Now you’ll have to wait another twenty years, until 5795, before you get to hear the regular haftarah reading for parashat Pinkhas. For the next twenty years, the reading of parshat Pinkhas occurs after the 17th of Tammuz, meaning we get to read the first of three haftarot of affliction (or admonition) leading us up to Tisha b’Av. We get to read it twenty years in a row. Yay, us.
By way of explanation, since this Shabbat falls after the 17th of Tammuz, we begin reading the special haftarot of admonition (or affliction) – admonishing haftarot (two from Jeremiah, one from Isaiah) preceding the ninth of Av (after which we hear the seven haftarot of consolation.) We take these three weeks to reflect on the things that led to the many horrible things that happened to the Jewish people throughout our history that are traditionally associated with the ninth of Av (Tisha b’Av.) The original Hebrew root for the Aramaic word d’puranata which is usually translated as “admonition” is the root that generally means “to disturb” or “to afflict.” These haftarot, at least the second two, are certainly disturbing. They are among the most irredeemable of texts. Clearly, they are meant to “disturb” us, to give us pause, to cause us to reflect upon our own behaviors and actions and the behaviors and actions of our community.
Another oddity to note is that the two haftarot from Jeremiah are also the usual readings for parashiyot Matot and Masei, which normally follow parashat Pinkhas, ending the book of Numbers. The third reading, from Isaiah, is the normal haftarah for parashat D’vraim So we would normally read these haftarot anyway, we just shift them to fit within the “three weeks” between the fast of the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha b’Av. Commentators talk about these special haftarot of admonition, but they have always been there, timed as much as possible, to be at this time of year. It’s only the vagaries of the Hebrew calendar cycle and the insistence that these haftarot be read during the “three weeks” that causes all this shuffling (and, for the next 20 years, will deprive us of the great regular haftarah for Pinkhas, from I Kings 18/19.)
As I’ve commented before, this first haftarah of affliction or admonition is, all in all, not so horrible. It is still very much in a “get your act together, for trouble is coming, but G”d will protect you” mode.
After some preliminary establishing of Jeremiah as a (reluctant?) prophet, G”d gives Jeremiah a vision of a steaming cauldron. Peoples shall pour out from the north, bringing disaster to the Israelites. The kingdoms of the north will come to Jerusalem. G”d will argue G”d’s case against the Israelites for their wickedness, their forsaking of G”d, and their worship of other gods and idols.
“Get ready,” says G”d to Jeremiah. “Gird your loins.” G”d tells Jeremiah the people are likely to give him a hard time, and he had best not dissemble before them. G”d tells Jeremiah that G”d will fortify him against the Kings and people of Judah. Jeremiah’s diatribe, from G”d to Israel, is in the next installment, and not this one.
G”d ‘s message here, to me, feels incomplete. There’s no “if you return to/do not forsake G”d’s ways” clause attached. It is as though G”d has forgotten all of Israel’s stubbornness and recalcitrance. In opposition to Hosea’s metaphor of a cuckolded husband and Israel as whore, Jeremiah has G”d reminiscing over Israel’s devotion, their love for G”d as if a bride. (2:2) G”d even has Jeremiah say, in G”d’s name, that accounted to Israel’s favor was how they followed G”d in the wilderness (2:2.) Verse 3 is the topper.
“Kodesh Yisrael La”Ad”nai, reishit t’vuato”
Israel was Holy to Ad”nai, the first fruits of (G”d’s) harvest.
So the Israelites are compared to the offering gift of the first fruits. Then, those who would eat/devour Israel are like those who profaned the first fruits by eating from them, and they shall bear the (bad) consequences of their actions. That’s a pretty strong statement of an intent to protect.
The message is mixed. Bad things are coming your way. But I, G”d, remember how you were faithful to me. (Is G”d suffering from some memory lapses here? Selective memory? Early onset dementia? Faithful? Not a word that has ever, aptly, described the people of Israel. “Faithful but…” or “Faithful in their own way.” Or, as Cole Porter once put it
“I’m always be true to you darlin’ in my fashion, Yes, I’m always true to you darlin’ in my way.”
(Kiss Me Kate)
With this strong hint of potential protection, why is this a “haftarah of admonition?” Seems the only ones being admonished here are those who would attack Israel. Don’t worry. The admonition against Israel – it’s coming, you betcha. Next week.
So, if the intent is to be a haftarah of admonition, why not begin with the haftarah chosen for the second haftarah of admonition, from the 2nd chapter of Jeremiah, which is a truly accusatory and damning diatribe against Israel?
If I learn anything from this haftarah, it is a reminder that viewing just small pieces of our sacred text without surrounding context (i.e. what comes before and what comes after) may not be the best way to look at things. It is also a reminder of the power of rhetorical tools and devices. The biblical authors, editors, and redactors were masters of the rhetorical arts. (That, alone, ought to tell us something about how we should view our sacred texts.)
Here’s the thing. This first haftarah of admonition – it’ s a tactic. Just as Hosea uses a methodology that gets our attention up front-sort a “shock and awe”- Jeremiah uses another tactic-lull us into a false sense of security, and then, wham-o, let us have it. There’s a warning here, but also a hinted at promise of protection and an eventual good ending. That ought to put us in a wary but generally positive mood. That will make the next haftarah all that more powerful in its lambasting of our unfaithfulness to G”d. I’ll admit that, separated by a week, it might not have the same impact as when chapters 1 and 2 are read contiguously, but impact it will have, nevertheless.
So our first week of admonition will pass without much admonishing. Take advantage of the moment, for next week it won’t be so easy.
Adrian ©2015 (portions ©2009) by Adrian A. Durlester
Other musings on this parasha:
Pinkhas 5774 – Slaughter the Oxen, Burn the Plow, and Hear the Still Small Voice
Pinkhas 5773 – G”d’s Justice, G”d’s Responsibility
Pinkhas 5772 – Not Such a Shining Moment
Pinkhas 5771 – Wake Up and Smell the Coffee
Pinkhas 5770 – Thanking Those Who Didn’t Make It
Pinkhas 5769-Why is This Rebuke Different From All Other Rebukes?
Pinkhas 5768 – Still Zealous After all These Years
Pinhas 5766-Let’s Give Moshe a Hand
Pinkhas 5765-Kol D’mamah Dakah
Pinchas 5762 — I Still Get Zealous
Pinchas 5764/5760-It Just Is!