According to Ahad Ha’Am, the great Zionist thinker, the prophet has three qualities:
“The Prophet has two fundamental qualities, which distinguish him from the rest of mankind. First, he is a man of truth. He sees life as it is, with a view unwarped by subjective feelings; and he tells you what he sees just as he sees it, unaffected by irrelevant considerations. He tells the truth not because he wishes to tell the truth, not because he has convinced himself, after inquiry, that such is his duty, but because he must, because truth-telling is a special characteristic of his genius — a characteristic of which he cannot rid himself, even if he would.
Secondly, the Prophet is an extremist. He concentrates his whole heart and mind on his ideal, in which he finds the goal of life, and to which he is determined to make the whole world do service, without the smallest exception. There is in his soul a complete, ideal world; and on that pattern he labors to reform the external world of reality. He has a clear conviction that so things must be, and no more is needed to make him demand that so they shall be. He can accept no excuse, can consent to no compromise, can never cease thundering his passionate denunciations, even if the whole universe is against him.
From these two fundamental characteristics there results a third, which is a combination of the other two: namely, the supremacy of absolute righteousness in the prophet’s soul, in his every word and action. As a man of truth he cannot help being also a man of justice or righteousness; for what is righteousness but truth in action? And as an extremist he cannot subordinate righteousness (any more than he can subordinate truth) to any irrelevant end; he cannot desert righteousness from motives of temporary expediency, even at the bidding of love or pity. Thus the Prophet’s righteousness is absolute, knowing no restriction either on the side of social necessities or on that of human feelings.”
(Excerpts from “Moses,”, by Ahad
Ha-’Am, 1904; translated by Leon Simon, 1912.)
As fundamentalist as it sounds, the combination of truth, extremism and righteousness are the eternal characteristics of a prophetic people, the Jewish people.
Who will speak with Moses’ passion today? Maybe you, or you, or you.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)