Jeremiah – Chapter 31

In the Future, Kiruv Will Be a Thing of the Past

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

G-d said that the Jews who left Egypt found favor in the desert, so He gave them rest when they took possession of the land of Israel. G-d appeared to Jeremiah and said that He loves the Jewish people with an eternal love, which is why He draws us close to Him with kindness. He will rebuild the nation and there will once again be rejoicing. Vineyards will be planted on the mountains of Samaria. A day will come when the watchmen call out to go to the Temple mount, to rejoice there. The Jews will sing to G-d and ask His help to redeem the rest of the exiles. He will bring the exiles of Judah from Babylonia and the Ten Tribes from the ends of the Earth. They will come slowly, so that the blind and infirm can easily travel with the rest of the nation. The people will weep from joy and in repentance and G-d will lead them on a straight and smooth path.

G-d tells the nations of the world to hear His word; the One Who caused Israel to be dispersed gathers them together to be His flock. He redeemed Israel and saved them from enemies who were stronger than they were. They will rejoice on the Temple mount and enjoy G-d’s goodness in the form of corn, wine, oil, sheep and cattle. Their souls will be satisfied, like a well-watered garden, and they will know no fear. Young women will dance; old men will join young men in rejoicing. Mourning will turn into joy and the priests will rejoice in the return of the Temple service.

A voice is heard; it is the matriarch Rachel, weeping for her children who have not returned from exile. (The Radak cites the Midrash, which states that the Jews passed by Rachel’s Tomb on their way into exile and she prayed to G-d for mercy on them.) G-d tells Rachel not to cry because they are coming back. (Rachel’s merit is that she welcomed her rival Leah into her household, rather than embarrass her.) Even though most of Rachel’s descendants, the Tribes of Ephraim and Menashe, would not return after the Babylonian exile, they will return in the Messianic era. G-d acknowledges Ephraim complaining that they have suffered many years in exile and asking to be led back; they regret their transgressions. G-d agrees to have mercy on Ephraim, who is a precious child to Him and He longs to be reunited.

G-d tells the Jews to set up “signs” – good deeds, like their ancestors had – showing them the way to return. They should no longer hide in shame, because G-d has created something new: women will court men. (In our recurring metaphor, G-d is the husband and Israel is the wife.) When the Jews return from exile, they will bless the Temple saying that G-d should no longer permit her to be destroyed. The people of Judah will dwell in their territory, for G-d will have invigorated the spirits of the people.

Jeremiah was pleased when he awoke from this vision. (With the exception of Moses, prophets received their visions in a trance-like state.) Days are coming when G-d will “plant” the people and they will increase. As they will be demolished, so will they be rebuilt. People will no longer say that they eat “unripe grapes” (a metaphor for sin) and that children suffer for their parents’ sins; everyone will be responsible for his own actions alone.

G-d will make a new covenant with the Jews, different from the one they made after they left Egypt, which they broke. He will place His Torah in their hearts. People won’t have to tell others about G-d, because everyone will know Him and He will forgive their sins. He made the sun and the other Heavenly bodies and He makes the oceans churn. As long as these things follow the laws of nature (which He set up), Israel will endure. Just as the Heavens can never be measured, Israel can never be rejected by G-d. The day is coming when Jerusalem will be rebuilt, never to be destroyed again.

This well-known chapter includes some verses made even more famous in song. “A voice is heard…it is Rachel weeping…” may be known by many as the song “Kol Berama.” Similarly, many people may know “Is Ephraim a precious son…” from the song “Haben Yakir Li.”

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