The three weeks have begun.
We sit in narrow places; the walls of Jerusalem have been breached.
We are leading up to Tisha B’Av, the remembrance of the destruction of the First and Second Temples. We descend towards our lowest point, the point at which we use Jeremiah’s words in Lamentations to call out to God who seems to have punished us and abandoned us.
Our descent now is marked by Jeremiah’s words. For the next two weeks, our haftarot are drawn from the Book of Jeremiah.
The destruction of Jerusalem was once unthinkable.
It was the beating heart of our people, the place where God had chosen to dwell. We could imagine the deaths of individuals. We see death all the time in the Tanakh, sometimes peacefully and sometimes not. But we were not able to imagine the death of our nation, the death of our city, or the death of our God.
Jeremiah’s calling as a prophet is to force us to reckon with the inconceivable.
The death of our city was coming. Our nation was about to lose its territorial integrity and be exiled. But our God wants us to know that this does not mean the death of God, but rather it is coming from God.
Of course, we do not like hearing these messages. No one likes hearing bad news, especially bad news that forces us to rethink our entire conception of the world. Our response to Jeremiah is denial. We respond with violence in our certainty that he is the problem, not just the messenger.
But it is we who will be destroyed, not Jeremiah.
Our haftarah portion describes Jeremiah like a city. As Robert Alter translates:
“As for Me, look, I have made you today a fortress town and an iron pillar and walls of bronze against all the land, against the kings of Judah and its nobles, against its priests and the people of the land. And they shall battle against you but shall not prevail over you, for I am with you,” said the LORD, “to save you.”
There is a horrible irony here.
In just a few days we will read in Lamentations 2:8, “The LORD has planned to wipe out the wall of Daughter Zion. He has extended a measuring line, he has not returned his hand from swallowing up. And he has caused rampart and wall to mourn, together they have withered.”
The walls of Jerusalem, home of Israel, once thought inviolable, will be destroyed.
Jeremiah, a despised prophet, will be made strong against Israel. It was never the walls that protected Israel.
When we build walls around our minds, refusing to take in new evidence, as the people did against Jeremiah, it is only a matter of time until those walls collapse and there is nothing left to protect us.
See more: Parashat Pinchas
Originally posted as part of the Conservative Yeshiva at the Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center’s Torah Sparks. Support Torah learning from the Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center/Conservative Yeshiva for leaders and seekers around the world here.