Since this Shabbat falls after the 17th of Tammuz, we begin reading the special haftarot of admonition - 3 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." These haftarot 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.
This first haftarah of 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." There's not even a "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.
So why is this a "haftarah of admonition?" Seems the only ones being admonished here are those who would attack Israel. 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. 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 sense of security, and then let us have it. 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.
©2009 by Adrian A. Durlester