Hebraic Studies - Parashat Behar & Haphtarah; Yirmyahu - Jeremiah 32:6-27

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Parashat Behar

Vayikra - Leviticus chapter 25 verse 1 to chapter 26 verse 2.

Haphtarah; Yirmyahu - Jeremiah 32:6-27.


With Rabbi Reuven Ben-Avraham.

“Behar” means “on the mountain”. And of course, a mountain can represent both spiritual enlightenment and elevation, be it through personal spiritual journeys, or through a monumental obstacle, a place that was simply too high to traverse. We will soon see which meaning of mountain our ‘har’ in ‘Behar’ represents; it remains to be seen as we go on!

I once heard it said “that a Jew is someone who sees a cloud to cover every silver lining”. Although it sounds a bit too harsh and there is no doubt it certainly is rather poor. But, when we really think about it, there is a clear tendency amongst us Jews to be more than a little cynical at times. I may be a little on the old side, but I remember well the day and the humour of the Marx Brothers, and Woody Allen to Jerry Seinfeld and other well-known Jewish comedians they were amazing but they were tough. There was the great Danny Kaye, Jerry Lewis, then there is Mel Brooks and Billy Crystal and the list is huge. And they all seemed to have that certain edge to Jewish humour which is very hard to deny. But the relationship of optimism and cynicism is a complicated one in the context of Jewish history.

When we really think about it, we need humour, for what we have experienced during our long and without a doubt extremely difficult history; it is hard not to be cynical at times. And yet, there is a fundamental sense of optimism that circulates in the blood of the most hardened of us that is also difficult to explain. Cynicism and hope they do not seem to go together but they are one of our great contributions not only to the world of comedy, but also in the world of faith. One without the other will not get us where we need to go, but one without the other is what we seem to be given in great abundance.

The very best is found in our beloved Torah and within the blessed teachings from our great - Ha’Nevi’im - the Prophets and today we are going to take a look at this Parsha’s Haphtarah being - HaNavi - The Prophet Yirmyahu or Jeremiah chapter 23, being a slight deviation from “Parsha Behar”, but we will still be climbing a mountain!

If we really think about it, we are at an important juncture in history, for now more than ever before it is important to get things right and perhaps we as Jews, through our long and difficult history may well have something important to offer. There is so much happening in this tragic world today even though it is becoming more and more difficult to figure out what to make of it all. I remember that day now long ago when the American’s said “Yes, we killed bin Laden” and of course the truth is, it will not really change a thing for the evil he represents is still there and it has continued with all its evil vigour. Evil in the world is not just in one place, it seems to be almost at our doorstep, and sadly murder is no longer something you hear about once in a blue moon, but it is far more than a daily event, sadly it has become rampant, and worse still, children, and I do mean very young ones are even doing the killing for some are simply evil, and they will not be deterred, nor do they seem to have a soul! The truth is and we must realise that the world has changed to a point that almost everything seem to be excepted, Gay marriage, of course that must be legal, why not, even if it is against the Torah, but what does the old ways know, get with it, say the modern world. Drugs, is becoming legal in many parts of the world, if it feels good why not have fun and enjoy it!, OK, if it kills you occasionally, bad luck. The problem is we need to take a really good look at the world and at ourselves, for that used to be so wrong has become more and more normal, beware it is not, stay clear of the way of the world and come back to Elohim, blessed be His Sanctified name!

If we follow my opening definition of what it means to be a Jew – it is hard not to see a cloud in each and every one of these silver linings. It is hard not to worry for the future. Over in America it seems like that late night comedians are flourishing and there are many struggling to make sense of it all.

But allow me to introduce you to one of the earliest Jewish comedians in recorded history, and yes he lived around 2,500 or so years ago. You may ask, well what was his name then, well his name was Yirmyahu - Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah one of the Priests of Anatot, a city near Jerusalem. And some of his best comedic material is preserved in the very book that bears his name and from which Haftarah came on the Shabbat. Although many who heard it at shul, did not realize that it was one of Judaism’s earliest stand-up comedy routines but, than as today, the key to good comedy is timing and in order to understand the material you have to understand the times in which Yirmyahu lived.

Now, at first the time in which Yirmyahu lived, six centuries before the year 1 hardly seems to be the golden age of stand-up comedy. It was a time of crisis and disaster and political turmoil. Well it sounds a lot like today really. In fact, Yirmyahu is very close to us in temperament and situation.

We learn a lot about him through his writings. We meet a man who greatly loved the people. In his writings, there are expressions of tender sentiments of affection for his homeland as well as his people. But, because Yirmyahu had a compulsion to speak the truth, this messenger of Elohim, blessed be He, became known as a man of strife and controversy. The neighbours who had known him since he was a child, associates and relatives, who were on very close terms with him, all turned their backs on him. In the village of his birth he was spurned and scorned and even humiliated. And he describes himself as a helpless lamb led to the slaughter.

Yirmyahu is very different than other great figures in the Scriptures. Moshe is a grand figure. Yeshayahu - Isaiah is a dignified figure. But Yirmyahu is not like that, for He, by his own admission, “gets no respect!” He is harassed, he is distraught; he wrestles with himself. He dislikes what he is doing and yet he feels compelled to do it. He is an unwilling prophet, but then again, who really wants to be a prophet? He saw in advance the disaster that was to befall the Jewish people. When Babylonian troops entered to destroy our beloved Land and put an end to Jewish sovereignty and of the Temple they would leave nothing, for they would kill the flower of Jerusalem’s youth and to lead off the rest of the population into exile, and Yirmyahu was there. He saw it all, he saw the long night of exile begin and had a front row seat to one of the greatest tragedies in all of Jewish history. If any man should have been broken, if any man should have finally surrendered to his own personal tragedy, and to the tragedies of the people he loved, it should have been Jeremiah. Jeremiah’s life, like ours, is a struggle between cynicism and optimism and guess which one, wins out?

This is an important question for us. We live many centuries after Yirmyahu, but we too live in a world of anxiety and fear, where cynicism struggles with hope. Ours is an age of uncertainty and we are no strangers to crisis. And there are moments when we become aware of the dangerous brink upon which we all live. Six days a week we turn to the news and see all kinds of horrid news, including when those two men were arrested as they were going to blow up a synagogue in New York. They absolutely hate us as Jews and all they want is to destroy us. What did we do to these men? It simply makes no sense to us.

We see Yirmyahu struggling with his cynicism. And still, what a joker he was. The false prophets and priests I am sad to say of his day were all running around trying to calm the people during the crisis - and they were all declaring: “Shalom, shalom, there will be peace, do not worry!” But Yirmyahu knew better and thus he mimicked them sarcastically. Saying: “Shalom, shalom, v’ain shalom!” - “You say there will be peace but there will not be any peace!”

One of the earliest “comedians” in Jewish history - used his cynicism to mock the complacency of his day. “Get real!” Yirmyahu was saying, we need to be honest - we need to see that the world we live in of as being in an ongoing crisis. Yirmyahu begins here, not to depress, but because he understands that nothing can be built on a foundation of lies.

Mind you, nothing has changed certain politicians who also cry - “shalom, shalom things are not that bad”. To be honest you generally cannot believe too much what they tell you. Their truth is usually more based on how they want you to vote, etc.

But if Yirmyahu was a comedic genius who used his cynicism to debunk the rosy optimists of his day he was much more than that. And he is remembered for a “comedy” routine that is about much more than cynicism. Today’s Haftarah came from the 32nd Chapter of the book that bears his name. And it is in this chapter where Jeremiah’s comedic talents reaches its pinnacle. I have to provide a bit of background. Yirmyahu’s ranting and raving about the injustices of his day, his mockery of the powers that landed him in jail. He then summons his cousin Chanamel to the prison and he says to his cousin, I want you to make a real estate investment for me. We don’t have Chanamel’s reaction to this request but knowing of Jeremiah’s style it certainly must have been something to the effect: - “Surly you are joking!”

“And Yirmyahu said: 'The word of came unto me, saying: Behold, Chanamel, the son of Shallum thine uncle, shall come unto thee, saying: Buy thee my field that is in Anathoth; for the right of redemption is thine to buy it.' So Chanamel mine uncle's son came to me in the court of the guard according to the word of , and said unto me: 'Buy my field, I pray thee, that is in Anathoth, which is in the land of Binyamin - Benjamin; for the right of inheritance is thine, and the redemption is thine; buy it for thyself.' Then I knew that this was the word of . And I bought the field that was in Anathoth of Hanamelmine uncle's son, and weighed him the money, even seventeen shekels of silver. And I subscribed the deed, and sealed it, and called witnesses, and weighed him the money in the balances. So I took the deed of the purchase, both that which was sealed, containing the terms and conditions, and that which was open” Yirmyahu - Jeremiah 32:6-11 (Jewish Publication Society – JPS version of the Tanakh).

“Thus saith of hosts, the Elohim of Israel: Take these deeds, this deed of the purchase, both that which is sealed, and this deed which is open, and put them in an earthen vessel; that they may continue many day” Verse 14 (JPS).

It was a very strange request but it is destined to become one of the most famous real estate transactions in all recorded history and Yirmyahu was never more serious in his life.

Yirmyahu tells his cousin, that there is a certain piece of land, a plot of ground in Anatot that is for sale. And of course as he was a priest of Anatot, by right of his heritage had the option on that piece of land as part of his ancestral inheritance. Now, please remember the moment, not only was Yirmyahu in jail because he was perceived as a threat by the political leaders of his country, but at the gates of Jerusalem was a much threat than Yirmyahu for at the gates of Jerusalem were the invading armies of Babylonia. And the Babylonians had already doubled their troops at Anatot.

It was only a matter of time before the walls of Jerusalem would be smashed. It was only a matter of time before the entire countryside would be in the hands of the invaders and the Jewish state would fall as Jeremiah had predicted, in those same mocking predictions that landed him in jail in the first place. We would have thought that at this moment of impending destruction Yirmyahu would be sitting back in his prison cell, lighting up a cigar, smiling to himself and saying: “Well, I did tell you so!” It was after all, a moment he had predicted and anticipated and he had suffered for it. But of course Yirmyahu does not sit back and gloat, he acts and he acts in a way nobody would have predicted. At the critical moment in his life and in the life of his nation, the mocking prophet of doom becomes the inspiring prophet of hope.

For what did he do, whilst there locked away in jail, surrounded by the enemy, yes he still managed to buy a piece of land. Here too, people must have thought was he joking? “Here he goes again, that Yirmyahu that man is always the joker, always making a mockery of our leaders and our times.” But, this time Yirmyahu was deadly serious. He continues with the purchase and he buys it with meticulous care.

So we read, he weighs out “seventeen shekels of silver, and he signs the deed” and he has witnesses signing the deed, and he has “the deed sealed in a clay jar”, so that it would be preserved. He turns it over to Baruch, his friend and his disciple for safekeeping.

Why does he do this strange thing? Why does he buy a piece of land? Is he mad? Has his imprisonment affected his sanity? Was he just putting us on in one last outrageous feat of mockery? No, he was not at all for Yirmyahu through his purchase of that field some 2,500 years ago left us a legacy that we rediscover every time we read the Haftarah that bears his name. Yirmyahu has taught us once again as he does every year on Shabbat Behar how to remain sane in an insane world. He bought that field because he wanted to teach his contemporaries a lesson and in doing so has taught us a lesson as well.

In the moment of failure, in the moment when everything seemed to be lost, he was able to see tomorrow and to plan for a better day. He bought a field. Why? He knew that they were about to be exiled from their land, taken into captivity to a foreign country. But someday, he was saying, someday the children of Israel will come back from Babylonia. They are going to go back to those fields and farms for Elohim, blessed be He, will restore the people. And he wanted his people to know that the prophet of mockery and doom, who had predicted the night, could also be a prophet of hope and inspiration and share with them a vision of a new tomorrow. And Yirmyahu insisted that this piece of land which was in his name, and he wanted his name to be on the act that would begin the process of redemption that would bring that day of hope closer.

Like Yirmyahu, we too live in a world of cynics and cockeyed optimists. We have more than our share of comedians who would mock any vision of progress, or offer us false hopes and simplistic solutions. To them we need to say as Yirmyahu did so long ago: “shalom, shalom v’ein shalom.” Your promises are empty and meaningless.

But to those who see only gloom and doom, to the politicians and religious leaders who are afraid and to those small minded leaders who play to our fears, be warned that your days are numbered. So, where is the Yirmyahu of our day?

If I opened with a definition of a Jew who is someone who sees a cloud to every silver lining, I would like to end with what must surely be definition: We Jews the very people who were massacred and decimated by over the centuries and then came the Holocaust. We have been castigated and censured by the world, yet we are the very people who re-established our original homeland of the Scriptures, although we do not as yet have all the land we were originally given by Elohim, blessed be He, but in the face of incredible odds we have defended what we have now for an amazing 74 years despite the scorn and animosity of all of our neighbours, and we are the people who chose for our national anthem a song that is built around a single theme captured in its one word title: “Hatikvah” – “The Hope” and that, my friends, is my definition of being a Jew!

Can you hear Yirmyahu speaking to us? I certainly can! He could well be saying “Never flinch from the truth,” and “do not be deceived” for remember;

“Then came the word of unto Yirmyahu, saying: 'Behold, I am , the Elohim of all flesh; is there any thing too hard for Me?” Yirmyahu - Jeremiah 32:26-27 (JPS).

And the answer is of course NO, for Yisrael is a country once again, although I believe it has not reached its true goal as yet, for I see Eretz Yisrael of today more as a secular and sadly very much as a sinful nation, mostly far removed from the teachings of our beloved Torah! The fullness of Yisrael will only come when Ha-Mashiach arrives and all Yisrael will know Elohim’s Name once again, for tragically rabbi’s and priests of ancient of days have robbed us from the beautiful truth of His Sanctified Name, for their own erroneous reasons to which Yirmyahu might have said “shalom, shalom v’ein shalom” your words are meaningless, you do not even know what our beloved Creator said, that His Name was to be;

(YHVH) the Elohim of your fathers, the Elohim of Avraham, the Elohim of Yitzchak, and the Elohim of Ya’aqov, hath sent me unto you; This is My Name forever, and this is My Memorial unto all generationsShemot – Exodus 3:15 (JPS version of the Torah).

Those so-called smart rabbi’s made reasoning why certain words meant something different, “Oh”, they said “there is a letter missing and thus it does not mean forever”. Well rabbi you except that identical word written in the very same way countless times over and over again as “forever” and as “eternal” when it came to other things, including when it related to us Jews being forever, etc. But you like to chop and choose what it means when it suddenly does not suit you, sorry, Back then people did not have the choices regarding reading, etc, but now you have confused the Jewish world with books of man-made laws pretending that they came from the Almighty, the only thing was they came from rabbis who could not even agree with each other! Sorry all you have done is cause tzuris, for you might find it strange, but one means one, and you can only make it two by adding it up, but one will still be one. The truth is rabbi’s in olden days seemed to have their own agendas like someone like Yirmyahu knew better, but those priests and other false prophets were mostly on the wrong side of Elohim and they were leading the people astray in those days and when they heard Yirmyahu speaking the Words of Elohim they even wanted to have Yirmyahu executed.

“Now it came to pass, when Yirmyahu had made an end of speaking all that had commanded him to speak unto all the people, that the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold on him, saying: ‘Thou shalt surely die. Why hast thou prophesied in the name of , saying: This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate, without an inhabitant?’ And all the people were gathered against Yirmyahu in the house of ” Yirmyahu - Jeremiah 26:8-9 (JPS).

Remember, there are even certain rabbi’s in our Shul’s these days that promote that their late (long dead) leader being the ex Chabad-Lubavitch Movement Rebbe, Menachem Schneerson, and there is a card that has been handed all over the world, including one that I received, which was handed out in Israel, and on one side there is a colour photo of the person and under the image it states the following - “This is the God Mashiach”.

I will ask you, how do you think Yirmyahu would react to this and the Chabad-Lubavitch Movement claim to their false god and saviour. But what is so very sad, this evil sect has sadly invaded and have managed to take over so many Orthodox Synagogues in my country as well around the world, as that is their goal.

I am and always have been an orthodox rabbi, but am unable to be part of any Shul that is involved with a Jewish sect that has so many erroneous and pagan influences.

Always remember our motto seen on the logo at the top of this page: “The More Torah, the More Life”, for Elohim, blessed be His Sanctified Name, is the one who gave us our Life!”

Rabbi Reuven Ben-Avraham.


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