As the new format of the Tanach class involves a narrative format rather than the discussion format which we used to use, there is a lot more material crammed into each session. I will try to summarize in the e-mail, but I will end up omitting substantial portions of the class as it is given in Shul.
This week we learned about the life of Baruch ben Neryah.
Baruch ben Neryah began to learn at a young age from the prophet, Yirmiyah. He displayed considerable precociousness, according to a Midrash (Otzar Midrashim, pg. 35) which describes him learning Sefer Vayikra in a single day, before he had turned five years old. (See that Midrash for an interesting comparison of Baruch ben Neryah and another important person, Ben Sira.)
Baruch became Yirmiyahu's assistant and scribe in the years leading up to the destruction of the first Beis haMikdash. He first appears in Tanach in Yirmiyahu 32, in a story which has deep meaning. HaShem told Yirmiyah that his cousin, Chanamel, would come to him to sell a family field; Yirmiyah was to redeem the field, and Baruch was to save the legal document. Yirmiyah asked Gd what purpose there would be in doing this, given that HaShem was giving the Jews, and Israel, over to the Babylonians. HaShem responded that He was going to bring us back to the land, and this act of purchasing the field and saving the document would symbolize the hope for return. As we'll see later, this story would have great meaning in Baruch's life.
Baruch also played a key role in a showdown between Yirmiyah and the Jewish king, Yehoyakim (Yirmiyahu 36). HaShem told Yirmiyah to record a series of prophecies, which became the core of the book of Eichah (Lamentations). The scroll was to be read in public, in the Beis haMikdash, on a fast day. Baruch took the scroll and performed the public reading, and the people listened to him. The audience included members of the king's court, and the scroll was brought back to Yehoyakim. When Yehoyakim heard it, he had the scroll torn up and burned.
The Gemara (Moed Katan 26a) records Yehoyakim's reaction to the scroll. Yehoyakim was not troubled by the description of destruction and desolation; he responded to each line, "I will still be the king!" It was only when the prophecy predicted that the Jewish king would be deposed, and the other nations would take over, that Yehoyakim had the scroll torn up and burned.
Baruch ben Neryah was something of a political figure, too. In Yirmiyahu 42, Yirmiyahu warned the Jews not to flee to Egypt before the invading Babylonians. One group responded that Yirmiyahu was presenting false prophecy, and that the mastermind behind this was actually Baruch ben Neryah. They claimed that Baruch was an agent of the Babylonians.
In the end, Baruch went to Bavel, with Yirmiyahu. Baruch became a spiritual leader, as a prophet (Megillah 15a) and a political leader as a member of the Babylonian king's court (Sifri Bamidbar 99). He was recognized as an authority; he sat on the court which decided when to add a month to the Jewish calendar (Yerushalmi Sanhedrin 1:2). Baruch was known as someone whose deeds marked him as an outstanding person (Sifri Bamidbar 99, and other Midrashim).
Baruch lived a life of personal struggle, to a certain extent. Yirmiyahu 45 records a cryptic message from Gd to Baruch. Gd accuses Baruch of seeking glory for himself, and Gd says that he should be happy that he has his life, at a time when HaShem is uprooting so much. The Midrash (Mechilta deR' Yishmael on Parshas Bo) says that Baruch was upset that, to that point, he had not received personal prophecy. He compared himself to Elisha, and others who served prophets and then became prophets, themselves. HaShem responded that he should not be complaining thus.
Ultimately, as we mentioned above, Baruch did gain prophecy in Bavel.
Baruch never made it back to Israel, although he did live long enough to see the rebuilding of the Beis haMikdash. When the time actually came, Baruch was too old to make the trip (Shir haShirim Rabbah 5:1). Baruch trained Ezra, who became the leader of the Jews in Israel after Baruch died. Ezra stalled his own trip to Israel for seven years, to learn by Baruch, rather than lead the Jews.
The studying which Ezra did by Baruch was important enough to override his duty as a leader of the Jewish people. I think this goes back to the story of Yirmiyahu and his field, in Anasos. HaShem told Yirmiyahu that Baruch would hold the document for the sale, and with it he would hold the hopes of the Jewish people. Baruch held the learning which he had accumulated by Yirmiyahu, and he passed it along to Ezra for the rebuilding of the second Beis haMikdash. This enabled the returning Jews to have a connection back to the first Beis haMikdash; Yirmiyahu led directly into Ezra, via the link of Baruch ben Neryah.