Nachamu, Nachamu Ami!
Everyone’s a prophet nowadays.
I mean it’s all the rage to invoke the legacy of the Biblical Prophets in order to justify criticism which is loving but not true, or true but not loving, or neither true nor loving. Contrary to the very essence of our holy prophets, their name is taken in vain by those who believe the crooked cannot be straightened, and, therefore, whose preaching is for the purpose of their own bittersweet joy as they watch the lowly people descend into the inevitable abyss.
An example. It was a few weeks ago I read on Yediot Achronot, one of Israel’s major newspapers, a column by (left-wing) writer Meir Shalev. Besides being consistently a writer against Israel’s “occupation” of the “Palestinians”, not having let the truth of the Kassam rockets interfere with his accusations, on that particular column he mentioned the person who had made a bid to swim all the length of the Amazon river and had just completed that. Of that, Shalev said, “Congratulations. Now let’s see you swim two meters in the Yarkon”. The Yarkon river, actually a tributary, is one that is heavily polluted—that is true. But Shalev’s opportunistic shoving of the happy occasion of that successful Amazon swimmer in the service of speaking ill of Israel made me almost tear the newspaper apart in rage. There are much more proper ways of raising awareness of that issue, and there is the best practice of doing something that really helps (even by writing: petitions to those with the power to fix things could go a long way). This wasn’t the first time Shalev had purposely forced some far-flung issue, pressed it into the service of ill-speaking that did nothing in the way of correcting the situation, and everything in the way of making him feel so very elevated above “this declining people”.
We can see this everywhere: from climate change doomsayers who order humanity to “Repent!”, only to be seen covering their own sins with “carbon offset” indulgences, to political “visionaries” who take an occasion like the Virginia Tech massacre to rebuke the United States of America for its “violent culture, manifested in Iraq as well as at VA Tech”, preaching their own brand of “holy separation” from the impurity of President Bush, the Military-Industrial Complex, the Corporate Machine, the Israel Lobby and so on, only to prove themselves quite eager to wear mass-produced shirts with a photo of a mass-murderer on them, while supporting “resistance movements” that are part of a global movement which, upon victory, would accord them the same choice between conversion and death as to all others.
I have already talked of the need for criticism to be based on truth. It is the first requirement, but not the final; once it has been satisfied, the external merit of the criticism verified, the critic now needs to do some internal work, inward soul-searching, to verify that his criticism stems from love. That is the second requirement: that one’s criticism be based on love of the other, not on exclusionary self-righteousness.
“Then said I: Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; […]”, said the prophet Isaiah when called to prophecy (6:5). “I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips”—Isaiah did not exclude himself; he recognized that he was part of his people, and that his fate was the same as that of the people to whom he preached; and it was out of the truth of being called by G-d, and not out of a self-appointed high ground, that he set out to warn and rebuke the people. The prophets wished with all their hearts that the people would hear them and return to the good and be saved, and when they saw it was not turning out so, great was their anguish. What a contrast to today’s self-styled “prophets”!
The prophets said their hard words at G-d’s command; because they were truly the emissaries of the Sun of Righteousness, they said no more and no less than the people really deserved. This is in contrast to today’s self-appointed preachers, who, in their error and in misguided league with the enemy, dig every possible piece of dirt, every far-fetched story, in order to use it to show how evil, evil, evil their own side is, how irredeemably mired in incorrigible wickedness. Like Meir Shalev did. Or should I say: almost incorrigible. Many of those “prophets” set one cure, the one and only way out: “Be righteous like us”. Whereas the true prophets, those of the Bible, said: “Be righteous like G-d”. The false prophets of today preach the “righteousness” of their own minds, or, at most, of the standards of other men (such as Karl Marx); the true prophets never came with any morality of their own making, but with that of G-d, which is by necessity the only objective and unbiased standard.
And when all the hards words were spent, the true prophets never left the people in a state of weeping and despair; they closed their prophecies with prophecies of consolation and rebirth from ashes. “Comfort ye, comfort ye My people!”, said Isaiah in one of his prophecies of future salvation (40:1). For a message of doom and gloom alone, though it be truthful by itself, would leave the people despairing of all good. They would say, “Why do G-d’s commands, or why even live at all, if there is no future of good to look forward to?” Therefore HaShem gave unto His prophets the task of comforting His people after the gloomy prophecies. These prophecies of future resurgence powered the Jewish people, as well as non-Jewish Bible-believers, throughout the ages, even in the darkest hours.
If you are convinced of the truth and have the evidence you need in order to uphold it in the face of all challenge, then do speak, do not be silent; but before you open your lips to speak, just think inside yourself, check, ask yourself, whether you are an equal among the people you are about to address or seated above them, and whether the sight of their downfall, if they should disregard your words of truth, would aggrieve your heart to its utmost depth and have you wearing sackcloth and ashes, or bring upon you the thought of resignation, saying, “The stupid ones made their choice, let them suffer it”. Give yourself a straight answer. You might well be surprised.
There are no prophets today, but the legacy of the prophets lives on with us, and there is a clear contrast between those who follow the spirit of the prophets of old and those who wear their mantle in unrighteousness. The marriage of truth and love is the essence of divine revelation.
לֹא תֵּבֹשִׁי וְלֹא תִּכָּלְמִי
מַה תִּשְׁתּוֹחֲחִי וּמַה תֶּהֱמִי
בָּךְ יֶחֱסוּ עֲנִיֵּי עַמִּי
וְנִבְנְתָה עִיר עַל תִּלָּהּ
You will not be ashamed nor humiliated;
Why do you stand low, and why do you weep?
In you shall the poor of My people take shelter,
and [the] city shall be built on its hill.
– from Lecha Dodi, one of the songs for receiving the Sabbath. The city talked of in the song is Jerusalem, the 40th anniversary of whose liberation from its plunderers and violators we now celebrate.
Psalm 137:5–6. Click image to view full size.