For this week’s Torah portion, a special reading from Prophets has been assigned. This is so because we are in a period of the year in which we reflect upon the loss of the First Temple, and there are verses from Jeremiah that are apt. But, there’s also a gem of a life lesson in the text. Let’s look for it.
We read at the outset that Jeremiah lived at a time when the people of Judah had strayed so badly they were in great peril. God commissioned the prophet to warn the people of the painful consequences of their behavior.
Told of his role, Jeremiah protested, “Alas, O Lord God! Behold, I know not to speak for I am a youth.” God responded by assuring him that “whatever I command you, you shall speak…for I am with you to save you.” Further, God reached out to the prophet, saying, “Behold, I have placed My words in your mouth.”
Of what experience in the Bible does this story powerfully resonate? I think of Moses’ reaction when he was first called to prophetic service. Don’t you?
Recall when God spoke from the burning bush, directing Moses to take God’s people out of Egypt.
Moses, too, protested. “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh? …They will not believe me, and they will not heed my voice…I am not a man of words, …I am heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue.” God assured Moses, “So now, go! I will be with your mouth, and I will instruct you what you shall speak.”
What are we to make of these similar, stunning experiences?
I think they teach us what it means, and how important it is, to use our own voices and lives to serve God and others.
Our instinct, like that of the prophets, is that we are not up to the task. We are too young (or too old). We stutter in our speech, and are, in so many ways, unready and inadequate. “Please don’t ask me to do that. I can’t.”
Yet, the truth is: we can. With all their weaknesses and doubts, both Moses and Jeremiah served God and the people for 40 years, the rest of their adult lives. They were imperfect, but their service was dutiful, sustaining, and memorable. Here we are, centuries later, reading and learning from them.
Moses was the prophet of redemption, the one who led us to God’s Word and ways, and to the land of promise. Jeremiah was the prophet who taught us to turn back from waywardness, warning of exile from that land, if we failed to do so. Even with the imminence of devastation, he foresaw the hope and promise of ultimate return.
What are you called to do? What service can you give to God and community? What remarkable difference can you make in the world, especially if you overcome your own insecurities, and act?
A good part of the Torah portion relates to the taking of a census. It is long and detailed, as if to say all people (then and now) count. We are all needed for service. And we all have a stake in the Promised Land, the bountiful place that God has established for those who serve in covenant.
How poignant it is that the portion ends with a vision of the end of Moses’s service. What mainly does it portray? We see the next person stepping up – a person with his own doubts and uncertainties as well as his own special potential to make a splendid contribution. It is, of course, Joshua.
We are not expected to be Moses, Joshua or Jeremiah. But, in being our true selves, we, like they, are expected to hear the call, overcome our doubts, and serve. God has given each of us a special voice and guidance on how to use it. “So now, go!”