Jeremiah – Chapter 39

Eating a WHAT??

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

In the ninth year of Tzidkiyahu’s reign, in the month of Teves, Nebuchadnezzar started his siege of Jerusalem. In the eleventh year of Tzidkiyahu’s reign, in the month of Tamuz, the city wall was breached. The Babylonian officers entered and occupied the courtyard of the Temple. When Tzidkiyahu and his army saw them, they ran away by night, through a secret passageway. The Chaldean army pursued them and caught Tzidkiyahu in Jericho. They brought him to Nebuchadnezzar in Rivla, which is identified as Antioch in modern Turkey. Nebuchadnezzar called Tzidkiyahu to task for rebelling against him. (According to the Talmud in Nedarim 65a, Nebuchadnezzar chastised Tzidkiyahu for revealing that he had seen the Babylonian ruler eat a live hare.) Nebuchadnezzar started by killing Tzidkiyahu’s sons in his presence, then the Sanhedrin who had annulled Tzidkiyahu’s oath. (The oath was either to obey Nebuchadnezzar or not to reveal what he had seen.) Then, he blinded Tzidkiyahu and had him bound in chains in order to be brought to Babylonia as a captive.

The Kasdim burned the palaces and houses of Jerusalem, and demolished the city walls. The people who remained were were exiled to Babylonia by Nebuzaradan, Nebuchadnezzar’s officer. Nebuzaradan let the poor people remain in Jerusalem and he gave them fields and vineyards. (The logic behind this move was that if he made their lives better under Babylonian rule, they would be loyal.)

And what of Jeremiah? Nebuchadnezzar gave Nebuzaradan charge over the prophet, instructing him not to allow harm to befall him and to follow whatever Jeremiah would tell him. (Why? Because as bad as Jeremiah’s prophecies were for Israel, that’s how good they were for Babylonia – at least for the time being.) So Nebuzaradan and other officers took Jeremiah out of prison. They turned Jeremiah over to Gedaliah the son of Achikam, who had followed the prophet’s instructions to defect and had been appointed governor over the Jews remaining in Jerusalem. Gedaliah pardoned Jeremiah, who was then permitted to move about freely.

G-d had spoken to Jeremiah while he was still in prison, telling him to go to Eved-Melech, the man who had him pulled out of the mud pit. Jeremiah was to tell Eved-Melech that, even though evil was befalling the city, Eved-Melech would not be harmed. Through his righteous actions, Eved-Melech had managed to secure his own life.

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