- Rabbi Allen Schwartz
- Duration: 43 min
The question draws attention to the Torah law that states: "When a man has taken a wife, and married her, and it came to pass that. .. he has found some unseemliness in her. Then let him write her a bill of divorce ...and send her out of his house. And when she has departed out of his house, she may go and be another man's wife. And if the latter husband hate her and write her a bill of divorce or die, then her former husband who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife . ..and you shall not defile the land. .. "
The first husband is ofcourse Hashem the wife is the Nation of Israel, and the second husband (or husbands, since we stood accused of whoring after many lovers) is the Avoda Zara that they pursued. To complete the parable we understand the marriage to be the revelation at Sinai, and the divorce to be the exile when we were banished from the house.
From a strictly Halachik standpoint, the answer to the question is clear. Hashem would be in violation of His own Torah in taking us back. And if the man on the street answered Jeremiah's question correctly, according to the Torah, the prophet would as Jeremiah continues in that prophecy, spell out what the Israelites deserve. But as we often see in Tanach, Hashem doesn't always give us what we deserve.
The Talmud, commenting on these passages states: "Gedola Teshuva Shedocheh Lo Taseh Sa'aseh". Teshuva is so great that it overrides a prohibition of the Torah. We may deserve to be treated Halachically, namely, never to be taken back, but our repentance can overide this. Jeremiah builds up the tension in verse after verse leaving his audience wondering whether Hashem will follow the strict letter of the law or not. Finally, we are told that Hashem will forgive-"Ki Chassid Ani". Hashem will allow the return of Israel because He is a Chassid and we have our answer. If Hashem were a Litvisher the outcome may have been different. Thanks to Hashem's Chesed, we did not get what we deserved.
Yet a closer look at Jeremiah's parable, even accordmg to a strictly Halachik model reveals that we weren't exactly saved as a Chesed case. Rav Chaim Dov Rabinowitz6 in his commentary known as Da'as Sofrim, reads the sources closely to point to a crucial difference.
The Torah forbids this woman to return to her first husband after she marries another man. In fact the Talmud concludes that only marriage prohibits her to the first husband.7 Jeremiah only referred to harlotry. The Israelites never took another "husband" per se, even in her worst idolatrous pursuits. It was, in the words ofJeremiah and many other prophets, "Zenus," and this decidedly does not prohibit this woman to her first husband, nor, according to the parable, prohibit Hashem from legally accepting us. Therefore, we see Hashem can take us back even if He is not a Chassid!
Even as Rav Rabinowitz makes these points he is well aware of the Talmud's assertion that some kind of prohibition is being ignored because of our Teshuva. And after all, in explaining why Hashem will ultimately accept our Teshuva, Jeremiah states that this is so, because Hashem is a Chassid. Rabinowitz does, however, at the end of his treatment of this prophecy find use of Hashem's Chesed:
מעולם לא היה לעם ישראל קשר קבוע עם א-ל אחר או עם עם אחר. אכן אשמה זו יכולה להיות מכוונת למה שאירע בעם ישראל במשך 150 השנים האחרונות שבהן אכן דבקו ישראל לכל האומות שבעולם ובקשו להתחבר להן ולהתדבק בהן ולא ידוע אימתי יפסיקו דבר זה.
Rav Rabinowitz points that Hashem's Chesed is needed for our generation to successfully return to His house. Even if we may not deserve it we are guaranteed by Jeremiah's prophecy of its inevitability. Yet if I may, I'd like to go one step further than Rav Rabinowitz with a parable of my own:
Chazal say that Hashem coerced us with this marital relationship to begin with.8 ,9. As such He may never divorce us in the first place. Whatever is in the past is done, but now, we appeal to Hashem's instincts whether Chassidish or Litvish and we say that we faithfully await His return to Zion Bkarov Biyamainu L'Olam Vaed Tishkon. All of this can happen because Gedola Teshuva10.
1 Jeremiah 3:14 Translations generally follow the new JPS format
2 Deuteronomy 24:1-4
3 Zohar:Ki Tetze makes this point explicitly and adds many additional levels to the parable
4 The object ofthis prophecy is the Northern Kingdom of Israel which had been exiled over 100 years earlier. Prior to that exile, Hoshea warned them not to play the harlot after the exile for this very reason. See Hoshea Chapter 3.
5 Yoma 86B
6 A contemporary
7 Yevamot 11B codified by Rambam, Hilchot Gerushin 11:13
8 See Shabbos 88A "Melamed She'Kafa Aleihem Har K'Gigis ..."
9 See Avraham Besdin's "Reflections ofthe Rav", Chapter 8 for a deeper insight into this passage
10 For a more complete treatment of this topic in Tanach, especially concerning David and Michal, see Reflections of Violation of Torah Law, in the book of Joshua, Judges, and Samuel: BRGS, MA Thesis 1985, Allen Schwartz, Chapter 25