Jeremiah's Tragic Relevance
Daniel Gordis on reading Rabbi Benny Lau's Jeremiah: Fate of a Prophet:
Jeremiah's was a world of national Jewish folly. Successive kings of Judah all imagined themselves infinitely more powerful and much less vulnerable than they actually were. With massive powers surrounding them, Egypt to the south and Assyrian and Babylon to the north, they consistently made ill-advised foreign policy choices, all the while entirely ignoring the decadence and moral depravity unfolding inside their own borders. At considerable personal risk, Jeremiah warned the people that their salvation would not derive from alliances with foreign powers that could not be trusted and, instead, he urged, they would do better to focus on creating a society that was just and decent.
Jeremiah, of course, was not needed. We know the end of the story, so reading Lau's book is like reading about a train wreck that might have been prevented, but that you know is about to happen. That, of course, is precisely why Lau wrote the book. The train wreck need not happen, he intimates, but unless something dramatic changes, it very well may.
"So what's with putting the book down every 10 minutes?" my wife asks again. "I thought you said it was great."
"It is excellent," I assure her. "But it's unbearably sad. You can rewind the news two and a half millennia, and though the names of the characters are different, the places are the same and so are the dynamics. It's all basically the same story as today. Nothing changes, or so it seems."