Despite not only rejection, but outright persecution, Yirmiyahu HaNavi never stopped loving his fellow Jews with all his heart & soul.
This fact first knocked me between the eyes when I read the first volume of Am Olam: The History of the Eternal Nation by Rav Shlomo Rottenberg.
Wishing to deepen my connection with the Destruction of the First Beit Hamikdash by the Babylonians (much discussion focuses either on the second Destruction by the Romans or on the Holocaust), I read the account in Am Olam.
Am Olam is very special because it takes commentaries & midrashim, plus the basic text, and presents it as a woven narrative.
And in this way, it brings Yirmiyahu HaNavi's awesome ahavat Yisrael to fore.
What a beautiful, beautiful Jew he was!
The thing is that without the terrible rejection, Yirmiyahu HaNavi would never have had the opportunity to develop and display his ahavat Yisrael to the awe-inspiring level that he did.
And this is a big lesson for even the smallest person.
Rejected? Persecuted? Then You're in Truly Great Company.
The stunningly holiest people to ever exist endured profound & enduring rejection (including by their own people and even by their closest family members):
- Avraham Avinu (his parents & society)
- Yaakov Avinu (his own twin brother)
- Leah Imeinu (she was the lesser-loved wife)
- Yosef Hatzaddik (his own highly regarded brothers, plus his Egyptian masters later)
- Moshe Rabbeinu (too much rejection in too many to summarize here)
- Ruth (Naomi attempted to lovingly reject her & Ruth was not immediately accepted by Bnei Yisrael; as a Moavite, she also looked physically different & stood out in a not-good way to all those who hated the Moavim with good reason)
- David Hamelech (repeated rejection since birth followed by active persecution, all based on misunderstandings & the bad middot of others)
- Chana, Mother of Shmuel (her co-wife tormented her – albeit with helpful intentions – and Eli HaCohen initially chastised her as a lush & tried to evict her from her place of prayer, plus Hashem initially did not give her what she requested all those years)
- Rebbi Akiva (his father-in-law & various other people)
- Hillel HaZaken (initially rejected by the usher who wouldn't allow him into the study hall without payment, leading him to go on the roof & get covered with snow before they discovered & rescued him)
The list goes on.
Yet all these people became so great.
They produced achievements that no one else ever has.
They achieved success in ways that no other human being ever has.
They became the examples to emulate for eternity.
Could they have achieved what they did and became the kind of people they did without rejection?
You Need Make a Running Tackle in order to Score Your Spiritual Goal
He emphasizes that it's no big deal to deal peacefully with nice, patient, acquiescent, peaceable people.
If you truly desire life and love days to see goodness and wish to be as the disciples of Aharon HaKohen, you must PURSUE peace — and that implies situations in which peace is elusive; it's fleeing from you like a young buck before hunting dogs.
As he notes, Tehillim (Psalms) 34:15 doesn't exhort us to enjoy peace or stroll along with peace or to luxuriate in peace — it exhorts us to seek peace, to demand peace, and to pursue peace.
Sometimes, we need race after peace and tackle it, grasping on to it with all our might.
In all the above situations, each of those tzaddikim needed to wrestle with how to deal with people (and even entire groups) who not only rejected them, but sometimes even wished to actively destroy them.
Different people & different situations called for different strategies.
But each one faced an inner struggle: To remain close to Hashem, to resist forbidden vengeance & hatred, to use the rejection as hints to what they needed to rectify within themselves, to maintain inner equilibrium despite all the pain.
To resist despair & cling to hope.
Getting Real about Rejection
And sometimes, you can't make peace with another person; you can only make the peace within yourself. (Some people are that bad.)
Also, contrary to what some modern-day people advise you, you DON'T need to spend gobs of time with difficult people. That's not what ahavat Yisrael & rodef shalom demands.
In fact, Orchot Tzaddikim, Pele Yoetz (and most everyone else) davka warn AGAINST associating with people with lesser middot and recommend association with very fine people in order to be influenced properly.
And you don't need to deny the obvious.
For example, Yirmiyahu HaNavi was VERY well-aware of Am Yisrael's flaws.
No denial or whitewashing with Yirmiyahu.
He was a Navi! His entire job was to rebuke Am Yisrael on behalf of Hashem, which meant that he knew their flaws & sins even better than they did themselves. (After all, he heard all the dirt straight from Hashem Himself.)
He knew exactly where they erred and how wrong they were.
Yet he loved them profoundly & unconditionally.
Also, Chana was very close to Hashem, yet she still found Penina's behavior very painful, even though Penina meant well.
Because despite Chana's emunah and Penina's good intentions, the behavior still HURT.
It helps a lot to know that rejection is from Hashem AND it is part of the process of making a person GREAT.
As evidenced repeatedly throughout Tanach and post-Tanach history, it appears that it is impossible to reach the highest levels of holiness and righteousness WITHOUT EXPERIENCING REJECTION & PERSECUTION INCLUDING BY YOUR OWN FELLOWS.
Unfortunately, today a person feeling rejected is often guided toward 2 options:
- They are blamed for the rejection & persecution (i.e., abuse).
This might contain truth to it, depending. Some people behave in ways that make them difficult to like.
But even if their behavior is so off-putting, the bigger picture of Hashem placing them in that situation and imbuing them with off-putting traits needs to be addressed.
After all, in contrast, there are people with very bad middot who maintain a lot of popularity in society. Some dysfunctional people even merit what are known as "flying monkeys" — friends & relatives who defend the dysfunctional behavior no matter what & actively enable the behavior to continue.
So wholesale blaming for rejection isn't the deeper solution.
In fact, if it's not the person's fault, blaming them is a very cruel & destructive response.
These situations are often deeper & more complex than oversimplistic bibbity-bobbity-boo responses imply.
- They are encouraged to blame others.
They are encouraged to despise entire groups whom they associate with whoever rejected them.
They are encouraged to see themselves as wholly innocent victims with no facilitation of inner growth or self-introspection.
They often blame Hashem, feeling like He deceived or rejected them somehow.
Much of this is followed by extreme bitterness & self-pity, plus unbridled lashon hara (often portrayed as l'to'elet — for a useful benefit — or as an act of courage, but rarely produces any benefit whatsoever).
Yet the above 2 responses are not what we see in our tzaddikim who experienced profound & enduring rejection & persecution.
They wrestled with rejection & persecution on the deeper levels.
You can really see this dynamic in David Hamelech's Tehillim.
Rejection as Exclusive Selection
But it's helpful to look toward our "experts" in dealing with rejection and persecution and see the honesty they used to face themselves and their very real pain (which they did not deny or medicate), their emunah, their relationship with Hashem, and their own inner work, plus the strategies they used to deal with a variety of different situations.
And mostly to know that rejection is not actually rejection at the higher levels...it's actually an act of being chosen by Hashem for true greatness.
In other words, you're actually not being rejected. You're being selected for greatness.
It doesn't feel that way. It REALLY doesn't feel that way!
But it is.