The Gemara in Megillah 10b teaches that a verse beginning with the word vayehi is sign of woe, while a verse that begins with the word vehayah is a sign of good tidings. In the Kochav MiYaakov commentary on the weekly haftaros, the Maggid connects this teaching to this week’s haftarah.
The Maggid explains the Gemara as follows. The word vayehi a transformation of future (it will be) to past (it was), through the conversive prefix vav. This can be understood as referring to a burgeoning calamity that was due to emerge in full force in the future, but instead was brought before its time in order to reduce its severity. Similarly, the word vehayah, which involves a transformation of past to future, refers to a blessing that Hashem to a later time to allow it to fully ripen.
This idea is reflected in the following passage (Yeshayah 54:7-8): “‘For a moment I abandoned you, but I shall gather you in with great mercy. In a small flash of anger, I hid My face from you for an instant, but I shall favor you mercifully with eternal kindness,’ says Hashem, your Redeemer.” That is, Hashem hurries the anger along and brings it upon us instantly [homiletically reading in an instant in place of for an instant], while it is in a minimal stage, but defers the mercy so that it may grow great. In a similar vein, in our haftarah Yirmiyah prophesizes (verses 1:11-12): “And the word of Hashem came upon me, saying, ‘What do you see, Yirmiyah?’ And I said, ‘I see a staff of an almond tree (shahked).’ And Hashem said to me, ‘You have seen well, for I shall hasten (shohked) in doing what I have said.’” Here Hsahem indicates that He will hasten the onset of the calamity to produce the effect that we have described: a diminution of the calamity.
The Maggid illustrates the point with an analogy. Suppose a tailor needs to make a garment within a short amount of time. To do this, he must work very quickly. He can speed up the work in one of two ways. One way is to cut down on the time he spends on his personal needs, such as eating and sleeping, so that he can keep working day and night. The other way is to take shortcuts in the work, such as making one big stitch where he would normally make two stitches. If he cuts down on his personal needs to concentrate on the work, the garment will come out properly made. But if he takes shortcuts in the work, the garment will come out poorly done.
Yirmiyah was frightened when he saw the almond-tree staff. He was terrified by this portent that Hashem was going to hasten the onset of a calamity. He thought that Hashem’s plan was to hurry along the calamity by setting aside, so to speak, all His other activities. It appeared that Hashem was going to direct His wrath against the People of Israel day and night, far be it. The punishment would then be carried out in full measure. But Hashem replied that it was not so. He told Yirmiyah: “You have seen a good sign [reading heitavta liros (you have seen well) as meaning “you have seen a portent of good”]. It is a good thing for the People of Israel that I will hasten in doing what I have said. For I will not give the matter the attention it needs for it to be well carried out. Rather, I will bring the calamity upon them before its time, while it is yet undeveloped, and in this way the Jewish People’s souls will be saved.”
Another prophecy of Yirmiyah brings out the same idea (verse 44:27): “Behold, I shall deal with you in haste with bad but not with good …. [rendering the verse slightly differently than is usual to fit with the Maggid’s commentary]. Even though your rebelliousness is great and your careless sins are extremely numerous, still I shall act kindly toward you. I will hurry along the punishment and bring it upon you before it is fully developed, so that you will be able to bear it. But with blessing I will do just the opposite: I will not deliver the blessing I have in store for you until it is fully developed and has grown great beyond measure.
The Gemara states (Sanhedrin 38a):
It is written (Daniel 9:14): “Hashem hastened the calamity and brought it upon us. But Hashem our God is righteous in every deed that He has done, for we did not hearken to His voice.” What is this verse telling us? Is it because the Lord is righteous that He hastened the calamity and brought it upon us [before its time]? Yes! … Ulla said: “He brought the exile two years earlier than indicated by the word venoshantem [in Devarim 4:25].” [The gematria (numerical value) of the word venoshantem is 852. The First Commonwealth Period (from the time the Jewish People entered the Land of Israel under Yehoshua until the destruction of the First Temple) lasted 850 years.]
The Maggid notes that the discussion above illuminates this Gemara very well. Had Hashem not brought on the destruction of the Temple two years before its time, but instead had waited for the calamity to mature, the People of Israel would not – far be it – have been able to continue in existence. This is alluded to in the following verse from the haftarah of Shabbos Chazon (Yeshayah 1:9): “Had the Lord of Hosts not left us a small remnant, we would have been like Sodom and Gomorrah.” In the case of Sodom and Gomorrah, the calamity was allowed to reach full maturity, and they were totally destroyed. Had Hashem not hastened the destruction and brought it upon us while it was still slightly unripe, the same would have happened – far be it – to us.
David Zucker, Site Administrator