by Rabbi Jeffrey Adler
The Torah reading for this past week was a double portion: Behar and Bechukotai, amounting to Leviticus 25-27. The attending Haftarah reading to Behar is most of Jeremiah 32; I would like us to now take a look at this fascinating passage.
In this passage, Jerusalem is surrounded by Chaldean troops. The city walls could be breached and the city could fall any day, any time. There are critical shortages of every vital necessity. The entire population is bottled up within what is left of the city, with no one able to get out to get supplies. The rest of the country has been captured and destroyed. People have been eating animals, even rats, and, some have been eating the corpses of those people who had died from starvation and disease. The economy is in a shambles, with residents selling anything of value at deflated prices, getting whatever will bring cash, in order to be able to buy whatever precious supplies remain within the city.
Against this backdrop, the prophet reports that Adonai gave him startling instructions: (Jeremiah 32:6-7) “So Jeremiah said: ‘The word of Adonai came to me, saying, ‘Hanamel, son of Shallum, your uncle, will soon come to you saying, ‘Buy my field in Anathoth, for the right of redemption is yours to buy it.’” In verse 8, Hanamel, indeed, does come and does exactly what the Lord had predicted. Because Torah had stated that once Joshua had divided the land among the 12 tribes and their households, the apportionments were to remain within those families in perpetuity. Even if possession of the land were put up as collateral and lost to default on a loan, the land would have to revert to the original grantee in the next Jubilee year. The land had to remain within the family, redeemable only by another member of the family with accessibility available based on the closest of relationship. Hanamel could only sell the field to the closest kin. Here, it is Jeremiah.
Because Adonai had made clear that the purchase was God’s will, Jeremiah proceeds to weigh out and pay the money- a precious 17 shekels of silver- and buys the field in front of witnesses, who signed onto the deed as witnesses. Jeremiah then handed the deed to his secretary, Baruch, instructing him to seal it in a clay jar to preserve it. As verse 15 says, For thus says Adonai-Tzva’ot, the God of Israel, ‘Houses and fields and vineyards will yet again be bought in this land.’”
Jeremiah is startled by God’s directions in what appears to be a foolish transaction. People are short of money; in a buyers’ market, prices for real estate are depressed, food prices are inflated. Enemy troops block and prevent even going to examine the field just purchased. There was so little hard currency in the city that spending 17 shekels looked like tossing the money into a drain. People were selling whatever they could to buy whatever food was still available. Why would Adonai order him to make this “foolhardy” deal in such a hopeless environment? Would Jeremiah ever have the chance to see the parcel of land he had just bought?
The prophet went to the Lord, so wise a step in any time of duress. His opening word is, “Aha” in Hebrew; as if to say, “Adonai, you are here after all,.”. Beginning in verse 17, “Ah, my Lord Adonai! Behold, you have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm…” The “ko-ach”, or muscle power, of the Lord is an obvious given, but, His “z’raa n’tuyah”, or outstretched arm, takes the power of Adonai from mere potential to active involvement. He always, as El Shaddai, Almighty God, has the potential to do great things, but, He stretches out His Arm to be actively involved in the world’s affairs.
The prophet continues: “Lo yippale mimm’ka kol davar,”, “nothing is too hard for You!” The negative “lo” is open-ended, implying never or ever. “Yippale” is the imperfect of a verb “to be wonderful”, always used in the Hebrew text to describe God or His works. Though Jeremiah does not understand what God has just instructed him to do, he begins by acknowledging what God has done and can and will continue to do. He is, after all, “El-Shaddai”.
Going on, Jeremiah relates that God shows mercy and judgement toward His Creation. “Great in counsel and mighty in deed, whose eyes are open to all the ways of the children of men, to give each one according to his ways and according to the fruit of his deeds.” God had judged Egypt and miraculously brought Israel out from their bondage, giving them Eretz Yisrael, the richest of lands. In spite of Adonai’s Goodness, the people had rebelled against Him and were now facing collapse at Babylonian hands. Why buy land in Benjamin now when everyone else was selling to try to get their hands on whatever hard currency they could?
God responded: “Hinneh Ani Adonai Elohey kol-basar. Hamimenni yippale kol-davar?”. Adonai replies to Jeremiah by reminding him of what he had just stated, that nothing is too miraculous, too supernatural, for the Lord. He will reverse what at the time appears to be the final destruction of Israel. In accordance with the related Torah portion of Leviticus 26, He will bring them back from what appears to be ultimate exile to the “lands of their enemies”. Verse 37f: “See, I will gather them out of all countries, where I have driven them in My anger, My fury, and great wrath, and I will bring them back to this place and cause them to dwell securely. They will be My people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, so they may fear Me forever; for their good and for their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them; I will never turn away from doing good for them. I will put My fear in their hearts, so that they will not depart from Me. Yes, I will delight in doing good for them, and with all My heart and all My soul I will in truth plant them in this land… So fields will be bought in this land, about which you say, ‘It will be a desolation…’”
It turns out that the Lord had led Jeremiah into a really good investment, after all! “Nothing is too supernatural for the Lord!”
Rabbi Jeffrey Adler is president of the Board of HaShomer and also Rabbi of Sha’arey Yeshua in Indianapolis, IN.