web analytics
December 26, 2014 / 4 Tevet, 5775
 
At a Glance
Judaism
Sponsored Post
8000 meals Celebrate Eight Days of Chanukah – With 8,000 Free Meals Daily to Israel’s Poor

Join Meir Panim’s campaign to “light up” Chanukah for families in need.



Home » Judaism » Parsha »

Two Sides Of The Same Coin


During The Three Weeks between 17 Tammuz and Tisha B’Av, as we recall the destruction of the Temples, we read three of the most searing passages in the prophetic literature, the first two from the opening of the book of Jeremiah, the third, next week, from the first chapter of Isaiah.

At perhaps no other time of the year are we so acutely aware of the enduring force of ancient Israel’s great visionaries. The prophets had no power. They were not kings or members of the royal court. They were (usually) not priests or members of the religious establishment. They held no office. They were not elected. Often they were deeply unpopular, none more so than the author of this week’s haftarah, Jeremiah, who was arrested, flogged, abused, put on trial and only narrowly escaped with his life. Only rarely were the prophets heeded in their lifetimes: the one clear exception was Jonah, and he spoke to non-Jews, the citizens of Nineveh. Yet their words were recorded for posterity and became a major feature of Tanach. They were the world’s first social critics, and their message continues through the centuries. As Kierkegaard almost said: when a king dies, his power ends; when a prophet dies, his influence begins.

What was distinctive about the prophet was not that he foretold the future. The ancient world was full of such people: soothsayers, oracles, readers of runes, shamans and other diviners, each of whom claimed the inside track with the forces that govern fate and “shape our ends, rough-hew them how we will.” Judaism has no time for such people. The Torah bans one “who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead” (Deuteronomy 18:10-11). It disbelieves such practices because it believes in human freedom. The future is not pre-scripted. It depends on us, and the choices we make. If a prediction comes true it has succeeded; if a prophecy comes true it has failed. The prophet tells of the future that will happen if we do not heed the danger and mend our ways. He (or she – there were seven biblical prophetesses) does not predict; he warns.

Nor was the prophet distinctive in blessing or cursing the people. That was Bilam’s gift, not Isaiah’s or Jeremiah’s. In Judaism, blessing comes through priests, not prophets.

Several things made the prophets unique. The first was his or her sense of history. The prophets were the first people to see God in history. We tend to take our sense of time for granted. Time happens. Time flows. As the saying goes: time is God’s way of keeping everything from happening at once. But actually there are several ways of relating to time, and different civilizations have perceived it differently.

There is cyclical time: time as the slow turning of the seasons, or the cycle of birth, growth, decline and death. Cyclical time is time as it occurs in nature. Some trees have long lives; most fruit flies have short ones. But all that lives, dies. The species endure; individual members do not. Kohelet contains the most famous expression of cyclical time in Judaism: “The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course … What has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

Then there is linear time: time as an inexorable sequence of cause and effect. The French astronomer Pierre-Simon Laplace gave this idea its most famous expression in 1814 when he said that if you “know all forces that set nature in motion, and all positions of all items of which nature is composed,” together with all the laws of physics and chemistry, then “nothing would be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present” before your eyes. When applied to society and history, this is known as historical inevitability.

Finally there is time as a mere sequence of events with no underlying plot or theme. This leads to the kind of historical writing pioneered by the scholars of ancient Greece, Herodotus and Thucydides.

About the Author: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth, is the author of many books of Jewish thought, most recently “The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning.”


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Two Sides Of The Same Coin”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Ayala Shapira, 11, is fighting for her life after suffering burn wounds when an Arab terrorist threw a Molotov cocktail at the car in which she was riding.
‘Slight Improvement’ in Life-threatening Condition of Firebomb Victim
Latest Judaism Stories
Grunfeld-Raphael-logo

The court cannot solely rely on death certificates issued by non-Jewish institutions without conducting its own investigation into the facts of the case.

Business-Halacha-logo

“I’m still not sure we have a right to damage his property,” said Mrs. Schloss. “Can you ask someone?”

Rabbi Sacks

Jacob’s blessing of Ephraim over Manasseh had nothing to do with age and everything to do with names

The Glory of Joseph

Slavery was universal; So, why was Egypt targeted in this object lesson?

Rav Akiva Eiger is assuming that the logic of the halacha that both the son and his mother are obligated to honor his father and therefore he must honor his fathers wishes first, is a mathematical equation.

The first requirement is a king must admit when he is wrong.

Reward And Punishment
‘Masser Rishon For The levi’im’
(Yevamos 86a)

Question: If Abraham was commanded to circumcise his descendants on the eighth day, why do Arabs – who claim to descend from Abraham through Yishmael – wait until their children are 13 to circumcise them? I am aware that this is a matter of little consequence to our people. Nevertheless, this inconsistency is one that piques my curiosity.

M. Goldman
(Via E-mail)

Reb Shlomo Zalman could not endure honorifics applied to him because of his enormous humility

Because we see these events as world changing, as moments in history, they become part of us forever.

They stammer “I’m not Orthodox,” as if that absolves them from the responsibility of calling to G-d

It’s fascinating how sources attain the status “traditional,” or its equivalent level of kashrus.

She was determined that the Law class was Dina’s best chance of finding a husband, and that was the real reason she wanted her to go to college.

But who would have ever guessed that Hashem would unlock the key to the birth on same day as the English anniversary of our wedding.

Rabbi Fohrman explores the question of how God communicates with us today.

More Articles from Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
Rabbi Sacks

Jacob’s blessing of Ephraim over Manasseh had nothing to do with age and everything to do with names

Rabbi Sacks

Tamar’s conduct bears an uncanny resemblance to Ruth’s; virtuous outsiders at the margins of society

A Jew is an iconoclast, born to challenge the idols of the age,whatever the idols, whatever the age.

Simply too many cases of prayers being answered to deny it makes a difference to our fate. It does.

When Jacob was chosen, Esau was not rejected; G-d does not reject.

Between Judaism and Islam there can be friendship and mutual respect as Abraham loved both his sons.

God wanted to establish the principle that children are not the property of their parents.

The Babel story is the 2nd in a 4-act drama that’s unmistakably a connecting thread of Bereishit

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/two-sides-of-the-same-coin/2012/07/18/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: