Behar-Bechukotai

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Jeremiah 16:19-17:14

Jeremiah lived after the Northern Kingdom's fall to Assyria, as Babylon threatened Judah from the north. After generations of idolatry, corruption, and immorality, and facing opposition from nearly all of Judean society , his nearly impossible task was to reform Judah from within so that, relying on God and not allies, it could defeat its external threat. The Haftarah opens and closes with Jeremiah stating his personal, complete reliance upon God. He reminds Judah that all idolatrous nations will one day turn to God- yet Judah remains unmoved. Echoing themes and words of the Parashah’s laws requiring trust in God, such as the sabbatical year, as well the Tochechah [Rebuke], he declares that an unrepentant Judah will be destroyed. He curses weak individuals who, like Judah as a whole, trust in idols or people, and blesses strong individuals who trust in God; unlike mortals, God knows and judges individuals' inner thoughts. This passage concludes with three declarations about the importance and consequences of trusting God. The Haftarah concludes “be’ki tov” (with an uplifting message), with the opening verse of an extended personal prayer by Jeremiah to God.

Haftarah Breakdown

Verses 16:19-21: As Jeremiah does now, gentile nations will one day recognize God- and be astonished at their ancestral idols. God will then show them His power.

Jeremiah 16:19

O Lord- my strength, my stronghold, and my refuge in the day of affliction!- nations shall come to You from Earth’s ends. They shall say, “Our fathers have inherited only lies [and] vanity which achieve nothing.”

ה' עֻזִּ֧י וּמָעֻזִּ֛י וּמְנוּסִ֖י בְּי֣וֹם צָרָ֑ה אֵלֶ֗יךָ גּוֹיִ֤ם יָבֹ֙אוּ֙ מֵֽאַפְסֵי־אָ֔רֶץ וְיֹאמְר֗וּ אַךְ־שֶׁ֙קֶר֙ נָחֲל֣וּ אֲבוֹתֵ֔ינוּ הֶ֖בֶל וְאֵֽין־בָּ֥ם מוֹעִֽיל׃

Verses 17:1-2: But in the meantime, even Judah is infatuated with its idolatry.

Jeremiah 17:1

Judah’s sin is written with an iron pen and with the point of a diamond . It is graven upon their heart’s tablet and upon your altars’ horns.

חַטַּ֣את יְהוּדָ֗ה כְּתוּבָ֛ה בְּעֵ֥ט בַּרְזֶ֖ל בְּצִפֹּ֣רֶן שָׁמִ֑יר חֲרוּשָׁה֙ עַל־ל֣וּחַ לִבָּ֔ם וּלְקַרְנ֖וֹת מִזְבְּחוֹתֵיכֶֽם׃

Verses 17:3-4: Therefore, God will destroy His people, banishing them to a foreign land.

Jeremiah 17:4

You will forfeit, by your own fault, the inheritance I [God] have given you. I will enslave you to your enemies in a land you have not known. For you have kindled the flame of My wrath; it shall burn forever.

וְשָׁמַטְתָּ֗ה וּבְךָ֙ מִנַּחֲלָֽתְךָ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר נָתַ֣תִּי לָ֔ךְ וְהַעֲבַדְתִּ֙יךָ֙ אֶת־אֹ֣יְבֶ֔יךָ בָּאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֣ר לֹֽא־יָדָ֑עְתָּ כִּֽי־אֵ֛שׁ קְדַחְתֶּ֥ם בְּאַפִּ֖י עַד־עוֹלָ֥ם תּוּקָֽד׃ (ס)

Verses 17:5-8: Those who trust man or idols are accursed and weak. Those who trust in God are blessed and strong.

Jeremiah 17:7

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord- the Lord shall be his trust.

בָּר֣וּךְ הַגֶּ֔בֶר אֲשֶׁ֥ר יִבְטַ֖ח בַּֽה וְהָיָ֥ה ה' מִבְטַחֽוֹ׃

Verses 17:9-10: Though people cannot know others’ inner intentions, God can and does- rewarding them according to their actions and their consequences.

Jeremiah 17:10

I, the Lord, search the heart and try the kidneys , to give [each] man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings.

אֲנִ֧י ה' חֹקֵ֥ר לֵ֖ב בֹּחֵ֣ן כְּלָי֑וֹת וְלָתֵ֤ת לְאִישׁ֙ כדרכו [כִּדְרָכָ֔יו] כִּפְרִ֖י מַעֲלָלָֽיו׃ (ס)

Verses 17:11-13: Three statements about trust in God and its consequences.

Jeremiah 17:11

As a partridge sits on [many] eggs that does not hatch them [all], so is he that gets wealth illegally: he shall abandon [his wealth] at midlife, and shall be a fool at his [life’s] end.

קֹרֵ֤א דָגַר֙ וְלֹ֣א יָלָ֔ד עֹ֥שֶׂה עֹ֖שֶׁר וְלֹ֣א בְמִשְׁפָּ֑ט בַּחֲצִ֤י ימו [יָמָיו֙] יַעַזְבֶ֔נּוּ וּבְאַחֲרִית֖וֹ יִהְיֶ֥ה נָבָֽל׃

Verse 17:14: Jeremiah’s prayer for healing and salvation from his enemies exemplifies his trust in God.

Jeremiah 17:14

Heal me, Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved- for You are my praise.

רְפָאֵ֤נִי ה' וְאֵ֣רָפֵ֔א הוֹשִׁיעֵ֖נִי וְאִוָּשֵׁ֑עָה כִּ֥י תְהִלָּתִ֖י אָֽתָּה׃

Connections

The Mishnah repurposes Jeremiah’s plant imagery (17:6-8) to illustrate the superiority of good deeds over wisdom.

Pirkei Avot 3:17

Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah ...used to say: “One whose wisdom exceeds his [good] deeds, to what may he be compared? To a tree whose branches are numerous but whose roots are few: when the wind comes, it uproots overturns it, as (Jer. 17:6) said, ‘He shall be like a plant in the desert, which does not sense the coming of good. It dwells in scorched places of the wilderness, in a barren land without inhabitant.’ But one whose [good] deeds exceed his wisdom, to what may he be compared? To a tree whose branches are few but roots are many: even if all the winds in the world come and blow upon it, they cannot move it out of its place, as (ibid, 17:8) said, ‘He shall be like a tree planted by waters, sending forth its roots by a stream. It does not sense the coming of heat; its leaves are ever fresh. It does not worry in a year of drought; it does not cease to yield fruit.’”

רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן עֲזַרְיָה...הָיָה אוֹמֵר, כָּל שֶׁחָכְמָתוֹ מְרֻבָּה מִמַּעֲשָׂיו, לְמַה הוּא דוֹמֶה, לְאִילָן שֶׁעֲנָפָיו מְרֻבִּין וְשָׁרָשָׁיו מֻעָטִין, וְהָרוּחַ בָּאָה וְעוֹקַרְתּוֹ וְהוֹפַכְתּוֹ עַל פָּנָיו, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ירמיה יז) וְהָיָה כְּעַרְעָר בָּעֲרָבָה וְלֹא יִרְאֶה כִּי יָבוֹא טוֹב וְשָׁכַן חֲרֵרִים בַּמִּדְבָּר אֶרֶץ מְלֵחָה וְלֹא תֵשֵׁב. אֲבָל כָּל שֶׁמַּעֲשָׂיו מְרֻבִּין מֵחָכְמָתוֹ, לְמַה הוּא דוֹמֶה, לְאִילָן שֶׁעֲנָפָיו מֻעָטִין וְשָׁרָשָׁיו מְרֻבִּין, שֶׁאֲפִלּוּ כָל הָרוּחוֹת שֶׁבָּעוֹלָם בָּאוֹת וְנוֹשְׁבוֹת בּוֹ אֵין מְזִיזִין אוֹתוֹ מִמְּקוֹמוֹ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (שם) וְהָיָה כְּעֵץ שָׁתוּל עַל מַיִם וְעַל יוּבַל יְשַׁלַּח שָׁרָשָׁיו וְלֹא יִרְאֶה כִּי יָבֹא חֹם, וְהָיָה עָלֵהוּ רַעֲנָן, וּבִשְׁנַת בַּצֹּרֶת לֹא יִדְאָג, וְלֹא יָמִישׁ מֵעֲשׂוֹת פֶּרִי: