Last Shabbat, we deviated from the norm, and chanted from the Haftarah, the prophetic reading from Zechariah paired with Hanukkah. The slight change in practice and the abundant blessings that surround the reading, called my attention.
These days I have been reflecting on the role of the prophetic tradition in our lives. On the one hand there is this idea that we are all prophets. We are called to speak truth and pursue justice, to remember that our words bear witness and instigate change. And on the other hand there is an idea that we see reflected at the very end of the book of Deuteronomy, that Moses was the last prophet to have a direct (face to face) encounter with the Divine (34:10). Which would suggest that prophecy was once alive but is now contained to the written words of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible).
According to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, "The prophet was an individual who said No to his society, condemning its habits and assumptions, its complacency, waywardness, and syncretism" (The Prophets, xiii). But in this political moment, when our culture could easily turn to despair, prophets must do more than speak truth to power. Prophecy must be a source of relentless hope. Theologian Kenyatta Gilbert explains, "Prophets conjure up possibilities of another reality when the king declares that only one reality exists" (Sojourners, Jan 2018). And perhaps most profoundly, "Prophetic consciousness seeks to free people from the royal consciousness" (Brueggemann).
As we depart from the darkest days of the year, I offer you this vision of spiritual tradition and community that calls us to cultivate this alternative consciousness. Through creative speech and clarity of vision, through song and poetry, we are called to nurture in each other a spirit of relentless hope.
In the words of the poet Grace Paley, "The only recognizable feature of hope is action." May we move into the days of growing light, with the words of the Prophet Micah in our hearts: "To enact justice, to love kindness and to embody humility" (6:8).
Wishing all who celebrate a Happy Kwanzaa and a Merry Christmas!
Rabbi Ari Lev