This week begins a series of haftorah readings which reflect the deep feelings of the Jewish people during the final months of the year. The series opens with the moving visions of the prophets depicting the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash and concludes with a continuous dialogue between Hashem and His people expressing His strong desire to reunite with them. Our haftorah displays the prophet Yirmiyahu somewhat reluctant to accept Hashem’s charge as spokesman to the Jewish nation. Yirmiyahu’s concern centered around his youthful age coupled with his lack of experience in speaking to the entire nation. He realized the painful nature of the pending catastrophic events threatening the Jewish people and feared that his prophetic predictions could actually endanger his life. Hashem responded that He would personally direct Yirmiyahu and protect him from all opposing forces. Yirmiyahu then received his first prophecy which was introduced by the following words. “And Hashem sent His hand and it touched my mouth and Hashem said to me, ‘Behold I’ve placed My words in your mouth'” These strange words indicate a uniqueness in the nature of Yirmiyahu’s prophecy and reveal that Yirmiyahu, unlike other prophets, felt compelled by the words of Hashem placed in his mouth.
In truth, we find that special significance is given to the prophetic status of Yirmiyahu. Our Chazal (in Yalkut Shimoni 256) take note of the specific expression the Torah uses when introducing the institution of prophecy. In Parshas Shoftim (Devorim 18, 15) Moshe says, “Hashem shall establish a prophet amongst you likened to myself.” Hashem says, “I shall place My words in his mouth and he will convey to the Jewish people everything I command.” Chazal reflect upon the words “likened to myself” used by the Torah when introducing the status of prophecy. They raise the question that the Torah itself states that no one ever achieved parallel status of prophecy to that of Moshe Rabbeinu. What then is meant by the words of Moshe Rabbeinu “a prophet likened to myself?” Chazal answer that Yirmiyahu’s unique role as a prophet of rebuke was truly parallel to that of Moshe Rabbeinu. They draw parallel lines between the life’s experiences of Moshe Rabbeinu and those of Yirmiyahu. Each served a full term of forty years and was totally responsible for the ethical conduct of the entire nation. In addition, each of them faced serious opposition from their people for the hard stand they took in defending the name of Hashem. The Mahri Kra (Yirmiyahu 1:9) adds that even the phraseology used to describe their prophecy is of the exact same nature. When referring to the prophecy of Moshe Rabbeinu the Torah states, “And I shall place My words in his mouth.”
This exact expression of “placing My words” is also used regarding the prophecy of Yirmiyahu. As it says, “Behold I have placed My words in your mouth.” One could question the high priority that Yirmiyahu’s prophecy occupies in the Torah. Why did Moshe Rabbeinu make reference to the prophet Yirmiyahu at the inception of prophecy and single him out from the other forty seven leading prophets? What was so significant about Yirmiyahu’s prophecy that made it the prime focus of Moshe Rabbeinu’s discussion?
In search for clarification on this point it is worthwhile to research Moshe Rabbeinu’s reflections on the establishment of prophecy. In Parshas Shoftim Moshe says, “Hashem will establish a prophet in response to all that you requested from Hashem at Sinai on the day you received the Torah. You said, ‘I can not continue to hear the direct voice of Hashem and I will no longer perish from seeing this great fire.'” “And Hashem responded, ‘I will establish a prophet likened to you and I will place My words in his mouth.'” (D’vorim 18:16) The Ramban (ad loc.) explains that the Jewish people requested that the messages of Hashem be transmitted to them through the words of prophecy. They found it too difficult to hear the Torah directly from Hashem because of the intensity of Hashem’s words. They therefore accepted upon themselves to follow the messages of all the authentic prophets regardless of the severe nature of their message. Hashem, in effect, accepted the Jewish nation’s request for prophecy but reserved the right to speak to them through the prophets at any time and in the strongest of terms.
The Jewish people, in place of Hashem’s intense and direct words, readily accepted this alternative along with its demanding conditions.
We now have a clear perspective regarding Moshe Rabbeinu’s hidden message to the Jews. Although the Jewish people, during Moshe’s era, were fully willing to listen to his prophecy this was in place of the more intense words of Hashem ringing freshly in their ears. However in later generations after the Jews would stray far from Hashem this task would become extremely difficult. The Jewish people would be prone to silencing their prophets and restricting them from conveying their penetrating and horrifying messages.
Moshe, therefore, warned them at the outset that their agreement was eternally binding and that in later years Hashem would send them a prophet whose words of rebuke would be as piercing as those of Moshe Rabbeinu himself.
We can now appreciate the opening words of Yirmiyahu in which he portrayed himself to be compelled by the word of Hashem. It was the unpleasant role of Yirmiyahu to predict, in the most vivid form, the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash. These tidings were so penetrating that the Jewish people reacted to them as they did to the direct words of Hashem. Yirmiyahu sensed the intensity of his prophetic mission and felt as if Hashem Himself was speaking through him to the Jewish people. He therefore felt compelled by these words to deliver them as the clearest warning possible to the Jews. In this regard Yirmiyahu was truly likened to Moshe Rabbeinu through whom Hashem delivered His clearest messages to the people.
Text Copyright © 1996 Rabbi Dovid Siegel and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rosh Kollel of Kollel Toras Chesed of Skokie.
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