Vigils Reading

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Vigils Reading

March 15, 2023

The Role of the Prophet4
From the writings of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

The certainty of being inspired by God, of speaking in His name, of having been sent by Him to the people, is the basic and central fact of the prophet’s consciousness. Other people regard experience as the source of certainty; what singles out the prophet in the world of man is that to him the source of his experience is the source of his certainty. To his mind, the validity and distinction of his message lie in the origin, not only in the moment of his experience…

In a variety of ways, in utterance and in action, the prophets stressed their staggering claim. It was such certainty of being inspired that enabled the prophet to proclaim again and again: “Thus says the Lord”; “Hear the word of the Lord”… There is no doubt that the prophets were conscious of their own sincerity; that their tongues were not confuted by their consciences. “What I heard from the Lord of hosts, … I announce to you,” said Isaiah. And Jeremiah insisted “That which came out of my lips was before Thy face”.

The prophet does not speak of a resolution or a purpose, framed by himself, to devote himself to his vocation, but describes a decisive moment in which he received a call. He thinks of himself as “a messenger of God”, sent by Him to His people. Moreover, he does not speak on the strength of a single experience or sporadic inspirations. His entire existence is dedicated to his mission… When “Jeremiah’s harsh word of judgment against the Temple of Jerusalem provoked the priests… that they wanted to kill him,” Jeremiah had nothing to say in his defense before the royal officials except: “…the Lord has sentme to you, to say all these words in your ears”…

To the consciousness of the prophet, the prophetic act is more than an experience; it is an objective event… It is not a discovery, a coming upon something permanently given by the mind of the prophet…a timeless idea… justice, a law, but something dynamic, an act of giving; not an eternal word, but a word spoken, a word expressed, springing from a Presence, a word in time, a pathos overflowing in words. His experience is a perception of an act that happens rather than a perception of a situation that abides…

Thus, to the prophetic consciousness, inspiration is …experienced as a divine act which takes place not within but beyond, as an event which happens in one’s view rather than in one’s heart. The prophet does not merely feel it; he faces it

4 Heschel, Abraham J. The Prophets. New York: Harper & Row, 1962. 426-433.




March 15, 2023
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