Breaking YokesBy Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
At the beginning of the reign of Tzidkiyahu, a man named Chananya spoke to Jeremiah in the Temple, in the presence of the priests and the people. (This is NOT the more familiar Chananya, from the Book of Daniel, so don’t confuse them!) Chananya said, “G-d says that He has broken the yoke of Babylonia! In two years, He will restore all the Temple vessels that were carried off, as well as King Yehoyachin and all the people who were exiled.”
Of course, Jeremiah knew that his own prophecies were true and that Chananya’s was false, but Jeremiah was predicting exile and Chananya was foretelling redemption, so Jeremiah preferred Chananya’s words to his own. He said, “Amen. So may G-d do. May G-d fulfill your words and return the people and the vessels from Babylonia! But… Prophets before me predicted destruction. When another prophet contradicted them and predicted peace, he would only be believed if his words came true.”
Jeremiah was wearing one of the yokes he had made. Chananya took it off Jeremiah’s neck and broke the bar. Chananya said, “G-d says he will break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar in two years!” Jeremiah left.
After he departed, G-d spoke to Jeremiah and told him to go back to Chananya with a message: You broke a bar of wood, so instead you’ll have bars of iron. (In other words, by rebelling against what G-d had said through Jeremiah, Chananya had actually made things worse.) G-d now places an iron yoke on the nations to serve Nebuchadnezzar.
Jeremiah told Chananya, “G-d didn’t send you and you comforted the people with lies. Therefore, you will die within the year.” And he did.
While Chananya was punished for his false prophecy, Jeremiah was also wrong. He should not have expressed preference for Chananya’s false words over his own true words, even if they were more comforting. Because he honored the false prophet, Jeremiah was punished by falling into the hands of Chananya’s grandson, as we will see in chapter 37.