This week’s haftorah develops the theme of the three weeks and introduces the month of Av. The prophet Yirmiyahu severely reprimanded the Jewish people and reminded them of all the favors Hashem did for them over the years. Yirmiyahu stated in the name of Hashem, “What wrong did your fathers find in Me that distanced them from Me resulting in idolatry which diminished them to nothingness? They didn’t remember who brought them from Egypt and led them through the desolate dangerous desert to the fertile land of Israel to partake of its fruits and goodness. Instead, they defiled My land and disgraced My inheritance.” (Yirmiyahu 2:5-7) Hashem faulted the Jewish nation for forgetting His kindness and rejecting Him and even resorting to the empty and shameful ways of idolatry. Hashem placed serious blame on the leaders and prophets who went astray themselves and didn’t inspire the Jewish people to repent. This spiritual downfall is described in the following terms. “The Kohanim didn’t revere Me and the upholders of Torah didn’t publicize My name, the kings rebelled against Me and the prophets delivered false prophecy.” (2:8) This bleak picture of the Jewish people was certainly not comforting and practically predicted immediate retribution and destruction.
Yet, we discover that Hashem’s response to all the above was one of love and compassion. Hashem surprisingly responded, “Therefore I will continue to quarrel with you and even with future generations.”(2:9) Rashi (ad loc) explains that Hashem was vowing to send more prophets and continue attempting to show His people the proper path. Although every previous attempt was unsuccessful Hashem remained determined to save His people. He refused to reject them even after the numerous outrageous rejections they showed Him. Although the present group of leaders was not loyal to Hashem and failed to motivate the nation to repentance, perhaps the next group of leaders would be more loyal. Perhaps they could successfully leave a lasting impression upon on the Jewish people. Even after the Jews reduced themselves to the point of nothingness Hashem still cared about them with deep compassion. Although every previous prophet had failed there remained a slight possibility that the next one would succeed. Hashem refused to leave His people until every last avenue had been exhausted and it had been determined that there was literally no more hope for them.
The source of this unbelievable compassion is reflected in the verses immediately preceding this week’s haftorah. Hashem says, “I remember you for the kindness of your youth, the love of our initial relationship when you blindly followed Me in the desert.” (2:2) Even after all the offenses the Jewish people committed against Him, Hashem still remembered His initial relationship with His people. Hashem never forgot those precious years wherein He enjoyed a perfect relationship with His people. He actually longed for the return of that relationship and was willing to do virtually anything to restore it to its original state of perfection. This explains Hashem’s persistence in sending prophet after prophet to the Jewish people attempting to persuade them to return. In truth, Hashem viewed the Jewish people from an entirely different vantage point than their present rebellious state. He viewed His people through the perfect visions of their past and never forgot their unconditional commitment to follow Him blindly wherever he would lead them. Through this perspective the Jewish people truly deserved every last chance they could to return to their glorious era of perfection.
With this insight in mind we gain a new appreciation for the words of Chazal regarding the Jewish exile which reveal Hashem’s indescribable love and compassion for His people. The Midrash (Tehillim 137) relates that the Prophet Yirmiyahu accompanied the Jewish people into their exile all the way to the Euphrates River at the doorstep of Babylonia. He then informed them that he would be leaving and returning to the remnant of Jewish people left behind in the land of Israel. Suddenly, the Jewish people broke out in an outburst of uncontrollable weeping realizing that Yirmiyahu was soon abandoning them. Yirmiyahu responded to this with the following startling words. “I testify in the name of Hashem that if but one sincere cry would have transpired moments ago in our homeland, the exile would have never occurred.” Although the sins of the nation had reached their peak and Hashem finally decided to exile His people nothing was final. Hashem’s love for His people was so great that even after all their atrocities, rebelling against Him and angering Him in spite, one sincere gesture of theirs could have called things off. Even one emotional outburst, sensing Hashem’s rejection would have sufficed to hold back the terrible calamity of destruction they now faced. Hashem’s love for His people is so deep that even at the very last moments He still awaits their return and is prepared to call off their imminent exile. In Hashem’s eyes we will always be seen through the perspective of our past, a perfect devout people ready to serve Him unconditionally. And therefore Hashem is always prepared to do virtually anything to restore us to that previous glorious status of His perfect nation.