Turning to Egypt: Not the Best IdeaBy Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
G-d told Jeremiah to go out into Jerusalem and tell them that He is willing to accept their repentance, as He recalls how the nation followed Him into the wilderness following the Exodus from Egypt. Israel is holy to G-d, like the new produce before the Omer is brought; anyone who “eats” them will be considered guilty.
Jeremiah tells Israel to listen to G-d. Why did their ancestors distance themselves from Him and pursue idols? They didn’t ask where G-d was, even though He brought them out of Egypt, through the desert and into a good land. Instead, they contaminated the land with idolatry. The Kohanim (priests), who served in the Temple, did not object to the people pursuing idols. Torah scholars did not live up to what they learned. The leaders rebelled and the prophets quoted Baal, a popular idol of the time. This is why G-d has become at odds with the nation.
Go to the Kitiyim (Cyprus) and Kedar (presumably the Arabian Peninsula) and see whether any nation ever traded in their “gods” – even though those “gods” are no gods at all! But Israel exchanged the real G-d for non-gods! This is two sins: first, turning away from G-d, who is like a spring of living water; second, turning to idols, who are liked cracked wells that can’t even hold water.
Is Israel a slave to be bought and sold between different owners? (No.) Why are they now prey? Young lions, referring to the kings of the various nations, fight over them, conquering their lands. The Jews turned to the Egyptians for help, but the Egyptians will also trouble them. That’s what you get for forsaking G-d. You want to drink from the Nile, where they drowned your children? You’ll end drinking from the Euphrates when you’re exiled to Assyria!
The people’s own sins will bring evil upon them. They will learn the hard way what it is to turn one’s back on G-d. G-d removed the Jews from Egyptian slavery and they promised to keep the Torah, but on every hilltop they’re worshipping idols! (Verse 20 is a kri/k’siv, in which the word is spelled and pronounced two different ways. The text is read “lo e’evor,” I will not sin, but it is written “lo e’evod” – I will not serve, referring to idols.)
G-d says, referring to the Jews, that He planted good vines, but they grew wild. (The word “shoreik” in verse 21, referring to the good vine, has a numerical value of 606. All mankind has an obligation to keep the seven universal laws; when the Jews received the Torah, they received an additional 606 commandments.)
Even if the people would scrub themselves with soap, they would be stained by their sins. How can they deny it? They’re like a young camel that loves to wander, or a wild donkey that’s used to the wilderness; who can tame them? If someone tries, they will not succeed. Only when they have become full of their sins will they be able to be overcome.
Stop wandering like those wild animals or you’ll end up barefoot and thirsty in exile! People gave up on G-d because they saw sinners prospering and decided to follow them. They are embarrassed, like a thief is ashamed when he gets found out. They considered idols of wood and stone to be their gods, and when things go bad, they ask the real G-d to save them! Where have the idols gone? Let them do it! Don’t antagonize G-d by claiming you didn’t sin! He punished them, but they refused to correct their ways – they even destroyed the prophets who brought them G-d’s word! (Talk about shooting the messenger!)
Jeremiah showed the people the jar of manna that was left over from the time of Moses. He said, “See the word of G-d! It wasn’t a desert to your ancestors, because G-d brought them food daily! Why turn your backs on Him?” Would a young bride forget her jewelry? How can the Jewish people forget the Torah, which was G-d’s “wedding present” to them?
They “dress up” like adulterers do, looking for the most evil activities. The blood of the innocent is on their clothes; their victims caused them no harm, they just tried to get the sinners to change their ways! The sinners said, “Who, me? I’m innocent!” but G-d disagrees.
How degrading to turn to Egypt for help, rather than to G-d! Egypt will turn on you the same way Assyria did (see II Kings 16-17). Just as you departed from the king of Assyria in tears (perhaps referring to II Kings 18), you will leave the king of Egypt in sorrow. G-d hates those tyrants to whom the nation has turned and the people will not be successful through such unions.