In Jewish biblical history, there are two religious leaders of the Israelites: the prophet and the priest. The figure of the prophet has always captured the imagination. He (or she) is a person of drama, “speaking truth to power,” unafraid to challenge kings and courts, or society as a whole, in the name of high—even utopian—ideals. No other type of religious personality has had an impact like that of Israel’s prophets.
While the prophet is uncompromising, the priest tends to be accommodating—willing to compromise. The priests were for the most part quieter figures, negotiating between the demands of the prophet and the realities of the world they inhabited. Today, we can find these archetypes in society as well as in ourselves.
During the Days of Awe, we are asked to review the past year to look into our hearts and consider how we might commit ourselves to do better in the coming year. Perhaps it is also a time to consider the prophet and priest within us.
The prophet’s single purpose in life is to make the ideal vision come into being. It is not the art of the possible; it is the pursuit of the ideal. The prophet is isolated from society and does not generate tolerance from those who have other ideas, and usually persecuted. Yet, it was the prophets who served as the conscience of the people. When the prophet saw inequity, s/he spoke of it; the priest does not have the idealistic fervor to fight opposing forces—but takes a broader view and seeks not what ought to be, but what can be.
To that end, each of us just may have a bit of the prophet within our own consciousness. But we also have the compromising priest, which allows us to navigate the world in which we live.
While it is probably safe to say that for most of us the priest dominates our daily lives, this is a good time of year to examine the prophet within us. What are those powerful ideals we may have relegated to the recesses of our own consciousness, or perhaps abandoned, believing them to be impossible to achieve? Is there anything that we feel so strongly about that we are willing to endure ridicule or unpopularity? Prophets committed their lives to ideals; maybe this year we can commit ourselves to an ideal long forgotten.
This issue includes an intriguing interview with Mayim Bialik, highlights some aspects of the season not usually addressed, and celebrates the anniversaries of two important Jewish organizations in Orange County, the JCC and the JFFS.
L’Shana Tova to all our readers and their families!
Florence L. Dann, a fourth-year rabbinical student at the Academy for Jewish Religion in Los Angeles has written for JLife since 2004. She served as the Vice President of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation West Coast and currently teaches English as Second Language to adults.