Jews read sections of the Torah each week, and these sections, known as parshiyot, inspire endless examination year after year. Each week we will bring you regular essays examining these portions from a queer perspective, drawn from the book Torah Queeries: Weekly Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible and the Torah Queeries online collection. This week, Rabbi Seth Goren examines what Jeremiah’s attempts at correcting Jerusalemites’ behavior can teach us about fighting ignorance, homophobia, and transphobia today.
Biblical prophets typically have a rough time. Elijah is effectively chased out of the Kingdom of Israel after being threatened with a death sentence. After attempting to avoid his mission, Jonah is swallowed by a large fish, regurgitated and forced to prophecy against Nineveh. Hulda foresees and forecasts the future destruction of Judah, while Moses’ regular encounters with rebellion and objections epitomize the challenges prophets face.
The prophet Jeremiah is no exception to this rule. G-d directs him to warn Jerusalem that its inhabitants’ immoral and unlawful behavior will lead to the city’s destruction. In the course of speaking out on G-d’s behalf, he is arrested and imprisoned. After languishing in a mud-filled cistern, he watches as Jerusalem is destroyed and goes into exile in Egypt. All in all, Jeremiah’s life as a messenger in G-d’s service is not one that most would envy.
We have a window onto Jeremiah’s experience in the two Haftarot of Admonition, paired with last week’s and this week’s Torah portions. These two haftarot, both drawn from the Book of Jeremiah, retell G-d’s initial message of Jerusalem’s impending destruction that the prophet is compelled to deliver. Although we will read only the second of these prophetic selections this Shabbat, the first describes Jeremiah’s aversion to acting as G-d’s envoy. It is not until G-d promises to be with him and to deliver him that Jeremiah sets forth on his divine mission to publicize the difficult truth that the people of Jerusalem surely cannot wish to hear.