Kindness of Your Youth
The Talmud describes the Book of Jeremiah as “kulei churbena” – it is all about the destruction (Bava Batra 14b). In light of this description Jeremiah’s first prophecy to Israel seems out of place. “Go and proclaim in the ears of Jerusalem, saying: So says the Lord, I remember for you the kindness of your youth, the love of your nuptials, when you followed me into the wilderness, into an unsown land. Israel is holy to the Lord, the first of His crop; all who devour them will be held guilty; evil shall come upon them.” (Jeremiah 2:2,3).
Visions of destruction and pain fill the Book of Jeremiah. At the same time, throughout the book, the prophet provides words of comfort and reassurance with the vision of the final redemption. But this introductory prophecy, a prophecy about Israel’s past, still calls for an explanation. Why is this prophecy chosen to introduce the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile from the Land of Israel?
Perhaps we can better understand this prophecy when we consider the concept of exile. When God punishes us He is not merely taking revenge or expressing anger. Each punishment is planned out as a path to correct us and to help us accomplish the purpose for which we were created.
When Israel sinned they lost the ability to accomplish their purpose in their own land. Therefore, Israel needed to wander in the spiritual wilderness of exile. Instead of testifying to the oneness of God in the light of Divine favor, Israel will need to fulfill this task in the darkness of exile.
Before we set out on this new aspect of our mission, God reminds us of our original commitment to Him. When we followed Him that first time we weren’t expecting anything. Our love for God was so complete that we followed Him out into the desert without knowing how we would be sustained.
This prophecy is the appropriate introduction to exile. God is declaring that Israel is indeed capable and fit for the task of exile. Their love for God runs so deep that all of the persecutions and suffering of exile will never extinguish it (Song of Solomon 8:7). The fire in Israel’s heart for God, which we showed when we followed Him into the desert, has the strength to remain loyal to Him even in the darkest depths of exile.
Isaiah prophesied that we will yet emerge from this exile with our loyalty to God intact. We will yet enter the gates as the nation that remained faithful to the God who we followed when we left the land of Egypt (Isaiah 26:2).
May it happen speedily in our days.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal