Yirmiyahu the Prophet and Yirmiyahu the Parent

At my son’s “aufruf” this past week, he introduced my wife before she spoke by describing the tough job that parents have. Parents have at least two roles. They must guide you to make correct decisions and they must empathize with you when you find yourself feeling down. And it’s not always clear what a parent should do. Do you want your parent to empathize with you or to tell you the truth and set you straight? Do you want your parent to be by your side all the time, no matter what you do, or do you want your parent to hold you accountable for your mistakes and confront you when you are doing something wrong? The answer is yes. We want our parent to do both, but timing is everything.

We encounter the prophet Yirmiyahu in the last years of the first Beit Hamikdash and his primary message during his prophecies was that the people should not listen to false prophets who claim that everything is fine and that there is no need for a religious reformation. Indeed, the term “sheker” or falsehood appears 113 times in Tanach and 37 of those occurrences appear in Sefer Yirmiyahu. Additionally, of all the Neviim Acharonim, Sefer Yirmiyahu is the only sefer which contains a significant narrative. There are many stories throughout this sefer. Yirmiyahu is twice arrested, imprisoned and sentenced to death. It is very unusual for a sefer in Neviim Acharonim to tell us a story and not just prophecies, but it is important for Yirmiyahu to share his struggles in conveying his message to the masses. Because that is part of his message; that sometimes it is difficult to get an important message across because we often deceive ourselves as to what is true and what is not.

Yirmiyahu represents a single voice of truth in a world of falsehood.  His primary antagonists were Hananiah ben Azzur and Shemaiah the Nehelamite.  They preached that all would be well, whereas the mission of Yirmiyahu was to convince the complacent Jews of the fragility of their relationship with God, and of the vulnerability of the Mikdash and their existence in Eretz Yisrael.

The people in Yirmiyahu’s time deceived themselves into thinking that God loved them and therefore the Mikdash would never be destroyed.  Similarly, a child may think that he can do no wrong and he will suffer no consequences, no matter what his parent says.  But, of course, we know, that cannot always be the case.  In this way, Yirmiyahu was acting as our parent before the destruction, begging us to see that there would be consequences if we did not change our ways.

But then, Yirmiyahu becomes a different parent after the destruction.  He doesn’t only write Sefer Yirmiyahu.  He also writes Sefer Eichah.  According to the simple understanding of the text and according to Rav Nehemiah in Eichah Rabbah, Yirmiyahu writes this text as he is witnessing the destruction.  Before the destruction, the message he espoused was “don’t deceive yourself.”  But after the destruction, the message was “I feel your pain.”  The first four chapters of Eichah describe images of Jerusalem soon after the destruction, the destruction of the Mikdash, of the land, and the human suffering.  Yirmiyahu doesn’t say, “I told you so,” but he empathizes with the survivors.

When we reflect upon the tragedy of Tisha B’Av, we reflect upon the tragedies and the sins and the self-deception that we often encounter.  But the story of Tisha B’Av is also a story of good parenting in challenging times.  It is a story of Yirmiyahu, the consummate parent, who tries against all odds to bring his children back into the fold, to avert destruction.  It is also the story of a parent who doesn’t kick his children when they are down and say, “I told you so,” but instead communicates to them that he is still with them, even in their pain.  He knows when to be critical and he knows when to empathize.  We can learn a lot from Yirmiyahu the prophet and we can learn a lot from Yirmiayhu the parent.

About the Author
Jonathan Muskat is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside.
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