Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
JEREMIAH CHAPTER 35
V 1: "The word that came to Jeremiah. in the days of Yeho-yakim." While the prophecies in the previous chapters dated from the final years of King Tzedekiah shortly before the destruction of the Temple, the episodes recounted in Chapters 35 and 36 date from some ten to fifteen years earlier during the reign of Tzedekiah's older brother and predecessor, King Yeho-yakim.
V 2: "Go to the house of the Rechavites." The Rechavites were descendants of Yeho-nadav (see II Kings 10:15), and were Kenites (see I Chronicles 2:55). These were a tribe descended from Jethro. As converts, they did not have their own tribal share in the Land of Israel but were originally given the right to occupy the territories around Jericho temporarily prior to their passing to the tribe of Benjamin after they lost part of their own territory with the designation of Jerusalem as the national capital. According to tradition, the Rechavites left the Jericho area of their own accord and went out into the wilderness of Judah (Arad) in order to study Torah with Othniel ben Kenaz (see RaDaK on Judges 1:16).
As we learn from our present chapter vv 6ff, the Rechavites had an ancestral tradition that they were not only to abstain from drinking wine but were also forbidden to settle and cultivate the land. Rather, they were to live a nomadic existence seeking only the life of the spirit (Torah). With the Babylonians and Arameans now deployed throughout Judea, the Rechavites had come to take refuge in Jerusalem .
Jeremiah was instructed to try to persuade the Rechavites to drink wine precisely in order to show their tenacity in clinging to their ancestral traditions. This put the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem in a very poor light because they themselves had abandoned their ancestral tradition - the Torah - and refused to heed the warnings of the prophets to repent.
As a result the people of Judah and Jerusalem would be punished for their sins while the House of the Rechavites would never be cut off. Not being cut off means that their descendants would always be numbered among the members of the Sanhedrin and the teachers of the Torah (Sifri Beha'aloscha).
The fourth year of the reign of Yeho-yakim was some eighteen years before the destruction of the Temple . It was then that Jeremiah was instructed to write down his prophecies. According to the plain meaning of Jeremiah 36:2, he now wrote down or arranged all his prophecies to date in a scroll. However the rabbis stated that what he wrote down now was specifically the book of Lamentations, in which he depicted in detail the terrible suffering that the people would endure with the destruction of the Temple (Mo'ed Katan 26a; see Metzudas David and RaDaK on Jer. 36:2). According to the rabbinic view, it was Lamentations that Jeremiah was to have read to the people in the hope that they would take the rebuke to heart and repent.
Vv 4ff: Jeremiah read out his prophecies while his leading disciple, Baruch ben Neriyah, transcribed them. Jeremiah was unable to go in person to the Temple , since he was in prison. Instead he sent Baruch there to read the scroll to the people. He did so on a public fast-day in the ninth month - Kislev - in the middle of Israel 's cold, blowy rainy season.
In seeking to reach the hearts of the people directly in the Temple, it appears that Jeremiah may have been hoping to stimulate a popular movement of repentance that would force the king and the leaders of Judah to soften, because it is clear from the ensuing narrative that the main source of resistance lay in the royal court and particularly in the person of the king himself.
Jeremiah's prophecies of disaster were sure to put fear into the hearts of the people, and as such they were nothing less than seditious in the eyes of those in the court who favored resistance against the Babylonians. On hearing what Baruch had to say in the Temple , Michayahu son of G'maryahu promptly made a report to the king's ministers of state (vv 11-13). It is noteworthy that almost all of the names of these ministers (v 12) are classic Biblical names formed out of divine names and epithets. The Judean establishment appeared highly pious from the outside: the rot and spiritual corruption were on the inside.
Baruch was called before the ministers and read Jeremiah's scroll (v 15), striking fear in the hearts of those who heard it. They questioned whether they should even dare reveal its explosive contents to the king (v 16) and they advised Baruch and Jeremiah to make themselves scarce (v 19). [It is not clear how Jeremiah was supposed to hide himself since he was in prison; cf. v 26: "HaShem concealed them".]
On hearing of the scroll, the king sent for it, and it was brought to him as he sat by a log-fire to keep warm during the rainy season (v 22, see Rashi). According to verse 23, it was only after hearing three or four verses that the king became offended. According to the rabbis (Mo'ed Katan 26a), he was unmoved by the opening prophecies of Lamentations concerning the weeping of Jerusalem , the exile of Judah , and the mourning of Zion (Lamentations 1:2-4). It was only when he heard that "her adversaries have become the head" (Lamentations 1:5), implying that he would no longer be king, that he became enraged. Without compunction he took a scribe's razor-blade and cut up the scroll, throwing it piece by piece into the fire. In doing so the king blatantly flouted the strict prohibition against burning or destroying holy writings (Rambam, Hilchos Yesodey HaTorah 6:8). The king and his inner circle were unafraid, although some of his ministers tried unsuccessfully to protest.
Yeho-yakim could burn the scroll but he could not prevent the looming disaster that was to strike Jerusalem , and he himself was condemned to an ignominious death (v 30).
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By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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