Devarim/Shabbat Chazon: Jeremiah’s warning

Devarim/Shabbat Chazon: Jeremiah’s warning

Jewish Community Center of Paramus, Conservative

The government has failed us. It has over-extended itself and has made commitments and deals with foreign governments that could potentially undermine the security of the nation. It has not dealt fairly with the people, nor has it lived up to its responsibility to act righteously on behalf of the poor, the needy, and the elderly. Instead of acting according to the high office that they occupy, our leaders are squandering our future, weakening the nation in the process, and leaving us vulnerable to threats, both foreign and domestic.

Now some of you reading this may think that I am about to make some larger statement about President Trump, or Congress, or the economy, or the debt crisis, or the “zero tolerance” policy, or the Democrats, or Republicans, or any of the great and contentious issues that weigh heavily on the minds of the American people at this time. And I am tempted to do so. But this is not the place for that. What I am really referring to however, is not America in the 21st century but ancient Israel in the 6th century B.C.E. And while I am not drawing a parallel between the two nations, the fact that many reading this assumed that I was talking about the political conditions that we face presently in this nation gives us a window into the mindset of our ancestors and the generation that preceded the destruction of the First Temple.

The destruction of the First Temple was among the most difficult events in the history of the Jewish people. Just as we often forget how difficult World War I was for the Jewish communities of Europe because of the even greater suffering experienced during World War II, we spend so much time thinking about the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 C.E. that we often fail to remember the experience of losing the First Temple 600 years earlier. Yet its magnitude and influence should not be ignored.

We know how our Temples were destroyed. We know of the role of the Romans and their desire to root out opposition to their rule. We know about the lack of unity that prevented the Jewish community from formulating a coherent response to Roman threats in the Second Temple era. And similarly with regard to the destruction of the First Temple, we know how the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians helped lead to the weakening of the southern kingdom of Judah, until its eventual destruction by the Babylonians. These are not opinions, but facts, and even our traditional sources, in their own way, confirm them.

Into this mix entered the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah was called by God to warn of Jerusalem’s destruction. As you can imagine, these prophecies did not make him popular, and he was persecuted for this words and criticisms.

Yet he did not stop calling on the king and the people to change their ways and return to God. He taught that only true repentance and a complete break with the way of idolatry, injustice, and immorality, could save the people from doom. Jeremiah begged them not to be misled by the false prophets. And he prophesized of a future when God would return them to their land.

“And you shall call upon Me, and walk in My way, and pray unto Me, and I will hear you. And if you seek Me, you will find Me, if you search for Me with all your heart. And I will bring back your captivity, and will gather you from all nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, says God; and I will bring you back into the place from which I have exiled you (Jeremiah 29:12-14).”

This was Jeremiah’s warning: patience, sobriety, responsibility, and a return to the path of national reconciliation and sacrifice, responsible policy and reliance on eternal values. Fealty to such beliefs allowed Israel to regroup after destruction and once again rebuild for the future. Who will be the one in our time to motivate the citizens and leaders of this great nation to do the same?

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