If the prophet Jeremiah were alive today, would you unfollow him on Facebook? Would you stop picking up his calls and ignore his texts? One of the few true prophets during the reign of the foolish, young King Zedekiah, Jeremiah was the bearer of difficult news. This week’s haftarah deals with the difficult relationship between Jeremiah and the final king of Israel who did unspeakable damage to the Jewish people by refusing to acknowledge difficult realities. Not only did Zedekiah initially ignore Jeremiah, but eventually imprisoned him for continuing to relay his message: the Jewish people would be in exile for many years to come. In order to survive, the King should submit to the rule of Nebuchadnezzar, and the exiles should create permanent homes in exile. This was news that no one wanted to hear, even though it came directly from G-D. Zedekiah tried to defeat Nebuchadnezzar with a failed revolt, and the people Israel held out false hope and lost important opportunities to protect themselves and plan for their future.
The term “jeremiad” in English has a negative connotation; it is a word that is synonymous with an exaggerated report of future tragedy. However, Jeremiah is not all doom and gloom. He assures the people Israel that they will return to their land, but not immediately, and not through a military revolt. Their sin has brought them into exile and only their repentance will usher in their return. It is possible to go home again, but only through hard work and a circuitous path. In the meantime, it benefits everyone in the community to accept their new surroundings, plant strong and healthy roots for their families, adapt, and do the hard spiritual work necessary for redemption. Listening to Jeremiah is not meant to be an unmitigated, depressing downer. He provides a wakeup call to a people that are lost and deluded. Hope is possible, but only by acknowledging our difficult realities and preparing ourselves for the world we wish to inhabit.Let us listen to the true prophets in our midst, who usually have difficult messages for us to digest. However, as a good friend once taught me, “the only way out is through.” Let us have the courage and strength to accept difficult truths and prepare ourselves for the journey home -- and all the travail it will undoubtedly require.