Building Walls

Parashat Pinchas Haftarah: Building Walls

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.

It’s us.

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.

Authors

  • Bex Stern Rosenblatt

    Bex Stern Rosenblatt is the Conservative Yeshiva’s Faculty-in-Residence for the Mid-Atlantic Region of the United States, teaching Tanach, using the techniques of close-reading, theater, feminist readings, and traditional commentators. Bex also directs the CY’s recruitment efforts in North America. After finishing her B.A. in History and German at Williams College, Bex received a Fulbright Grant to Austria. She later earned an M.A. in Tanakh from Bar Ilan University and has also studied at the Conservative Yeshiva and Bina Jerusalem. Bex is the founder of Havruta Tel Aviv, an organization that facilitates guided pair-learning of the Tanakh.

    View all posts
  • Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center — Conservative Yeshiva

    The Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center (FJC) is a home in the heart of Jerusalem where leaders and seekers can find an authentic place in Jewish tradition to call their own. FJC offers opportunities to study, pray and explore within an egalitarian and inclusive setting, creating multiple pathways for finding personal and communal meaning.

    View all posts

Authors

  • Bex Stern Rosenblatt

    Bex Stern Rosenblatt is the Conservative Yeshiva’s Faculty-in-Residence for the Mid-Atlantic Region of the United States, teaching Tanach, using the techniques of close-reading, theater, feminist readings, and traditional commentators. Bex also directs the CY’s recruitment efforts in North America. After finishing her B.A. in History and German at Williams College, Bex received a Fulbright Grant to Austria. She later earned an M.A. in Tanakh from Bar Ilan University and has also studied at the Conservative Yeshiva and Bina Jerusalem. Bex is the founder of Havruta Tel Aviv, an organization that facilitates guided pair-learning of the Tanakh.

  • Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center — Conservative Yeshiva

    The Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center (FJC) is a home in the heart of Jerusalem where leaders and seekers can find an authentic place in Jewish tradition to call their own. FJC offers opportunities to study, pray and explore within an egalitarian and inclusive setting, creating multiple pathways for finding personal and communal meaning.

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