It's so simple to be wise.  Just think of something stupid to say, and then don't say it.     Sam Levenson (1911-1980)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

P is for Prophet, P is for Pervasive

In honor of the seventeenth day of Tammuz, I'd like to share a thought that came to me over Shabbat.

(The seventeenth of the Hebrew month of Tammuz is a minor fast day beginning three weeks of mourning over a series of historical tragedies that befell the Jewish people.  Due to the plethora of source materials on the subject, I won't go into detail here about The Three Weeks.   Short List: Aish haTorah for inspirational stories, Yeshiva Har Etzion's Virtual Beit Midrash for high-level shiurim, the Orthodox Union, for a general explanation, and for shiurim with a scholarly/historical bend).

Regarding the historical role and character of a prophet:  Our neighbor S. explained that in this week's haftarah, the prophet Eliyahu (Elijah) was chastised for learning nothing and changing nothing in his zealous approach toward the Jewish people, even after God bestowed upon him a personal vision of, basically, what it means to be a multi-faceted God.  

I commented to S's wife (who happens to know a thing or two about the workings of the brain, being a neurologist and all) that it seems perfectly logical that most prophets, at least the fire-and-doomsday types, probably would have been diagnosed with PDD, were they to live in our era.

Think about it:  A good, fiery prophet, like someone with PDD, loves order and rules, and in this case, that includes strict obedience of God's word.  A prophet does not come off as a warm and fuzzy guy. His job has always been to call people to order - people, such as corrupt kings, who aren't so eager to listen.  He cannot, for the life of him, understand why someone would willfully, brazenly choose to cross the line, especially when the line is so clear, and the consequences all spelled out.

Even God's attempts to calm down or comfort a prophet are pretty much useless.  It didn't work in this week's haftarah with Eliyahu, and it didn't usually work with Moshe Rabbeinu, the prophet of all prophets, either.  When I started thinking back to different examples, I realized that yes, during their wanderings in the wilderness, Moshe did petition God not to destroy the Jewish people.  His argument centered not on emotional attachment, but rather on logical argument:  God, you have committed  Yourself to these people, and besides, what will the other nations think?  They will think that you, God, do not keep your Word.   That you brought Your people out of Egypt, only to destroy them.

See?  Purely rational argument. On several occasions, Moshe himself lost patience with all the complaining.  For him, it was very straight forward:  This is what God wants, this is what we do.  He often lost his temper with the people when they complained, or when things didn't go according to plan.  He didn't ever excel in relating to the people on a personal level.   He just wasn't interested.  Even family life did not particularly appeal to him.

(Moshe even refused the role of prophet more than once, arguing - albeit logically - with God Himself that he did not have the skill set required for the job).

This is not to say, of course, that Moshe was did not care, or love the people around him.  But his interpersonal skills, his mode of expression, and his priorities, were different.  Not everyone could relate to him, nor feel inspired by his brand of zeal.  And to be fair, Moshe, as God's representative, often had to draw the line concretely and absolutely;  no room for sensitivity, and absolutely no grey areas.  

It is this characteristic that allowed Moshe to refine the population of Bnei Yisrael as they prepared to enter Israel, and yet, it is the very characteristic that kept Moshe from being able to enter the land, a fact God reiterates to Moshe in this Shabbat's parasha (Pinhas).

It's interesting take on leadership, and quite a statement about what we view, in our days, as a neurological disability.   I'd like to think that our modern emphasis on special education has brought our society full circle, to a place where every person has a meaningful role.


Addendum:  To clarify, in case it didn't come through:  The connection with 17 Tammuz is the centrality of the prophet's role in keeping Klal Yisrael focused on our task(s).   

Keep the balance,


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