Complementary Reproaches:Two Prophecies on the Destruction
Two Prophecies on the Destruction
By Harav Mosheh Lichtenstein
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN YIRMIYAHU AND YESHAYAHU
The second and third "haftarot of doom," readings that deal with
begin with the similarities. Both
prophets speak of
The ox knows its owner, and the ass his master's trough; but
Even an animal instinctively recognizes who provides its basic necessities and therefore remains attached to its trough. It does not go out to graze in other fields, but rather remains faithful to its provider and does not become estranged from him. Man, however, abandons Him who provides him with all his needs, and fails to recognize Him as such. This, of course, is presented as a severe religious failure and stated as a caustic rebuke. Thus, the next verse continues: "A sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that deal corruptly: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel to anger, they are gone away backward" (v. 4).
Yirmiyahu, on the other hand, does not present the people's idol worship as corruption, but rather as the tragic mistake of a panic-stricken and erring people. Therefore, the prophet wonders how it can be that the people prefer idols, which have no substance, over the God of Israel.
What iniquity have your fathers found in Me, that they have gone far from Me, and have walked after vanity, and are become themselves worthless? Neither did they say, Where is the Lord who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, who led us through the wilderness, through a land of deserts and of pits, through a land of drought, and of the shadow of death, through a land that no man passed through, and where no man dwelt? (vv. 5-6)
This seems to be most properly punctuated with a question mark, rather
than with an exclamation point. This
line of astonishment regarding
For pass over the isles of Kitiyim, and see; and send to Kedar, and consider diligently, and see if there has been such a thing. Has a nation changed their gods, even though they are not gods? But My people have changed its glory for that which does not profit. (vv. 10-11)
The metaphor that Yirmiyahu uses to describe
THE ADDRESS OF THE REBUKE
Another difference between the two prophecies is the address to which the arguments are directed. Yeshayahu accuses the people and asserts that they are "a sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity," whereas Yirmiyahu critiques the people's leaders:
The priests said not, Where is the Lord? And they that handle the Torah knew Me not: the rulers also transgressed against Me, and the prophets prophesied by the Ba'al, and walked after things that do not profit. (v. 8)
Thus, Yirmiyahu continues the line taken by many prophets and often expressed in Scripture, according to which the criticism is directed not at the failed political leadership, but at the spiritual leadership, which is held responsible for the corrupt and irresponsible social and religious atmosphere. Many examples can be brought to illustrate that this is a general approach found throughout the later Prophets. Here I wish to show how this perspective fits in with Yirmiyahu's entire prophecy, as opposed to Yeshayahu's rebuke.
THE SOCIAL DIFFERENCE
We now come to the fundamental difference between the second and the third haftarot of destruction, and between the book of Yeshayahu and the book of Yirmiyahu in general. Yeshayahu's primary struggle is with a hedonistic society that tramples, exploits and oppresses the weak, and creates a deep social divide. Even though the geo-political situation is beginning to deteriorate with the rise of Ashur, and the political fissures that will ultimately lead to the great crisis are growing, the people do not feel that they are living under constant threat, nor do they plan their actions based on a sense of immediate physical danger. In such conditions, high society flourishes in its corruption, and Yeshayahu fights against it. However we understand the political reality of the time, what we can say is that Yeshayahu identifies the serious spiritual failure of his generation as residing on the interpersonal plane. This finds expression in the haftara of Chazon in the famous verses:
Your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings before My eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. (vv. 15-17)
How is the faithful city become a harlot? It was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers. Your silver is become dross, you wine is mixed with water: your princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves: every one loves bribes, and follows after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither does the cause of the widow reach them. (vv. 21-23)
Yirmiyahu, in contrast, lives in a threatened and declining society that is under constant security pressure. In such circumstances, people turn to supernatural powers, both out of recognition of the nullity of pleasures and a change in priorities that follows from new situation, and out of the hope that that a supernatural force will be able to overcome the earthly political reality and save them from their enemies. Seeing the spiritual state of the people rather than geo-political alliances as the basis of political reality is what underlies the spiritual struggle in the book of Yirmiyahu. Whereas Yeshayahu preached about this and the people ignored his warnings, Yirmiyahu's generation adopted this outlook, but instead of turning to God, the King of kings, they went after vanity. Thus, their fundamental problem was not moral corruption, but substituting another god for the God of Israel. The people recognize that a spiritual factor is responsible for their fate, but they err in their identification of this factor.
CORRUPT SOCIETY OR SPIRITUAL ERROR
It seems to me that the two differences referred to above follow directly from this distinction. Yeshayahu directs his prophecy at a corrupt society, in which the individual sets himself up in the center, while harming the weak and trampling justice and morality. Their abandonment of God does not follow from their turning to some other entity, but from placing man in the center. Just as the weak are pushed aside, so too God is pushed out of the world of the greedy hedonist. Thus, the sharp contrast between ungrateful man and the beast with its natural intuition. This also seems to underlie Yeshayahu's viewing the entire society as sinful, because the hedonism and immorality are seen as having spread through the entire society. The urges are egotistical, and the individual is more to blame than are the leaders.
Yirmiyahu, in contrast, struggles with spiritual error stemming from a perverted view of metaphysical reality, and therefore his primary concern is to emphasize the mistake and express his astonishment about it. And since the error is primarily spiritual, his argument is with the priests, the prophets and the teachers of Torah. For it is their responsibility to provide the people with spiritual guidance. The fact that the world of the spirit is beyond the physical world and that God is transcendent creates a difficulty for the ordinary person and obligates the spiritual leaders to guide him. Let us not forget that "idols appear near, even though they are distant," whereas God appears distant, even though He is near. Therefore the possibility of error exists and it falls upon the shoulders of the teachers and prophets who can see through the religious fog to teach the people.
INDIVIDUALS OR A PEOPLE
We can now add two more points that characterize these haftarot. First, Yirmiyahu directs his
In contrast, Yirmiyahu's words are directed primarily at
FALSEHOOD AND BETRAYAL
Let us now move on to the second and more significant issue in
Yirmiyahu's second prophecy, namely, his understanding of idol worship. Yirmiyahu relates to
In my opinion, the Torah mentions jealousy regarding idol worship exclusively
with respect to
The Ramban means to say that idolatry for
A key verse in this haftara points to the two-fold problem of
For My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and have hewn them out cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water. (v. 13)
As we see, the prophet complains about two evils.
The one is going after broken cisterns that can hold no water, that is,
turning to falsehood and vanity.
This, however, is not the entirety of his complaint; he adds another argument,
namely, the very abandonment. The
problem is not the error, but
For pass over the isles of Kitiyim, and see; and send to Kedar, and consider diligently, and see if there has been such a thing. Has a nation changed their gods, even though they are not gods? (vv. 10-11)
Yirmiyahu's rebuke can only be understood in the framework of the
assumption that idolatry constitutes betrayal and not only error. If idolatry is merely an error, why
bring support from the fact that other nations stubbornly cling to their
mistakes? Are we supposed to learn something from that? If, however, we
recognize that a "personal" relationship exists between
TWO REBUKES TWO REPAIRS
To summarize, two haftarot of rebuke are directed at us during the last
two Shabbatot of the Three Weeks.
One focuses on the religious problem, on
 To remove all doubts, let me say that it is not my claim that this is the only problem that Yirmiyahu deals with, but that this is the most fundamental and important issue with which he struggles. The same is true regarding Yeshayahu.
 It is important to note that in many other places it is the leaders whom the prophets criticize regarding this matter. But in the framework of our comparison between the two haftarot, it may be argued that Yeshayahu's emphasis on pleasure is connected to the fact that his accusation is directed at the entire nation.
 "An idol appears near, but is distant. What is the reason? One carries it on his shoulder, bears it, and in the end his god is with him in his house; he cries out until he dies, but it does not hear nor does it save him from his troubles. The Holy One, blessed be He, on the other hand, appears far, but there is none closer than He, for Levi said: From the earth to the firmament is a walk of five hundred years, and from one firmament to the next is a walk of five hundred years, and the width of the firmament is [a walk of] five hundred years, and so too regarding each of the firmaments See how elevated He is above His world, yet a person enters a synagogue, stands behind a pillar, and prays in a whisper, and the Holy One, blessed be He, hears his prayer, as it is stated: 'Now Channa spoke in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard' (I Shemu'el 1:13), and the Holy One, blessed be He, listened to her prayer. And so too regarding all of His creatures, as it is stated: 'A prayer of the afflicted, when he faints' (Tehilim 102:1) like a person who speaks in his friend's ear and he hears. Is there a God closer than this, close to His creatures like a mouth to the ear?" (Yerushalmi, Berakhot 9:1).