Wayfarer’s Inn, By Rabbi Shalom Carmy

The haftarah for Tisha B’Av is taken from Jeremiah 8:13-9:23. It begins with a description of chaos and the enemy’s advent. We hear the voice of the people seeking refuge in fortified city and the voice of God ordaining their affliction. From verse 18 the text shifts to the first person singular. According to most commentators, it is the prophet himself speaking: “Would that my head were water and my eye a fountain of tears that I might weep day and night for the dead of my people (8:23).”

The next verse continues: “Would I were a wayfarer’s inn in the desert, that I might abandon my people and go from them for they are all adulterers, an assembly of traitors etc.” Why does the prophet wish to separate himself from the Jewish people? One reason, offered by commentators, is that he cannot bear to see their suffering. Offhand this reason is supported by the previous verses in which he laments the inexhaustibleness of his grief.

However, if we look at the prophet’s wish in connection with the following verses, it appears that he is disgusted by their sinfulness. His desire to flee is not necessarily a rejection of the people, but it is surely a rejection of their corrupt society. He does not want to dwell in a community of deception.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Mordekhai in the Sovereign’s Court, by Rabbi Shalom Carmy

 

When Mordekhai learned of Bigtan and Teresh’s plot against the king, he did what a good subject would do: he relayed the information to the court. However, Bereshit Rabba (39:12) discussing God’s blessing to Abraham at the beginning of Lekh Lekha, wonders why he did so; why should he go out of his way to save the undeserving Gentile king? R. Yehuda says that Mordekhai followed in the footsteps of earlier role models—Jacob blessing Pharaoh, Joseph working in Pharaoh’s court, Daniel responding to Nebuchadnezzar’s requests. R. Nehemia holds that Mordekhai looked back to the mission God gave Abraham, to be a blessing to the nations: since Jews cannot benefit the world through material wealth (since the Gentiles outstrip us in that regard) we can only help the world through the information we provide when consulted.[1]

At first blush it would seem that Mordekhai’s obligation to report treason is anchored in the prophecy of Jeremiah 29: “Seek out the welfare of the city where you dwell, for in its welfare is yours.” What does the Midrash add to the seemingly straightforward duty of social benevolence?

Continue reading

A Note on G-d’s Kingship in the Exodus Story, by Rabbi Shalom Carmy

Pharaoh pleaded with Moshe to remove the frogs. Moshe agrees to pray for their removal at a time to be determined by Pharaoh. An interlocutor asks whether Moshe’s response is politically savvy. Would it not be more effective if he had told Pharaoh that the frogs would disappear after the Jews left Egypt? By agreeing to intercede before his demands were met, Moshe enables Pharaoh to renege once relief is obtained.

The question presupposes that Moshe is acting on his own, and not on divine instruction. This premise does not, in itself, disqualify the question. The Torah does not explicitly state that Moshe’s response was dictated by G-d, and some commentators, notably Abarbanel, hold that Moshe acted on his own initiative when he promised to pray. Moreover, if he was obeying G-d’s command, this would merely shift the question from Moshe to G-d: It would be G-d who would forego His advantage by letting Pharaoh off the hook.

Continue reading