In Part 1 of this letter, we began to discuss the prophecy of Jeremiah regarding Hashem’s comforting message to Rachel about the future ingathering of her exiled children. In a passage which precedes the comforting message to Rachel, Hashem states, “Ephraim is My firstborn!” (Jeremiah 31: 8)
Who is Ephraim? Yosef was the firstborn son of Rachel, and he had two sons, Ephraim and Menashe. Each of these righteous sons became a tribe within Israel, and the Tribe of Ephraim was the larger of the two tribes that emerged from Yosef. Although Ephraim was younger than Menashe, Ephraim merited to receive the rights of the firstborn (Genesis 48:13-20). In addition, the prophets occasionally use “Ephraim” as a name for all Israel. The commentator, Rabbi Yosef Kara, therefore explains that the above Divine statement, “Ephraim is My firstborn,” refers to the entire People of Israel, and in the book of Exodus (4:22), Hashem refers to Israel as, “My firstborn child.”
Just as Rachel merited to be considered a mother of all Israel, so too, she merited that the name of her grandson, “Ephraim,” become a name for all Israel.
After the prophetic message regarding the Divine message of comfort to Rachel, the Prophet Jeremiah conveys the following related prophecy: “Ephraim” will experience regret over his past failures, and he will engage in a process of spiritual return; thus, he will cry out to Hashem:
“You have chastised me and I have become chastened, like an untrained calf; bring me back and I shall return, for You are Hashem, my God. For now that I have returned, I have changed my ways completely, and having becn made to see reason, I slapped my own thigh; I was ashamed and also humiliated, for I bore the disgrace of my youth.” (Jeremiah 31:17, 18).
The above comments of Ephraim serve as a reminder that the ingathering of Rachel’s children is also a spiritual ingathering.
The Prophet Jeremiah then conveys the following Divine message of comfort regarding Ephraim:
“Is not Ephraim My precious child, the child of My tender care? For whenever I speak of him, I remember him more and more; therefore My innards yearn for him; I will surely have compassion upon him, spoke Hashem.” (31:19)
These tender words of womb-like yearning for one’s child are expressing the “motherly” concern of Hashem. According to Jewish tradition, the “motherly” concern of Hashem is expressed through the “Shechinah” – the Divine Presence that seeks to dwell among us. Rashi, in his commentary on the above Divine message of comfort, writes: These are the words of the Shechinah. And these words of the Shechinah remind us of another related Divine promise to our people:
“Like a person whose mother comforts him, so will I comfort you, and in Jerusalem you will be comforted” (Isaiah 66:13).
Have a Good, Sweet, and Strengthening Shabbos,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
After writing the above letter, I discovered the following teaching from Midrash Genesis Rabbah (71:2) which is cited in the name of Rabbi Shimon Ben Yochai:
1. The People of Israel are called the children of Rachel, as it is written, “Rachel is weeping for her children” (Jeremiah 31:14). They are also called after her son, Yosef, as it is written, “Hashem, God of the hosts of creation, will be gracious to the remnant of Yosef” (Amos 5:15). In addition, they are called after her grandson, Ephraim, as it is written, “Is not Ephraim My precious child?” (Jeremiah 31:19).
2. In the book of Exodus (4:22), Hashem refers to Israel as, “My firstborn child”; moreover, it is also written, “Ephraim is My firstborn” (Jeremiah 31: 8). Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains that the reference to Israel as the firstborn is teaching us that with the spiritual birth of Israel, “the womb of humanity will be opened” (commentary on Exodus 4:22). In other words, Israel’s birth is the beginning of a process which will lead to the spiritual birth of humanity.