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Torah, Our Only Hope (Jeremiah 8:13-9:23)

Almost every page of Yermiyahu’s prophet was spent warning the people of Judea that the nation was doomed to destruction om account of their betrayal of God and the Torah. So, when the prophet declares: “Who is the wise man who would understand this, what the mouth of the Lord spoke to him that he might tell it? Why is the land laid destroyed, laid waste like the wilderness with none passing through? And the Lord said: ‘Because they forsook My teaching (Torati) that I set before them and did not heed My voice and did not go according to it…” (Jeremiah 9:11-12), he is merely summarizing his message in a rhetorical plea, urging the people to take heed to God and His commandments before it is too late.

Generations later, after the destruction of the Second Temple, this same message is understood very differently o account of the changed conditions and priorities in the time of the rabbinic ages as is illustrated in the following midrash from the period of the Talmud (Eretz Yisrael 4-5 century):

Rabbi Abba bar Kahana began his discourse with the verse: ‘Who is the wise man, who would understand this, what the mouth of the Lord spoke to him, that he might tell it? Why the Land lay destroyed… (Jeremiah 9:11). Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai taught in a Baraita: When you see whole villages of people plucked up and removed from their place in the Land of Israel, know that this fate befell them because they failed to provide fees for teachers of Scripture and teachers of Mishnah. And what is the proof? The verse: Wherefore is the Land perished, and aid waste like a wilderness? (ibid.), words which are followed directly by The Lord said: ‘Because they have forsaken My Torah. (Ibid 9:12).

The midrash continues with an anecdote to support this lesson:

Rabbi Yehudah Nesiyah (The grandson of Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi] sent Rabbi Assi and Rabbi Ammi to go and check up on [the teaching of Torah in] the villages of the Land of Israel. On coming into a settlement, they would say, ‘Bring us the guardians of the settlement.’ When the commander of the watch or his assistant was brought, Rabbi Assi and Rabbi Ammi would say: Are these the guardians of the settlement? These may be the destroyers of the settlement. Who are the true guardians of the settlement? They are the teachers of Scripture and teachers of Mishnah who guard the settlement day and night, as we learn from the verse “And you should meditate on them day and night” (Joshua 1:8). (adapted from Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 15: 5 Mandelbaum ed. p. 253-4)

The sages were well aware that there would be no continuity or growth without emphasizing the importance of education. This fact is true regarding the serious and vibrant future of the Jewish people and nation. It is true for the world as well.

About the Author
Mordechai Silverstein is a teacher of Torah who has lived in Jerusalem for over 30 years. He specializes in helping people build personalized Torah study programs.
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