Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
JEREMIAH CHAPTER 41
THE ASSASSINATION OF GEDALIAH
V 1: "And it was in the seventh month." Gedaliah was assassinated on Rosh HaShanah (1 st Tishri, the seventh month) but because Rosh HaShanah is a festival, the fast commemorating his death was not fixed on that day but was deferred until the day after the festival, 3 Tishri (RaDaK). The "Fast of Gedaliah" is the "fast of the seventh month" mentioned by the prophet Zecharaiah, who says that like the other fast days commemorating the calamities associated with the destruction of the Temple, in time to come it is destined to be turned into a festival.(Zechariah 8:19).
Rashi (on v 1) states that the "king's ministers" who collaborated with Ishama'el ben Nathanyah in the assassination were motivated by jealousy of Gedaliah over the fact that he had risen to greatness.
It may have been a tradition for people to gather with their leaders for the New Year. Ishma'el and his band sat down to partake of the festival meal with Gedaliah in order to lull him into thinking they had come in peace. They then proceeded to murder him in cold blood together with all the Jews and the Babylonian officers who were with him. This was an act of overt rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar, who had appointed Gedaliah as governor of the remaining population of Judea . It was certain to elicit harsh retribution from the Babylonians. It was their fear of such a response that led the remaining Judeans to flee. This brought all vestiges of Jewish life in Judea to an end and thus put the final seal on the decree of destruction and exile.
V 5: "And men came from Shechem, from Shilo and from Shomron." These men came carrying flour offerings and incense in their hands because when they left their homes they evidently intended to sacrifice in the Temple, not knowing yet that it had been destroyed. On hearing the news of its destruction, they had torn their beards, rent their clothes and cut themselves in mourning and they changed direction and made their way to Mitzpah in the hope of joining Gedaliah. In killing them it is clear that Ishma'el was bent on trying to destroy any possibility of a self-governing Judean entity under the protection of the Babylonians.
V 9: It is ironic that the pit into which Ishma'el threw the victims of his massacre, which signified the final destruction of the independent kingdom of Judea , was the very pit that King Asa of Judah had constructed generations earlier in order to protect the kingdom. This pit is not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible.
Vv 11ff: Yohanan ben Kareyah, who warned Gedaliah against Isha'el, now emerges as the de facto leader of the bedraggled remnant of Judah that were still in Judea . Nothing is written of the whereabouts of Jeremiah at the time of the actual murder of Gedaliah. We learned earlier that Jeremiah had come to Gedaliah "and dwelled with him among the people that remained in the Land" (Jer. 40:6). However it seems unlikely that the prophet was with Gedaliah when Ishma'el came to kill him as he would not have escaped. It is more plausible that he was with Yohanan ben Kareyah and his band, with whom he stayed later even when they went against his advice (see Jer. 43:7-8).
Yohanan ben Kareyah was convinced that the Babylonians would take severe retribution against all the Judeans because of Gedaliah's assassination, and after retrieving those who had been taken captive by Ishma'el, made his way with all his party of remnants from Givon (which is north of Jerusalem) to Bethlehem (which is to the south) with the intention of fleeing to Egypt.
The plea made to Jeremiah by the captains of the remaining Judean forces and by Yohanan ben Kareyah together with all the rest of the people to pray for them and seek guidance as to what they should do next was far from being as innocent as it appears. They knew that they wanted to flee to Egypt and they hoped for rubber-stamp approval from the prophet, even though they swore to him solemnly that they would obey him no matter what he would say. However, when it came to it, they did precisely the opposite (Chapter 43:2).
V 7: "And it was at the end of ten days and the word of HaShem came to Jeremiah." Prophecy rarely comes instantly, but only after intensive preparations by the prophet. It took Jeremiah ten days to arrange his prayers and meditations in order to put the question of destiny posed by the surviving remnant of Judah before God and receive an answer.
Vv 10ff: Prior to the destruction of the Temple , Jeremiah had repeatedly counseled the people to submit to the Babylonians and accept the decree of exile. But now that God had executed His plan and caused the Temple to be destroyed in atonement for the sins of the nation, the remnant of Judah could have remained in their own land had they been willing to swallow their pride and accept the Babylonian yoke. Jeremiah urged them to do this, but on no account to try to escape the Babylonians by fleeing to Egypt . The people imagined that they could avoid war and famine by going there, but this was entirely contrary to the Torah, which in three places warns Israel not to return to dwell in Egypt (Exodus 14:13; Deut. 17:16 & 28:68; see Rambam, Laws of Kings 5:7-8). Yohanan and his band wanted to reverse history by seeking Jewish survival in exile in Egypt , but it was impossible to go backwards. There was no alternative but to submit to the yoke of the new blazing star of Babylon , the first of the four empires that were historically destined to subjugate Israel in order to complete the entire cycle of repair and rectification through which the nation will ultimately be restored. The purpose of the later exiles was to smelt and refine the souls that remained faithful to the Torah, whereas if the people returned to Egypt , they would revert to complete idolatry. As we see in the continuation (Jer. 44:17), this was precisely the intention of those who were traveling with Yohanan ben Kareyah. Jeremiah warned them that if they went to Egypt , the very sword and famine that they feared would come upon them and destroy them.
V 20: "For you have gone astray at peril of your lives, when you sent me to HaShem." - "Jeremiah saw on the people's faces that they were not willing to stay where they were in Judea . Accordingly he told them that they had indeed made a great mistake in sending him. Had they not done so, they would have been unwitting transgressors. But now that they had sent him yet still intended to rebel by going to Egypt , they would be willful sinners (Metzudas David).
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By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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