteronomy 15:12-18. The Hebrew (as opposed to "Canaanite") slave is an Israelite who has either stolen and cannot repay and is therefore sold into slavery, or who has fallen to such poverty that he sells himself. Under Torah law the Hebrew slave does not serve forever but goes free after six years and given generous gifts on his release.
It would appear that the Hebrew slaves whom the inhabitants of Jerusalem ceremonially freed were people who had become impoverished because of that same economic exploitation practiced by the wealthy and powerful that was so castigated by Jeremiah and the other prophets. These poor people had fallen deep into debt, and when they had absolutely nothing left to give their creditors, the latter would apparently simply enslave them.
From verse 8 we learn that it was King Tzedekiah who struck a covenant with the people to release these slaves. It seems likely that the king understood that a major act of collective repentance was required in order to stave off the Babylonians. Whether it was his own initiative or was carried out on the advice of the priests or prophets is unknown. Our text simply states that after having released their slaves, the people soon relented (like the Egyptians) and quickly took them back. Our text makes no mention of any protest over this by Tzedekiah, which may be why the rabbis criticized him for not speaking out against his generation's behavior.
Vv 18-20 speak of how God will requite the men that "have transgressed My Covenant, who did not keep the words of the Covenant that they sealed before Me through the calf that they cut into two and passed between its parts." There are two factors here. The Covenant which the people transgressed was the Torah, whose laws of slavery they flouted. This Covenant between God and Israel was indeed originally sealed with the offering of animal sacrifices (Exodus 24:5) and at the original "Covenant between the Parts" between God and Abraham, the precursor of the Sinaitic Covenant, the parties "passed between" the parts of sacrificed animals (Genesis 15:10). However, the cut-up calf mentioned in our present text, Jeremiah 34:18, was not sacrificed in honor of the Torah Covenant. According to Rashi (ad loc.) after the people reverted and took back their slaves, they all made a covenant to rebel against God and they cut the cow into two and passed between its parts in order to signify their rebellion, as if to say that anyone who violates this covenant would be cut apart like this cow.
* * * Jeremiah 34:8-22 followed by Jer. 33:25-26 are read as the Haftara of Parshas Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1-24:18) * * *
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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