01 May 2014
One of the most profitable aspects of my Jewish journey has been learning about the Hebrew Prophets, particularly the Latter Prophets. A basic but ongoing challenge to that learning is just trying to understand what a prophet is in our tradition.
Initially, like many people, I thought that the main feature of a prophet is his prediction of the future. In other words, I viewed a prophet as a seer.
But, now I think the main feature of a prophet is his seeing the present more clearly than other people. A prophet's predictions of the future serve only to emphasize his points about the present. To exhort people to change their behavior now, a prophet predicts rewards and punishments.
Although the behaviors the prophet wants to change are often personal, the rewards and punishments he predicts are usually societal, or even global. This system of reward and punishment that the prophet predicts may not appeal to us, or it may appeal to us but seem a naive fantasy. Either way, it may be a "turn-off."
I want to encourage people to get turned back on to the prophets. To that end, I think it may help to view the predicted rewards and punishments as only tactics that the prophets use to achieve goals of the good and the holy.
So, though these tactics may not appeal to us, I earnestly hope that the goals still do.
Particularly at risk is the goal of the holy. The goal of the good is one respected and pursued by many. Good is of course always threatened by evil. And, nowadays, it is threatened by a relativism that has made the categories of good and evil unfashionable. But the greater threat is to the concept of the holy, which is so out of fashion in some circles, and so perverted in others, that I fear for its survival.
A prophet speaks inconvenient truths to try to make us good and make us holy. He also offers us hope that this daunting task can indeed be done.
Another journey I'm on is raising kids. One of them got The Lorax by Dr. Seuss as a birthday present. As I read it to them, I realized, hey, this guy The Lorax is a prophet!
Well, maybe he's not a prophet, if that seems blasphemous to you, but at least he's a darn good (and fun) illustration of the most important features of a prophet.
I won't review the book here, but suffice it to say that the Lorax spoke inconvenient truths to try to make the Once-ler good. In the end it is the Once-ler, not the Lorax, who offers hope, though, in the form of a seed.
The idea of the holy is missing, or, rather, must be supplied by the reader. Perhaps it is better that way.
The idea of divine inspiration is missing, too. It is missing both from the Lorax and from my discussion of prophets. Perhaps it is better that way.
In closing, let me provide a couple of links showing other people's exploration of the idea of the Lorax as a prophet.
The Lorax, the Prophets, and the iPad
The Lorax and Deuteronomy