Behar by Rabbi David Hartley Mark

Behar (בהר)
Torah: Leviticus 25:1 – 26:2
Haftarah: Jeremiah 32:6 – 32:27

Racked as I was with worries over the fate of Israel—would there ever be peace in the World, and in the Middle East in particular? And wondering what sort of d’var Torah (Torah commentary) to write for this week’s Temple Sholom newsletter, I sat up ‘til late, reading and re-reading the Parsha/Torah Portion—what could I possibly have to say about Sabbatical years or Jubilees? I was no farmer, nor a farmer’s son. The hours crept by, and it grew late; my head started to nod….

Off to the side of my book-crammed study, in the antique bentwood postoffice-style chair that resembled my Grandpa Henry’s z’l, I suddenly saw I was not alone. There the Prophet sat: wrinkly-eyed, long-bearded, but not old: indeed, he resembled the yeshiva-bochur type I knew, from the Arthur Szyk paintings of him. His right hand held an official-looking scroll—parchment, and bearing a great clay seal, with leather ribbons dangling.

It was Jeremiah, author of the Haftorah, the Prophetic Portion for this Shabbat.

The Prophet’s eyes were closed; did I dare awaken him? I looked at the clock; it was almost midnight, and I had to teach the next day. Kirby, our little brown Shih Tzu, lay on his pillow by the file cabinet; gingerly, he crept over, smelling the fresh-leather-cardamom-cinnamon scent of the Shuk, the old Jerusalem Market, on the stranger’s clothing. He licked Jeremiah’s hand, and wagged his tail.

The Man of God stirred in his sleep, and his lips moved, but I heard no sound.

Half-boldly, I reached out and gently tapped the Prophet’s knee. He snorted through his mustache, opened his eyes, yawned, and saw me. He looked around, slowly and confusedly.

“Am I—home? Is this Anatote, my home village?” he asked, in the accents of a Jerusalemite, dropping the scroll and stretching. Kirby backed away, retreating to his bed.

Amazingly, I could understand him, despite his speaking Hebrew in the style of 605 BCE.

“Milord Prophet Jeremiah, you are far from home,” I said, as softly as I could, so as not to startle him.

He frowned slightly, looked around, his glance lingering on the computer screen, electric lights, bookshelves, and, in particular, the rotating fan above—he shook his head slowly at that—“What powers that dervish-whirler? I see no boy-servant about,”—but turned back to me.

“All things are possible; all is in the Hands of God,” he said, “And I, a Prophet of God, am compelled to speak, in His Name. Who are you?”

“Also a servant of God,” I said, “And David is my name. I am one who is eager to listen and learn. Will Israel survive and go on, following the threats and verbal accusations?”

“Of course!” he said, “But there will be—wars. And rumors of wars. I wish—I wish I could have stayed, a simple kohen, a priest, in Jerusalem. But the soldiers came; first, those of Asshur, Assyria. And now, Bav-El, the Babylonians, under that maniac, Nebuchadnezzar….They are many; we, but few. God ordered me to become His Prophet; who can resist the Call of God? But our king will not listen to me….”

He brightened, suddenly. “But I have faith, faith in the Lord God. And look you, look at this!” He thrust the parchment at me: despite its being in K’tav Ivri, the ancient Hebrew script, I could see that it was, most clearly, a Bill of Sale, for Jeremiah’s cousin Chanamel, having sold his field at Anatote, Jeremiah’s hometown, for 17 silver shekalim.

“This is the proof, Sir David,” Jeremiah said, his hands shaking slightly, as he brandished the parchment at me, “for who would be so bold—or foolish, as to purchase a field, in a country about to be invaded? Answer me that! And I will deliver this deed, when the Lord God shall deem me ready to return to my own time, to Baruch ben Neriyah, the scribe and notary, who shall place it in a sealed jar, as is right and proper. For no Chaldean, no Babylonian, shall place a foul hand upon the Holy Land of Israel.”

“But what of those who have no land of their own, O Prophet?” I begged, “Answer me that! Is there no balm in Gilead? Will there always be fighting and dying between the Children of Isaac and the Children of Ishmael?” (Though I knew, in my heart of hearts, the cruel fate that was in store for my dear, idealistic Jeremiah—to be swept down to an Egyptian darkness, to die in exile there. But I was not to let him know.)

Instead, there in my little, book-lined study, there at Midnight on the eve of the week’s beginning, the Prophet of the One True God took his parchment, his deed to his own little, hopeful piece of Israel, and, shaking at first—he was no youngster, after all—stood up in his place, holding on carefully to my computer table, looking ruefully at the monitor that blinked its curiously-colored lights upon his ancient countenance.

(Kirby hid behind my chair, poor little fellow; he was never one for loud proclamations.)

And Jeremiah declaimed with full voice, in deep, full-throated tones:

“Thus speaks the Lord, God of all Israel, God of the Universe: I am the Lord, God over all humanity. Is anything too hard for Me? As surely as I will bring the evil of Babylonian captivity upon this people, so surely will I bring upon them all the future good that I promise, through the words of this, My Prophet, My Jeremiah. In this land, desolate and barren, handed over to Babylon, fields shall again be purchased. People shall buy fields for money, property deeds shall be sealed and witnessed, in the places about Jerusalem, and in the cities of Judah, in the highlands and in the lowlands. And I will ensure a place and a holding for all. For I will, by My Name and the Power of My right arm, cause all to return from their captivity.”

And he vanished. Here endeth the Visitation of Jeremiah. Amen.


Rabbi David Hartley Mark is from New York City’s Lower East Side. He attended Yeshiva University, the City University of NY Graduate Center for English Literature, and received semicha at the Academy for Jewish Religion. He currently teaches English at Everglades University in Boca Raton, FL, and has a Shabbat pulpit at Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach. His literary tastes run to Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stephen King, King David, Kohelet, Christopher Marlowe, and the Harlem Renaissance.

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