Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
Reader: I recently heard a rabbi say something unique, derived from Jeremiah 18:23. The rabbi quoted a rishon by the name of the Ramah (from Spain) who seems to say that there is such as thing a giving Tzedaka to an unworthy recipient. So in essence Jeremiah was asking Hashem to ensure downfall of those plotting against him, that even when they try to be straight and do a good deed like Tzedaka, they donate to an unworthy recipient and therefore won’t get any reward.
Rabbi: Let’s place your question into context:
And now, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: “Turn back, each of you, from your wicked ways, and mend your ways and your actions!” But they will say, “It is no use. We will keep on following our own plans; each of us will act in the willfulness of his evil heart.”
Like the east wind, I will scatter them before the enemy. I will look upon their back, not their face in their day of disaster. They said, “Come let us devise a plot against Jeremiah—for instruction shall not fail from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor oracle from the prophet. Come, let us strike him with the tongue, and we shall no longer have to listen to all those words of his.”
[Jeremah said] Should good be repaid with evil? Yet they have dug a pit for me. Oh, give their children over to famine, mow them down by the sword. Let their wives be bereaved of children and husbands. Let their men be struck down by the plague, and their young men be slain in battle by the sword. For they have dug a pit to trap me, and laid snares for my feet. O LORD, You know all their plots to kill me. Do not pardon their iniquity, do not blot out their guilt from Your presence. Let them be made to stumble before You—Act against them in Your hour of wrath!
On this last verse the commentator Metzudas Dovid says Jeremiah asked God to prevent the evil Jews from successfully fulfilling God’s commands. However, in light of the many times God says, “I desire the repentance of wicked people over their death” (Ezek. 18:23, 18:32), how does Jeremiah seek their destruction? Omphile, this is your question.
Rabbi Israel Chait taught that there are no new principles in Prophets and Writing, not already found in Bible, the authoritative source of all scriptures. To answer you Omphile, Jeremiah had a precedent from Bible’s condemnation of idolaters:
When hearing the words of these sanctions, they may imagine a special immunity, thinking, “I shall be safe, though I follow my own willful heart.” God will never forgive that person. (Deut. 29:18,19)
This is identical to Jer. 18:12 — “We will keep on following our own plans; each of us will act in the willfulness of his evil heart.” Jeremiah follows God’s principle that idolaters feeling justified by their feelings will never be forgiven, and thus, Jeremiah was justified to seek their destruction. These sinful Jews too were idolatrous, as Jeremiah 18:15 says, “My people have forgotten Me; they sacrifice to a delusion.” Thus, idolaters who feel justified in following their emotions (hearts) over following reality have no path back to truth, and thus, forfeit their existences.
On many occasions, God destroyed peoples (Jews, Egyptians, Canaanites), cities (Sodom, Gomora) and even the world (the Flood). Those beyond repair risk dissuading others away from God and are rightfully annihilated. Jeremiah saw no redeeming qualities in the sinful Jews out to lynch him for his attempts to return them to Torah. Jeremiah asked God to prevent the evil Jews from successfully fulfilling God’s commands as a description of how useless mitts ah would be for such sinful people. Other prophets too scolded the Jews saying, “God does not want your sacrifices,” while the Jews continued to pervert justice and spurn the cause of the orphan and widow:
Stop bringing oblations is futile, incense is offensive to Me. New moon and sabbath, proclaiming of solemnities, assemblies with iniquity I cannot abide. Your new moons and fixed seasons fill Me with loathing; they are become a burden to Me, I cannot endure them. And when you lift up your hands, I will turn My eyes away from you; though you pray at length, I will not listen. Your hands are stained with crime. Wash yourselves clean;
Put your evil doings away from My sight. Cease to do evil; learn to do good. Devote yourselves to justice; aid the wronged. Uphold the rights of the orphan; defend the cause of the widow” (Isaiah 1:13-17).