For the week of March 19, 2022 / 16 Adar 5782
Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 6:1 – 8:36 (English 6:8 – 8:36)
Haftarah: Jeremiah 7:21 – 8:3; 9:22-23 (English 7:21 – 8:3; 9:23-24)
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Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 9:22-23; English: 9:23-24)
Purim, the Festival of Esther, begins this year Wednesday evening, March 16. These two verses from this week’s Haftarah reading reflects a key component of the amazing turn of events that this festival commemorates.
Before I get into specifics, I want to comment on something in these verses that might be strange for many of us. I am referring to boasting. Older English translations use “glory” or “glorieth,” while newer translations use boast or even brag. I suspect that many Bible readers would expect that when God speaks against boasting as in “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom,” his goal would be that the readers would perhaps boast about God instead. Yet, the reader is called to boast about self. There are certain things about oneself we are not to boast about, but other things we are. We will get into what those things are shortly.
The Hebrew word for glory/boast/brag is “halal.” It’s the same word used in the expression hallelujah, praise the Lord. Hallelujah is often used as an expression of praise, but actually it is an imperative – a command – calling people to praise the Lord. To praise is to declare the goodness of someone or something. While it is common for people to say “hallelujah” or “praise the Lord,” praising the Lord is declaring his attributes or actions in great positive ways. Appropriate praise is not limited to God but can be directed towards others. In these verses from Jeremiah, they are directed at self.
It might be that glory/boast/brag are not the best ways to express halel here, where the subject is what personal attributes in our lives are praiseworthy from God’s perspective. We might put it another way. What about ourselves should we be proud about? For many, pride is viewed exclusively as negative. But there’s a good pride, one in which we recognize what is truly good about ourselves.
Those who are wise, shouldn’t be proud of their wisdom; the strong man not in his strength; nor the rich man in his wealth. All these are gifts of God, not derived from self. The only thing truly worthy to be proud of is understanding and knowing God. This is a pride about self that ironically isn’t self-focused. But we can feel good about ourselves when we truly know God.
It’s important not to miss, however, that this knowing of God isn’t simply a relationship with little substance. To know God here includes an awareness that he is a doer of love, justice, and righteousness. To know and understand this is not merely intellectual. The one who truly knows God knows that we, who are made in his image, are to reflect these things. In other words, to know God is to do what God does. Those who reflect God in this way have something to be proud about.
Mordecai in the Purim story was such a person. He lived a life of love, justice, and righteousness. Whether he cared for his orphaned cousin, spoke up when the king’s life was in danger, or strategized the protection of his people, his life demonstrated that he knew and understood his God. His confidence in his relationship to God enabled him to effectively discern real need and provide real solutions. He didn’t possess the kind of phony humility that often prevents one from boldly taking on difficult situations. Instead, his positive self-understanding, based on his authentic relationship with God, equipped him to represent God’s interests in his day.
Perhaps it’s time we shed the false humility that prevents us from doing what God is calling us to do, thank God for the gifts he has given us, and if we truly know and understand him, be proud of ourselves.
Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version