PROPHETS & LOSSES
Rabbi David Walk
Did you ever want to be something else? Like when I was a kid I wanted to be a Yankee fan, because they always won, and my Red Sox always lost. But I couldn't, because kids from
The Ashkenazic custom for the haftorah of Shmot is to read from chapters 27-29 of the book of Isaiah (22 verses), while the Sephardim read from the beginning of the book of Jeremiah (also 22 verses, no advantage there). So, the question is why? Those passages from Isaiah compare the future redemption of
So, this is a good week to discuss the special role of a prophet in society. We know from the response to their deaths that Aharon the priest (The entire house of
Reb Aharon explained: The cohen's role is to guard the rituals fastidiously…The guiding principle of his service is to provide routine and regularity…In contrast, the prophet's primary role is to bring down fiery new messages from above. His role is to induce change. He is a vibrant character infusing spiritual meaning into their lives and vitality into their service (p. 24). Simply put, prophets are a catalyst for change. People don't like change. Most people find solace in the stability of religious services. We like to think that we've been doing things the right way and continuing the practices of our ancestors. Priests provide that comfort; prophets make us uncomfortable. We'd rather not shake things up.
Rabbi Sacks adds to our image of the prophet. He observes: The prophet sees God in redemption, in vast movements of history like the Exodus from Egypt…The prophet is sensitive to the moral tone of society. He (or she) lives among the people…The prophet knows that the fate of the nation is tied to its morals and morale. His is an unusual role—in but not of society, an insider and outsider at once (p. 29). The prophet is a gadfly pointing out the shortcomings of the community and of its individuals. Almost by definition a prophet can't be popular.
Moshe discovers this truth very early in his ministry. He is greeted initially with enthusiasm and faith. The verse records: Then the people of
God knows this. Jeremiah is, therefore, informed: For see, today I have made you strong like a fortified city that cannot be captured, like an iron pillar or a bronze wall. You will stand against the whole land--the kings, officials, priests, and people of
It's a thankless job, but a necessary one. Often the nation, to move forward, must embrace a new idea or reality. This helps to explain why so few Jews listened to the Zionist warnings during the 1930's. People like the status quo. Change is uncomfortable.
Well, there have been many situations, which awakened my jealousy over the years. I thought that I would have preferred a lot of life styles over the one I was living. But I never envied the Prophets. However, the Jewish nation remains strong and vibrant today because of their courage to inspire the people to evolve when necessary. We await the next Moses or Jeremiah, but I pity their lot.