General, Parasha / E-Letter

Parashat Pinchas: To Build and To Plant

0 Comments 12 July 2017

In this week’s dvar Torah to Parashat Pinchas, Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann examines the “Divine pathos” of the prophet Jeremiah. What can we, as an Israeli human rights organization, learn from his unwavering commitment to his people and his mission?

Horace Vernet, Jeremiah on the ruins of Jerusalem, 1844. public domain

Horace Vernet, Jeremiah on the ruins of Jerusalem, 1844. public domain

By Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann

This period between the fast of 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B’ Av is one of mourning customs in Jewish tradition; it is a time of mourning for the lost Temple and the loss of sovereignity in ancient times. Times have changed and with them the poignancy of these customs. Nevertheless the readings from the prophets during these three weeks unfortunately seem as relevant as ever. I wish to briefly share a word of Torah I recently heard from a friend, Rabbi Aytan Kadden, just before the end of the previous fast.

Rabbi Kadden focused on the prophet Jeremiah from whom we read on this coming Shabbat and subsequently next week as well. He called him a hero, a great lover of his people.

He compared him to the prophet Elijah, who after his grand show against the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, realized that he had not succeeded in his mission. Elijah flees. He not only flees the vengeful and murderous King Ahab and Queen Jezabel but in fact turns to G-d in his despair and asks to be relieved of his mission. G-d harkens to his request and he is replaced by Elisha.

Jeremiah, in contrast, though – as we read this week – at first reluctant to serve as a prophet of doom, carries out his mission to the bitter end. Rabbi Khaden pointed out Jeremiah’s great love of the people, citing in particular his confrontation with one of the false prophets, Hananiah,  in which he expresses his hope that Hananiah’s words come true. He commented that Jeremiah never gave up hope of teshuva (“repentance”) on the part of the people.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, 1964

Abraham Joshua Heschel, 1964. Public domain

The late great scholar and rabbi, Professor Abraham Joshua Heschel also relates to that incident in his book The Prophets. He says of the prophet:

“He was a person overwhelmed by sympathy for God, and sympathy for man. Standing before the people he pleaded for God; standing before God he pleaded for his people. The prediction of doom was contrary to his own feelings. When the false prophet Hanania predicted that within two years the captives of Judah, together with the vessels of the Temple…would be brought back to Jerusalem, Jeremiah exclaimed: ‘Amen! May the Lord do so; may the Lord make the words which you have prophesied come true’ (Jeremiah 28:6)” -A. J. Heschel, The Prophets pg. 121-122

Rabbi Heschel says of Jeremiah that his words are filled with what he calls “Divine pathos” and that at times it is hard to distinguish between the prophet’s own love of the people and Divine love. He comments: “Jeremiah hated his prophetic mission. To a soul full of love, it was horrible to be a prophet of castigation and wrath. What rewards did he receive for carrying the appalling burden?” -The Prophets, p.199

Jeremiah’s mission was an impossible one but he was steadfast in carrying it out and did so always in hope of redemption for his people, and —through them — for humanity.

In this week’s Haftorah we are told that his mission was:

“To pluck up and break down,

To destroy and to overthrow,

To build and to plant” – Jeremiah 1:10

We in RHR can learn from these words, and from Heschel’s teaching, that our mission must be to work from love and not only to criticize and point out injustice steadfastly in G-d’s name but also to build and to plant – to build and plant hope for a better future for all.

IMG_20140116_111813Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann is the director of organisational development at Rabbis for Human Rights.

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