Jeremiah, Master of Rebuke

This week's Dvar Torah is by Rabbi Ilan Goldman, Educational Director at Mibereshit.

Torah Mitzion Torani Tzioni Movement

Judaism הכניסו ספר תורה
הכניסו ספר תורה

הָלֹךְ וְקָרָאתָ בְּאָזְנֵי יְרוּשָׁלִַם לֵאמֹר: כֹּה אָמַר ה': זָכַרְתִּי לָךְ חֶסֶד נְעוּרַיִךְ אַהֲבַת כְּלוּלֹתָיִךְ לֶכְתֵּךְ אַחֲרַי בַּמִּדְבָּר בְּאֶרֶץ לֹא זְרוּעָה.
"Go and call out in the ears of Jerusalem, saying: so said the Lord: I remember for you the loving kindness of your youth, the love of your nuptials, your following Me in the desert, in a land not sown".

A mellow tune was composed for this pasuk – singing it at an Oneg Shabbat or a Seuda Shlishit can awaken the heart. The parable of Hashem and Am Yisrael as a couple is often used, and an entire book in Tanach is dedicated to just that. Our pasuk is a reflection of the ‘good old days’. At a time when the nation was sinful, the ten tribes were already exiled, and the Kingdom of Yehuda (Judea) is in its last days – Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) is prophesizing, and recalling the better days.

Comforting the nation is not really the role of Yirmiyahu. Yishayahu (Isaiah), for example, is a prophet of comfort. Indeed, the seven haftarot (readings from Prophets after the Torah reading on Shabbat) of comfort which we read after Tisha b’Av are all taken from Yishayahu. In contrast, two out of the three haftarot of פֻּרְעָנוּת, of calamity, are taken from Yirmiyahu. What then was the point of our pasuk (verse) when it seems to be a form of comfort to the nation?

One answer is that it is not a form of comfort at all. On the contrary, recalling the wonderful relationship the nation had once had with Hashem is part of the rebuke. How can a nation who was once so righteous now be so sinful? once so close, now be so distant? 

However, our pasuk is mostly seen as a pasuk of comfort. Therefore, there are perhaps three lessons of how to rebuke which we can learn from Yirmiyahu:

The Midrash teaches that there were three prophets; one demanded the honour of the father, one demanded the honour of the son and only one demanded the honour of both.

Eliyahu, who was a zealot, demanded the honour of Hashem, as it says: ‘I have been zealous for the Lord, the God of Hosts, for the Children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant’.

Yonah’s (Jonah's) attempt to escape Hashem was in order to avoid a disgrace of the nation, should the inhabitants of Nineveh do teshuva (repent) when Am Yisrael does not. Yirmiyahu was the only one who demanded the honour of both.

In order to rebuke, one must truly care about the person he is rebuking and about the matter he is rebuking about.

A simpler message is that if you want the person you are rebuking to listen, try to catch their attention with something positive which they would like to hear. If this is what the pasuk is trying to do, it does not belong at the end of our Haftarah, but rather at the beginning of next week’s Haftarah, just before Yirmiyahu rebukes the people.

There is another message here, which is very important for educators. There are many forms of rebuke. The one we may come across more often is a form of telling off and threatening with punishment. However, a more noble way of rebuking is to recognise the greatness of the person whom you wish to tell off. Once this is recognised, the role of the rebuker would be to try and convey that message to the rebuked. Telling someone how great they are and how certain behaviours do not define them is more likely to succeed and is in essence a truer representation of their personality.

Indeed, Am Yisrael following Hashem into the wilderness revealed the level of emunah (faith) which the nation had in Hashem, and it is exactly this which Yirmiyahu wishes to reveal again. However, it was not only the level of emunah which the nation had in Hashem which Yirmiyahu wanted to preach, but rather the unconditional love which Hashem has for His nation. If even at a time that the nation is sinful, Hashem looks back at their merits with love and content, then even more so when the nation is righteous.