The message of this week’s haftarah is largely aimed at Egypt. As in last week’s haftarah from the book of Ezekiel, Jeremiah warns the Egyptian nation from the generation of the destruction of the First Temple of its impending doom at the hands of the Babylonians, since Egypt had proved itself an unreliable ally to the Judean nation.
The Jewish nation, during this time period, existed as the bridge between these two great powers and as a consequence was always caught between them in their battle for preeminence. This explains why this haftarah ends with a note of encouragement for this beleaguered nation: “But you, have no fear, My servant Jacob, Be not dismayed O Israel! I will deliver you from far away, you folk from the land of their captivity; and Jacob shall again have calm and quiet, with none to trouble him. But you, have no fear, My servant Jacob, declares the Lord, for I am with you. I will make an end (calah) of all the nations among which I have banished you, but I will not make an end of you! I will leave you unpunished, but I will chastise you in measure.” (Jeremiah 46:17-18)
This, of course, was not the only time that the Jewish nation found itself in such calamitous circumstances. After the Babylonians came the Persians and after the Persians came the Greeks and after the Greeks came the Romans and so on. The message of these last two verses seemed perennially relevant. Threats to the Jewish people, its way of life and its beliefs were not always physical; many times, Jews were spiritually vanquished by other nations as well.
The Hasidic tradition is well known for its psychological/spiritual reinterpretations of biblical passages. Rabbi Zadok from Lublin (Poland 18th-19th century) understands Jeremiah’s message in just such terms: “‘But you, have no fear, My servant Jacob, be not dismayed O Israel! I will deliver you from far away’ – For Jacob feared that some of his seed would go astray and regarding this, God said: ‘Behold, I will save those from far away’ – those who become distant from God.’” (Pri Tzadik Parshat Bo 11) Rabbi Zadok sees exile as something spiritual, as being drawn away from God. This kind of exile, he asserts, is as destructive as being removed from one’s home and people.
It was Rabbi Zadok’s hope that just as God has given us the strength and fortitude to outlast our physical enemies, He will also help those of us who have gone astray to see the light and to once again find a home with God.