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'I bought the filed in Anatot… and weighed out the silver for him, seventeen silver shekels.' (Jeremiah 32:9)
The prophet Jeremiah lived during the end of the seventh and beginning of the sixth century BCE, and he lived to witness the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE. He was active in the Southern Kingdom of Judah during the reigns of five different kings of Judah: Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah - to four of whom he brought messages from G-d.
The Northern Kingdom of Israel, containing the Ten Tribes, had already been forced into exile a century, under the Assyrian Empire.From the text of his book, he appears to have had only one task, to which he applied himself single-mindedly. That was to warn the people that Judah would be destroyed unless they, the Jews, repented. With all the sincerity and devotion he brought to his mission, however, he knew that he would not see success in his own lifetime. For G-d had already decreed that Judah would be destroyed following the activities of Josiah's grandfather, King Manasseh:
"Since King Manasseh of Judah has committed such abominations… and since he has caused Judah to sin with his idols, G-d, the L-rd of Israel says: "I will bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of everyone who hears about it will ring! … I will wipe out Jerusalem … I will abandon the remnant of My inheritance and deliver them to their enemies. They will become spoil and plunder for all their enemies, because they have displeased Me and angered Me since the time when their ancestors left Egypt to this day." (Kings II 21:11-15).
And that decree remained in force despite the positive religious reforms and revival under King Josiah, during whose reign Jeremiah began his career as a prophet. As the text states:
"There was no other king like Josiah before or afterwards who returned to G-d with all his heart and soul and might. However, G-d did not turn away from His great anger of the because of everything Manasseh had done to provoke Him." (ibid. 23:25-6)
Jeremiah was neither allowed to marry (16:1-2), nor to commiserate with his people. His dramatic conveyance of the Word of G-d to the Jews did not win him popularity, and he was reviled, beaten, and imprisoned. He was threatened with death more than once, and his would-be assassins almost succeeded. He survived, only living to see the Temple destroyed, the wealthier classes exiled to Babylon, and himself dragged over the border to Egypt, where he remained until his death.
The scene of Haftara is in the 'guardhouse of the king's palace' where Jeremiah was held in custody (32:2) - just one year before Babylon's second and final successful assault on the city of Jerusalem. King Zedekiah deprived Jeremiah of his liberty so that he would not spread his defeatist prophecy on the imminent Fall of Jerusalem.
The Haftara relates Jeremiah purchasing a field in the Jerusalem area. Buying it from his relative, Hanamel, would keep it within the extended family of Jeremiah, rather than going to a complete stranger. In spite of the apparently hopeless situation in which the Judean kingdom found itself, the prophet had the contract of sale signed, witnessed, and sealed, in the presence of a large assembly - even though the city was facing destruction. G-d reassured Jeremiah that however hopeless the situation seemed, 'nothing is beyond Him to achieve' (32:26). The contradictions of the situation would be resolved in time, and Jeremiah was doing the right thing in redeeming the field by purchasing it, although at present as a symbolic acquisition. It was not an act of pious desperation, but an act signifying the confidence that the Jews would once again buy land and homes in the Holy Land.
As a footnote, the seal of Baruch ben Neriah (32:12-14) who handled the sale survives in the name of 'Berachyahu ben Neriyahu Hasofer (the Scribe)'. It may be viewed at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Dated to the sixth century BCE, it is highly unlikely that it would have referred to anyone else of the same name.
The text of the Parashat Behar (Lev. 25:14) rules that real estate must be priced fairly - according to the amount of time remaining in the Torah-ordained 50-year lease. A property with only another 10 years to go should not be priced as if it had 40 years left in it.
The text of this Haftara, on the other hand, appears to be promoting a property deal that would hardly appeal to any person of business. The Babylonian siege of Jerusalem was in full swing, and Jeremiah was held in captivity under the command of Nebuchadnezzar's Judean puppet-king, Zedekiah. Jeremiah was deprived of his personal freedom because he had prophesized what people did not want to hear: that their sins and their stubborn refusal to change their ways were bringing them towards destruction and exile.
And while Jeremiah was sitting in prison, G-d Himself told him to purchase a field from a relative who had to sell his property, thus ensuring that it would stay in the family (32:7). Jeremiah did as he was told. He went through the legal proceedings for the transfer of land and paid what appears to have been the full price - though the Destruction took place less than two years later (32:1; 52:1). Even Jeremiah found it hard to make of sense of being ordered to redeem land that was about to fall into enemy hands, but G-d replied that nothing 'was too difficult' for Him (Jer. 32:27). He reassured Jeremiah that however painful the Destruction and Exile were to be, He would see to it that His People would eventually return to their Land.
Nevertheless, Jeremiah was not going to be there to see it. He found himself virtually dragged over the border to Egypt (43:7), and there is no record of his ever having come back. Why did Jeremiah pay the full price and not bargain for an appropriate reduction, within the framework of the Parasha? For the enemy were already at the gates…
It may be suggested that Jeremiah paid the full price without question to give the people a full sense of proportion when disaster was to take effect. They would then - only then - take his prophecy of impending doom seriously, although too late. But in the same way that they would have learnt to trust his 'dark cloud' they would also come to trust the fact that 'it would not last for ever'. Suffering, yes; total despair, no. For the destiny of G-d's people is 'a kingdom of priest and a Holy Nation' living in the 'Land He swore to give to your fathers'. Destruction, suffering, and exile - no matter how dark at the time - are but a comma, in the permanency of Israel, and the mission of Israel to humanity. The documents of the sale were put in a safe place (32:14), for evidence in the distant future, when, indeed, 'fields would be bought (32:47) by legal means in the Holy Land.
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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