Consolation Amid Rebuke?
(א) וַיְהִי דְבַר י"י אֵלַי לֵאמֹר. (ב) הָלֹךְ וְקָרָאתָ בְאׇזְנֵי יְרוּשָׁלִַם לֵאמֹר כֹּה אָמַר י"י זָכַרְתִּי לָךְ חֶסֶד נְעוּרַיִךְ אַהֲבַת כְּלוּלֹתָיִךְ לֶכְתֵּךְ אַחֲרַי בַּמִּדְבָּר בְּאֶרֶץ לֹא זְרוּעָה. (ג) קֹדֶשׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל לַי"י רֵאשִׁית תְּבוּאָתֹה כׇּל אֹכְלָיו יֶאְשָׁמוּ רָעָה תָּבֹא אֲלֵיהֶם נְאֻם י"י.
(1) And the word of the Lord came to me, saying: (2) Go, and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying: Thus saith the Lord: I remember for thee the affection of thy youth, The love of thine espousals; How thou wentest after Me in the wilderness, In a land that was not sown. (3) Israel is the Lord's hallowed portion, His first-fruits of the increase; All that devour him shall be held guilty, Evil shall come upon them, Saith the Lord.
The three verses are replete with positive imagery: bridal love, kindness, faithful following, and holiness. Yirmeyahu further promises punishment on all who harm Israel, announcing "כׇּל אֹכְלָיו יֶאְשָׁמוּ רָעָה תָּבֹא אֲלֵיהֶם". How, though, does the prophecy connect to its context? Chapter 1 ends with an invitation to all the kingdoms of the North to come and attack Jerusalem as punishment for the nation's idolatrous ways. The verses that follow our unit continue in the same vein, as the prophet chastises the people for rejecting Hashem, forgetting His kindness, and turning to other gods. Is our prophecy exceptional in its message, or does it somehow relate to the surrounding messages of rebuke?
Despite the brevity of the passage, several aspects of the prophecy remain unclear:
- "חֶסֶד נְעוּרַיִךְ אַהֲבַת כְּלוּלֹתָיִךְ לֶכְתֵּךְ אַחֲרַי בַּמִּדְבָּר" – To what does each of these three phrases refer? What acts of kindness is Hashem recalling? What period constitutes the "love of betrothal"?
- Relationship of the terms – Who is the subject of each of the phrases of verse 2? Though it seems clear that the words "לֶכְתֵּךְ אַחֲרַי בַּמִּדְבָּר" refer to the nation's following of Hashem, do the love and kindness of the first two clauses similarly refer to Israel's actions, or might they, instead, speak of Hashem's love and caring for the nation? After all, what would it mean for a human to do an act of "חֶסֶד" for Hashem?2
- Relationship of the verses – How does verse 3 relate to verse 2? Does it constitute the outcome of Hashem's recollections, or is it another example of Hashem's memories?
- "קֹדֶשׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל לַי"י... כׇּל אֹכְלָיו יֶאְשָׁמוּ " – At what point was / is Israel "holy to God"? When will evil befall any who harm her? Do the two halves of the verse refer to the same time period?