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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Masei

Yirmeyahu – Feeling Destruction in his Genes

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We are in the midst of the three weeks in which we read haftarot which foretell doom to Bnei Yisrael at the end of the First Temple period. Two of these haftarot are taken from the warnings of Yirmeyahu, the prophet of the destruction of the First Temple.
Although in historical retrospect it is clear that Yirmeyahu was correct, many of the people of his time viewed him as a heretic. They viewed the Divine Presence in the Temple as a fact that could not be altered (see Yirmeyahu 7:4). As a matter of fact, some of Yirmeyahu’s opponents wanted to have him killed for his harsh words regarding the people and especially the Temple (see Yirmeyahu 26). There is indeed some truth to the claim that there is permanence to the Divine Presence at the Temple site. The midrash says that the western wall will never be destroyed (Bamidbar Rabba 11). Forgetting about the physical structure, the Rambam rules that one cannot enter the site when impure because "even in its destruction, its sanctity remains intact" (Beit Habechira 7:7).

On the other hand, some 150 years earlier the prophet, Micha, referred to the philosophy that the Temple was indestructible and attacked it strongly. "On Hashem they will lean, saying: ‘for Hashem is in our midst, evil will not befall us.’ Therefore, because of you Zion will be ploughed like a field and Jerusalem will be like heaps of rubble and the Temple Mount will be like stone heaps in the forest" (Micha 3: 11-12). Yirmeyahu had said that the Temple would be like Shiloh and the inhabitants of the city would be wiped out from it (Yirmeyahu 26:9). The "defense team" said that just as Micha had not been harmed, so should they allow Yirmeyahu the freedom to speak in Hashem’s Name (ibid.:18).

The historical precedent of Shiloh was a strong argument indeed. Shiloh had been the site not of the permanent structure of the Temple, but it was the site of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), the precursor to the Temple, which had indeed been destroyed. Let us pursue the comparison. The ones who had operated the Tabernacle at Shilo had been the descendants of Itamar, including Eili, under whose watch the Mishkan was destroyed. One of the members of Eili’s family, Evyatar, upon being banished by King Solomon, was sent home to Anatot (Melachim I, 2). As Yirmeyahu was also a kohen from Anatot hundreds of years later, it is likely that he too was from Eili’s family. There is a rabbinic tradition that the Tabernacle stood in Shiloh for 369 years (Tosefta, Zevachim 13:6). Yirmeyahu’s prophecy was said at the beginning of Yehoyakim’s reign. At that time, one can calculate that the Temple had been standing exactly 369 years. Yirmeyahu, based on his family tradition and the timing, was able to speak with a chilling force when he said the Temple would be destroyed like Shiloh, thus eliciting such a harsh reaction.


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