Jeremiah 7:? The Israelites? "Edifice Complex"

The prophet takes on the people's mistaken assumption that they can safely persist in unethical behavior--and that God would never destroy the Temple.

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A century later, R. Meir Loeb ben Yechiel Michael, the nineteenth century Rumanian bible exegete also known as Malbim, puts a more subtle edge on Altschuler's comment:

"You will rely on the merit of the Temple in order to do these abomination until you reach the point that you say that the Temple not only affords forgiveness for your past acts, but also, "in order that you do all of these abominations" in the future. Until [you claim] that through the Temple you will 'permit to yourselves’ the performance of any abomination."

The Temple was, in general, not an excuse to sin, but relying on the Temple's "guarantee" of forgiveness could contribute to people become more inured or habituated to these kinds of acts.

An Earlier "House of the Lord" That Was Not Saved

The prophet continues with a clear, historical demonstration of how mistaken the reliance on atonement is:

"So go to My place that used to be in Shiloh, where I first caused My name to dwell, and see what I did to it because of the evil of My people Israel. And now, because you have done all of these things--says God--and did not listen, even though I spoke to you earnestly and often, but you didn't listen, therefore, I will do the same thing that I did to Shiloh to this house which is called by My name and in which you trust. I will cast you out of my sight…" (Jeremiah 7:12-15).

God was not concerned about Shiloh. When the house of Eli sinned and acted corruptly, the ark of the Lord was lost to the Philistines; what should stop God from acting in the same way again? Malbim points out the subtle switch in the descriptions of Shiloh and Jerusalem:

"At Shiloh, 'I caused My name to dwell,' but with the Temple, it says, 'which is called by My name.' This is to say that God's name does not dwell [in the Temple], but rather, it only is called by God's name, for God's presence already has departed from the Temple, due to the people's sins."

"Do Not Pray for This People"

At the conclusion of the sermon, God commands Jeremiah to abandon the standard role of the Israelite prophet. Usually, the prophet is not an oracle, but rather, God's voice of rebuke to the people and an intercessor and advocate for the people with God. God commands Jeremiah:

"As for you, do not pray for this people; do not offer petitions or prayers on their behalf. Make no intercessions, for I will not listen to you."

This command demonstrates the extent of the people's sins; at this point, the people are beyond help. God's attitude reverses the Israelite refusal to listen to God's command, as quoted above, "you did not listen even though I spoke to you earnestly and often" (7:13), so I, God, will not listen to your petitions. Nevertheless, Jeremiah apparently continued to ask God to forgive the people, because God had to repeat the admonition not to pray for Israel two more times (Jeremiah 11:14 and 14:11).

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Jeffrey Spitzer is Chair of the Department of Talmud and Rabbinics at Gann Academy, The New Jewish High School, Waltham, Mass., and a member of the Institute's Tichon Fellows Program.