For years, the Prophet Jeremiah told the people of Judea that the Temple would be destroyed, and they would be exiled.
Jeremiah’s message didn’t go down at all well. He was shunned, imprisoned and threatened, and even his own family in Anatot, his home town, tried to bump him off by poisoning him. But God protected him through all these trials, and sure enough, Nebuchadnezzar showed up in 689 BCE, and laid siege to the rebellious city of Jerusalem.
As the Bablyonian army tightened their squeeze on the nation of Israel, and on the King Tzidkiyahu, even the most resolutely ‘optimistic’ fake prophets fell into despair, and stopped trying to pretend that Jeremiah was a psycho conspiracy theorist who was somehow following the wrong Rebbe.
There’s only so far you can stretch credulity, even when you so desperately want to believe that everything is going to turn out totally for the best, and that all there is left to do before Moshiach shows up is to ‘polish the buttons’.
But then, at that point in time when Jeremiah’s dire warnings were literally manifesting before the eyes of the Jewish nation, God comes to him again, and tells him something pretty strange:
“Prophet Jeremiah, take a break from all that End of Days stuff for a bit, and go buy your cousin Hanamel’s field in Anatot.”
As you might expect, Jeremiah is a little taken aback by this.
I mean, Jerusalem is about to be totally sacked and destroyed, the Jewish people is about to be cruelly exiled from their land for at the next 70 years, and here’s God obsessed with contracting a real estate deal.
What’s with that?!?!
But, Jeremiah buys the land for seven shekels and 10 silver pieces (bargain!), and then tells his servant Baruch ben Neriah to place the bill of sale in an earthenware pot, where it will be kept safe and “endure for many years.” Why?
“For thus said Hashem, Master of Legions, God of Israel: ‘Houses, fields and vineyards will yet be bought in this land.’”
What can we learn from this, we who sit here watching the world tip upside down, and chaos and madness encroach from every direction?
I’ve been asking myself that a lot recently, as I find myself way more caught up with gathering potatoes than gathering diamonds at the moment.
(There’s a Rebbe Nachman story about that, which is basically that a man goes to a faraway land to collect diamonds, but when he gets there, gets confused and starts collecting potatoes instead. The parable is obvious.)
The last few months, I have literally been working like a dog to try to get books out, and self-help courses out, because at some point, I want to be able to buy my own ‘field’ in Jerusalem and finally settle down under my own fig, under my own vine.
In the course of doing that, I’ve been finding it very hard to hang out at the prayers of the Rav as much as I used to; or to sit at the Kotel, or even to recite my daily tikkun haklali. All my time is going on redeeming the field, i.e. acting as though that normal part of the world is going to continue, regardless of all the madness going on around me.
I honestly don’t know what to think about it all.
At the same time, I’ve spent so much of the last two decades trying to mend my ways, and to listen to Hashem’s messages about moving to Israel, quitting my job to focus on raising my kids, working on my emuna, trying to have a bit of humility….
It’s really not like all I’ve been doing the last few years is trying to redeem the field, anything but.
When I was mulling all this over in hitbodedut, and talking to God about the crazy pace of life at the moment, and my seeming inability to hang on to so many of the spiritual diamonds I put so much effort into collecting over the last few years, He reminded me of Jeremiah and the field.
Sometimes, even in the middle of the madness, you still have to try to continue to do ‘normal’ things, and still to think about tomorrow, even though tomorrow is so very uncertain. I spent years paralysed by ‘geula anticipation’, thinking there was no point doing anything except making teshuva and learning Torah.
Was that wrong?
Probably not. Probably, almost definitely not.
But in the meantime, life continues, life goes on, and that’s also a reality I have to accept and integrate into my lifestyle. So many of our young people are dropping out of school, and getting depressed, and feeling unable to overcome their tremendous apathy and ennui because they feel there is no point.
There is no tomorrow. Why make an effort, why wake up on time, why try to progress or achieve anything?
I have a lot of sympathy for that outlook. I suffered from it myself for so many years. But these days, I’m in a different space. A space where while I’m still searching for diamonds, I’m also appreciating that you can’t eat them. Sometimes, you need a potato.
Sometimes, the way you serve Hashem is by redeeming the field.
 See Jeremiah 36:8.
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