middot order torah a good place to start

a good place to start

Written by  rabbi benjamin ehrenfeld

art-kotelsoldiersThis week, in the order of the Jewish calendar, we have the first haftarah of admonition (Jeremiah 1:1─2:3). The Rabbis instituted the reading of special haftarot in the period between the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha b’Av. These are commonly referred to as the haftarot of admonition.

There are a number of significant reasons that the beginning of Jeremiah is a good place to start our devotional preparation for Tisha b’Av. For starters, Jeremiah is the prophet who walked with the Jewish people through the destruction of the first Temple and exile to Babylon. Another associated reason is that Jeremiah is the author of Lamentations, the primary text of Tisha b’Av. A third reason that I want to focus on is that the text points to an important value that helps develop the mindset necessary to prepare for the imminent events on the Jewish calendar. This third reason relates to our middah of the week: order.


In Jeremiah 1:9─10, God gives Jeremiah authority over many nations. He is given the authority to build up or tear down. At the outset, this would seem like a charge to go out to other nations and prophesy favor for those that are friendly to the God of Israel, and punish those who are not. Jeremiah is not given such an assignment at the outset. As a matter of fact, the first word given to him concerns the coming judgment against Israel. To this day, Jeremiah is regarded as one of the major prophets of Israel. His work begins with (and is largely executed in the context of) his own people. This may initially seem somewhat contradictory. We all know we ought to work on ourselves before attempting to help others, but if one’s identity is tied up with the direct authority concerning others why would he/she be so focused inwardly? In the case of Jeremiah the answer is very simple: the fate of all nations is tied up with the fate of Israel.

At the risk of seeming self-important, it is worth knowing that this is really true for all of us; our behavior has a significant impact on others. When we improve in our character the world actually becomes a better place. In preparation for the tough call to authority over nations, Jeremiah had to begin with his own. In preparation for the mourning of Tisha b’Av, we have to begin with acknowledging our own culpability in the tragedy (hence the admonition readings). In preparation for lives that bring blessing to others, we need to start with ourselves. Order involves being clear about what comes first so that we can become who God has called us to be. May this season of order find us all putting first things first so that the whole world can benefit.

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