Thursday, July 28, 2005

haftarat Matot: Yirmiyahu's Multifunctional Almond Staff

The haftara for parshat Matot is the beginning of Yirmiyahu. The first prophecy mentioned (Yirmiyahu 1:6-10) appears to be an initiation prophecy. In the next (Yirmiyahu 1:11-12), in what appears to be the continuation of the first, he is shown an almond staff, and is told explicitly its meaning:

יא וַיְהִי דְבַר-ה אֵלַי לֵאמֹר, מָה-אַתָּה רֹאֶה יִרְמְיָהוּ; וָאֹמַר, מַקֵּל שָׁקֵד אֲנִי רֹאֶה. 11 Moreover the word of the LORD came unto me, saying: 'Jeremiah, what seest thou?' And I said: 'I see a rod of an almond-tree.'
יב וַיֹּאמֶר ה אֵלַי, הֵיטַבְתָּ לִרְאוֹת: כִּי-שֹׁקֵד אֲנִי עַל-דְּבָרִי, לַעֲשֹׂתוֹ.
12 Then said the LORD unto me: 'Thou hast well seen; for I watch over My word to perform it.'

However, perhaps another meaning is alluded to here, and that is to Aharon's staff, which quite appropriately for our parsha, is called a מַטֶּה (plural מַטּוֹת). There, in parshat Korach, there was an issue of which tribe, or perhaps which leader of the tribe, would serve in the Mishkan. An excerpt (Bemidbar 17:16-24):
טז וַיְדַבֵּר ה, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר. 16 And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying:
יז דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְקַח מֵאִתָּם מַטֶּה מַטֶּה לְבֵית אָב מֵאֵת כָּל-נְשִׂיאֵהֶם לְבֵית אֲבֹתָם--שְׁנֵים עָשָׂר, מַטּוֹת: אִישׁ אֶת-שְׁמוֹ, תִּכְתֹּב עַל-מַטֵּהוּ. 17 'Speak unto the children of Israel, and take of them rods, one for each fathers' house, of all their princes according to their fathers' houses, twelve rods; thou shalt write every man's name upon his rod.
יח וְאֵת שֵׁם אַהֲרֹן, תִּכְתֹּב עַל-מַטֵּה לֵוִי: כִּי מַטֶּה אֶחָד, לְרֹאשׁ בֵּית אֲבוֹתָם. 18 And thou shalt write Aaron's name upon the rod of Levi, for there shall be one rod for the head of their fathers' houses.
יט וְהִנַּחְתָּם, בְּאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד--לִפְנֵי, הָעֵדוּת, אֲשֶׁר אִוָּעֵד לָכֶם, שָׁמָּה. 19 And thou shalt lay them up in the tent of meeting before the testimony, where I meet with you.
כ וְהָיָה, הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר אֶבְחַר-בּוֹ--מַטֵּהוּ יִפְרָח; וַהֲשִׁכֹּתִי מֵעָלַי, אֶת-תְּלֻנּוֹת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֲשֶׁר הֵם מַלִּינִם, עֲלֵיכֶם. 20 And it shall come to pass, that the man whom I shall choose, his rod shall bud; and I will make to cease from Me the murmurings of the children of Israel, which they murmur against you.'
כא וַיְדַבֵּר מֹשֶׁה אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וַיִּתְּנוּ אֵלָיו כָּל-נְשִׂיאֵיהֶם מַטֶּה לְנָשִׂיא אֶחָד מַטֶּה לְנָשִׂיא אֶחָד לְבֵית אֲבֹתָם--שְׁנֵים עָשָׂר, מַטּוֹת; וּמַטֵּה אַהֲרֹן, בְּתוֹךְ מַטּוֹתָם. 21 And Moses spoke unto the children of Israel; and all their princes gave him rods, for each prince one, according to their fathers' houses, even twelve rods; and the rod of Aaron was among their rods.
כב וַיַּנַּח מֹשֶׁה אֶת-הַמַּטֹּת, לִפְנֵי ה, בְּאֹהֶל, הָעֵדֻת. 22 And Moses laid up the rods before the LORD in the tent of the testimony.
כג וַיְהִי מִמָּחֳרָת, וַיָּבֹא מֹשֶׁה אֶל-אֹהֶל הָעֵדוּת, וְהִנֵּה פָּרַח מַטֵּה-אַהֲרֹן, לְבֵית לֵוִי; וַיֹּצֵא פֶרַח וַיָּצֵץ צִיץ, וַיִּגְמֹל שְׁקֵדִים. 23 And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses went into the tent of the testimony; and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and put forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and bore ripe almonds.
כד וַיֹּצֵא מֹשֶׁה אֶת-כָּל-הַמַּטֹּת מִלִּפְנֵי ה, אֶל-כָּל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וַיִּרְאוּ וַיִּקְחוּ, אִישׁ מַטֵּהוּ.
24 And Moses brought out all the rods from before the LORD unto all the children of Israel; and they looked, and took every man his rod.
Perhaps there is a Biblical allusion at play here, besides the overt meaning given in the verse. After all, this is an initiation prophecy, and Yirmiyahu is being told that he was chosen - in fact, sanctified - from before birth for a special relationship with God, to act as intermediary between Hashem and humanity. Earlier, in pesukim 4-5:

ד וַיְהִי דְבַר-ה, אֵלַי לֵאמֹר. 4 And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying:
ה בְּטֶרֶם אצורך (אֶצָּרְךָ) בַבֶּטֶן יְדַעְתִּיךָ, וּבְטֶרֶם תֵּצֵא מֵרֶחֶם הִקְדַּשְׁתִּיךָ: נָבִיא לַגּוֹיִם, נְתַתִּיךָ. 5 Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee, and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee; I have appointed thee a prophet unto the nations.
And Yirmiyahu is, after all, a descendant of Aharon. Yirmiyahu 1:1:

א דִּבְרֵי יִרְמְיָהוּ, בֶּן-חִלְקִיָּהוּ, מִן-הַכֹּהֲנִים אֲשֶׁר בַּעֲנָתוֹת, בְּאֶרֶץ בִּנְיָמִן. 1 The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests that were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin,
Firstly, in response to Rachel's comment below, I would just point out that I strongly suspect that מַטֶּה/מַטֶּה is more than just a homonym - they are likely related etymologically. That is, the concrete meaning of "staff" came first, from which developed "sovereignty,"(and sovereign entity) as represented by wielding that staff. Thus, the nesiim, the princes, in the aftermath of Korach, brought each of their staffs to represent them and their tribes. Indeed, a synonym, שבט (shevet) means both "staff" and "tribe" as well.
(This type of phenomenon is not unknown. Consider בגד/מעל as referring to both clothing and betrayal.)

Secondly, I'd like to expand on the theme of Yirmiyahu's vision of the staff (מקל) being a parallel to Aharon's staff (מטה), and Yirmiyahu being a descendant of Aharon. In fact, according to the Targum on Eicha, Yirmiyahu was also a Kohen Gadol. See for example the first verse:
1 Jeremiah the Prophet and High Priest told how it was decreed that Jerusalem and her people should be punished with banishment and that they should be mourned with /ekah...
To bolster (or perhaps to source) this, we see in 2 Kings 23:4:

ד וַיְצַו הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶת-חִלְקִיָּהוּ הַכֹּהֵן הַגָּדוֹל וְאֶת-כֹּהֲנֵי הַמִּשְׁנֶה, וְאֶת-שֹׁמְרֵי הַסַּף, לְהוֹצִיא מֵהֵיכַל יְהוָה, אֵת כָּל-הַכֵּלִים הָעֲשׂוּיִם לַבַּעַל וְלָאֲשֵׁרָה וּלְכֹל צְבָא הַשָּׁמָיִם; וַיִּשְׂרְפֵם מִחוּץ לִירוּשָׁלִַם, בְּשַׁדְמוֹת קִדְרוֹן, וְנָשָׂא אֶת-עֲפָרָם, בֵּית-אֵל. 4 And the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest, and the priests of the second order, and the keepers of the door, to bring forth out of the temple of the LORD all the vessels that were made for Baal, and for the Asherah, and for all the host of heaven; and he burned them without Jerusalem in the fields of Kidron, and carried the ashes of them unto Beth-el.
and we read in the first pasuk in Yirmiyahu:

א דִּבְרֵי יִרְמְיָהוּ, בֶּן-חִלְקִיָּהוּ, מִן-הַכֹּהֲנִים אֲשֶׁר בַּעֲנָתוֹת, בְּאֶרֶץ בִּנְיָמִן. 1 The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests that were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin,
If one equates the two Chilkiyahus, then Yirmiyahu is the son of the Kohen Gadol, and might just be in a position to inherit the office at some point.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I hadn't noticed the wordplay; in the opening lines of parashat Mattot I'd been reading the word "mattot" as "tribes." Thanks for pointing out the homonym.


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