`145 Historical Lessons from Yirmiya - Part 4
Chananya Weissman
October 12, 2021

Chapters 39 to 41...

Even after the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, Hashem in His incredible mercy gave the remaining Jews a lifeline. The Babylonians exiled most of the survivors, but they let the most impoverished Jews remain in Israel to work the land. They appointed Gedalya ben Achikam to govern them, and deferentially gave Yirmiyahu the freedom to go wherever he pleased. He chose to remain in Israel.

Just like that, the Jews had a settlement in Israel, some semblance of autonomy, and a prophet to help them build from the ruins.

The Jewish partisans and their leaders who were in the outlying fields heard about this and returned. Gedalya swore to look after them and invited them to join the nascent settlement wherever they desired. The Jews who were in neighboring lands also heard that the king of Bavel allowed a remnant to remain under a Jewish governor, and they returned as well. They gathered a huge quantity of wine and dates. There was real hope.

Then things took a twist. Yochanan ben Koreach and the other partisan captains warned Gedalya that one of their colleagues, Yishmael ben Nesanya, had gone rogue. Yishmael came from royal stock and prominent men, and he was jealous of Gedalya (41:1). He had defected to the king of Ammon, who was surely none too pleased to see the Jews rebuilding, and planned to assassinate Gedalya (40:13-14).

Gedalya didn't believe them.

Yochanan then met privately with Gedalya and offered to surreptitiously knock off Yishmael. Otherwise, Yishmael would murder him, the Jews in Israel would scatter, and the last hope of this remnant would be lost.

Gedalya refused. “You are telling lies about Yishmael,” he said (40:16).

Gedalya didn't even bother to look into the matter.

He didn't believe in conspiracy theories.

Gedalya was so sure that these warnings were “baseless” that he welcomed Yishmael and ten of his men to have a meal with him. They had some bread, then Yishmael and his gang promptly murdered Gedalya and everyone who was with him (41:2). Yishmael proceeded to go on a killing spree, took the remaining settlers hostage, then set off for Ammon.

Just like that, it was over.

Thousands of years later, we continue to commemorate Gedalya's tragic death by fasting the day after Rosh Hashana. Jewish history is overflowing with tragedies, and not all of them merit such recognition. Gedalya's death was the end of the era, the last Jewish leader in Israel before the destruction was truly complete. As with so many of these tragedies, the Jews were their own worst enemies.

Gedalya did not have to believe that Yishmael planned to assassinate him. But why, why couldn't he investigate the matter? Why didn't he turn to Yirmiyahu for guidance? Why in the world would he be so reckless, so sure of himself, that he would allow Yishmael to bring a small army with him for a meal? Was this really necessary?

Once again, the Torah does not teach us lessons about insane people, and we would not mourn Gedalya's death if he were wicked. He was a righteous man and a leader who cared about the people.

But he was given a credible warning from credible people, and he dismissed it out of hand as a crazy conspiracy theory. He believed what he wanted to believe, and refused to reexamine his beliefs in light of new information. He refused to even allow for the slightest possibility that these warnings were credible.

He paid with his life and brought destruction on the remnant of Jews who were resettling Israel in spite of everything. For that we mourn to this day.

So many of those who mourn Gedalya's death are repeating his tragic mistakes. They dismiss credible warnings from honorable people as “baseless”, they dismiss everyone who warns them as lunatics, and they refuse to examine the information behind these warnings. If they look at the information at all, it will be for no purpose other than to discredit it or the people sharing it. They refuse to entertain the slightest possibility that the warnings are indeed credible, even though they are gambling everything in the process. On the contrary, they defiantly rush headlong into the danger, like Gedalya breaking bread with his assassins.

The events preceding Gedalya's murder are not recorded in the book of Yirmiya as a matter of historical interest. There is a great deal of historical information that the prophets did not record, and every word is measured. This story is recorded in detail because it is a timeless prophetic teaching, just like the actual prophecies that surround it.

Those who ignore this teaching and repeat Gedalya's reckless behavior have no right to expect anything other than the same result.

To be continued...