Wyld StallynsBy Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
Jeremiah says: Go walk through the streets of Jerusalem and see whether you can find a righteous man there. If you do, G-d will forgive the nation. (This verse is puzzling, as surely there were some righteous people in Jerusalem! One explanation is that there were no righteous people “in the streets” – that is, things were so bad, they all cowered indoors. Another explanation is that “man” here is meant like it’s used in Avos 2:6 and elsewhere, meaning a take-charge person. There were righteous people, but they didn’t step forward and chastise the majority for their behavior.) The people swear in the names of their idols; if you hear someone swear in the name of G-d, he’s trying to deceive you into thinking he’s righteous.
G-d pays heed to those who are faithful to Him, so why do so many turn on Him? He punishes them, but they refuse to listen to Him. Jeremiah says that the people simply lack understanding and he goes to their leaders to convince them to lead the people back on the proper path. Unfortunately, they paid him no mind. Because of this, a “lion” (Nebuchadnezzar) will strike them, a “wolf” (the Medes) will pillage them and a “leopard” (Greece) will attack their cities. Anyone who ventures out will be torn apart (Rashi says by Edom, which is Rome) because of their sins.
The people do not deserve to be forgiven. They turned on G-d and followed non-gods. He gave them everything, but they cheated on Him. They were adulterous with one another’s wives, like wild stallions. How can G-d overlook such behavior? (As in the previous chapter, G-d says that He will destroy, but not completely.) The people denied G-d. They figured He doesn’t care what we do and there won’t be any payback; they disregard the words of the prophets. What G-d says through His prophets will, in fact, happen to such people. Therefore, G-d put His Word in Jeremiah’s mouth like flame, to consume people like wood. A nation is coming from the distance, whose language the Jewish nation doesn’t know. (This is bad because of the inability to communicate and negotiate.) They are crack shots with a bow and arrow – every shot is a kill. They will eat the harvest, kill the children, capture the herds and flocks, and destroy the vineyards and orchards. They will ruin the cities with their swords.
G-d says that, despite all this, He will not allow the Jewish people to be eradicated. If you ask why He allowed all this evil to come upon us, the answer is: Just as they served foreign “gods,” now let them serve foreign nations! Let the fools finally see, hear and understand Who G-d is. He made the sand a boundary for the ocean – no matter how hard the waves churn, they cannot pass it. If the sea cannot hope to revolt against G-d’s will, how can a rebellious nation expect to do so? G-d gives them rain in its proper time to ensure the harvest schedule, and still they refuse Him! Their sins brought about these troubles.
There are evil people in the nation, who set ambushes for others. They are rich with possessions obtained illicitly and they don’t turn down any opportunity to sin. They don’t stick up for orphans or poor people, who need their help. How can G-d overlook this? It’s mind-boggling that prophets lie, telling the people that there will be peace, and the priests rule through them. And the people like this arrangement! If that’s how things are now, imagine what they will be like later.