Parashat Hashavua – The Weekly Portion – Behar

JCT student Tzvi Silver on this week’s parasha.


Tzvi Silver, a student in his second year of studies towards a degree in Electronics Engineering at JCT’s Lev Campus, on this week’s parasha

For a week whose sedrah focuses on a few detailed laws of social culture and agriculture in Eretz Yisrael, it is not surprising that our haftarah involves buying land in the Holy Land. However, since the reading is from Sefer Yirmiyahu, the haftarah is not a simple story of a sale. It fits the theme of the Later Prophet’s life in its ironic yet almost comical storyline. Yirmiyahu, imprisoned for his less than popular nevuot, is told by G-d to buy a piece of land from his cousin Chanamel. For what reason? Neither we nor Yirmiyahu know. The transaction takes place in the prison yard, the money changes hands and witnesses sign the contract and seal it. Then, the story takes its inevitable twist. Yirmiyahu is told by G-d to give the sealed deed of his newly acquired land to Baruch Ben Neriah, with very special instructions:

וּנְתַתָּם בִּכְלִי חָרֶשׂ לְמַעַן יַעַמְדוּ יָמִים רַבִּים

You shall put them [both the contract and the land deed] in an earthenware utensil so that they will last a long time (ירמיהו לב:יד)

And, finally, after this confusing scenario of land bought from jail only for its deed to be sealed for generations (not to mention the siege on Jerusalem), an explanation is finally given:

כִּי כֹה אָמַר ה’ צְבָאוֹת אלקי יִשְׂרָאֵל עוֹד יִקָּנוּ בָתִּים וְשָׂדוֹת וּכְרָמִים בָּאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת:

For Hashem, the Lord, the G-d of the Jews, has said: [There will be a day] when houses and fields and vineyards will be bought in this land [Israel]. (שם טו)

Powerful stuff. In the usual style of Sefer Yirmiyahu, the prophet’s bizarre tasks end up being an extreme demonstration of an important message. Yes, Jerusalem may be surrounded by the Babylonians, and all hope may be lost. Yes, Yirmiyahu himself may be imprisoned for trying to help. But, there is hope. One day, the Jewish People will return and inherit the land and resettle and sell it to one another. (Metzudat David explicitly relates both of these themes, by saying that one day, the Babylonians will be gone from the land, and who will still have a claim to property there? The imprisoned prophet who bought land and immediately sealed the deed in an ancient time capsule. That’ll show them.)

Yirmiyahu, however, is not 100% satisfied with the explanation. He prays to G-d, praising Him and asking why this whole process was necessary. He reminds and questions G-d:

וְאַתָּה אָמַרְתָּ אֵלַי, אֲדֹנָי ה’, קְנֵה-לְךָ הַשָּׂדֶה בַּכֶּסֶף, וְהָעֵד עֵדִים; וְהָעִיר נִתְּנָה, בְּיַד הַכַּשְׂדִּים

Yet, you said, O Lord G-d, buy yourself a field with this money, and call witnesses… but the city is about the fall to the Kasdim. (שם כה)

G-d gives a relatively long answer, including a history of the Jewish People’s behavior and sins in Eretz Yisrael. Most of this is not included in our haftarah– only the first passuk is read:

וַיְהִי, דְּבַר-ה’, אֶל-יִרְמְיָהוּ, לֵאמֹר. הִנֵּה אֲנִי ה’, אֱלֹקֵי כָּל-בָּשָׂר–הֲמִמֶּנִּי, יִפָּלֵא כָּל-דָּבָר.

Then the word of G-d came to Yirmiyahu saying: Behold! I am the Lord, G-d of all beings- is there anything that I cannot do?! (שם כו-כז)

Thus ends the haftarah of Parshat Behar– with an rhetorical question. One could even say that this statement isn’t much of an answer to Yirmiyahu’s prayer/question. However, Metzudat David explains that the last four words of our haftarah say everything about G-d’s might and His ability to redeem us:

הממני – ר”ל ואם אמנם אני אלהי העולם וכי יהיה שום דבר שיהיה מכוסה ממני לבל אוכל עשוהו וכאומר אף שהארץ ניתנה ביד הכשדים מ”מ בידי להחזירה לישראל ולזה צויתי לך לקנות השדה שיהיה לאות ולרמז שכן אעשה וכאשר יאמר בענין:

From Me– [meaning:] if I am truly Hashem the G-d of the world and there is nothing hidden from me… Even if the land is given to the Kasdim, it is nevertheless within my ability to return it to the Jews, and this is why I commanded you (Yirmiyahu) to buy the field- as a sign and hint that I will return the land to you… (מצודת דוד שם)

In other words, G-d’s strength is a testament to the fact that just as He temporarily removed the Jewish People from the land, He could just as easily return them. Yirmiyahu’s unfortunately timed purchase is a symbol of that, for why would he bother to buy land with all of this pomp and circumstance, just to have it overrun by the Chaldeans. Clearly, there was another reason- to show that some day, the Jewish People will return to Eretz Yisrael, and the land will once again have value.

I would like expound on this with a small blast from the past. For those who were extra attentive in their first grade Chumash class, the phrase “הממני יפלא כל דבר” should sound super-familiar, because the first time that anything remotely resembling that appears in Tanach is at the beginning of פרשת וירא. When Avraham and Sarah are informed that they will be having a baby at their elderly age, Sarah begins to chuckle. Then G-d directly responds to Avraham: “היפלא מה’ דבר- Is anything beyond Hashem?!” And, lo and behold, Yitzchak was born less than a year later. The message from these two “היפלא”‘s is clear- even when all hope is lost, whether it be Avraham and Sarah’s hope to have a baby, or the Jewish People’s hope of repelling the Kasdim, we just need to ask ourselves one thing: “Is it really beyond G-d to save us?”

Even though G-d’s response to Yirmiyahu’s “היפלא” is a little bit longer in the coming than Avraham’s, we are beginning to see signs of the Geulah. The Jewish People have been living en masse in Eretz Yisrael for over 120 years, and have been governing ourselves for 66. We have truly begun to see a fulfillment of Yirmiyahu’s prophecy of “עוד יקנו בתים ושדות וכרמים בארץ הזאת” with Israel’s real estate market not only booming, but becoming one of the most expensive ones in the world. Even though we have not yet merited the coming of the Mashiach, nor the rebuilding of the Bet Hamikdash, there can be no doubt that we’ve reached new national highs and אחרית הימים is nigh. Many among us question if the State of Israel is the answer to two thousand years of tefilot, if a secular government has the ability to  become the geulah. To them, I answer with the same words that G-d answered both Avraham Avinu and Yirmiyahu when all hope seemed lost: “היפלא מה’ דבר”- Is it beyond Hashem, our G-d who caused a 99-year-old woman to have a baby, who returned us to Eretz Yisrael twice already, to accomplish this feat?

Shabbat Shalom