Priest and Prophet
The sensibilities of the prophet and the priest are quite different in the Bible. Prophets espouse values, champion integrity, and liberate dreams. Primarily concerned with social morality and faith, biblical prophets view situations through the lens of history. Alternatively, priestly systems care about boundaries, categories, and distinctions. Priests have a strong moral sense, but their institutions leave no place for spontaneity. Prophets are not opposed to ritual, but they become outraged when it is misused in effort to avert one’s gaze from hypocrisy or injustice.
This week’s Torah and Haftorah portions offer an up-close and personal view the divergent leadership models of priest and prophet. We glimpse their different vocabulary, reflective of differing agendas. Nearness to God is the aspiration of Leviticus’ world of offerings. Atonement seeks the realigning of a disjointed relationship with God. Isaiah’s voice encourages redemption, repentance, and societal renewal. The word atonement, kapara (for which Yom Kippur is named) appears a dozen times in this week’s portion. While the words for repentance and redemption (shuv, and go-ail) appear in the prophetic reading’s penultimate verse: “I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, your transgressions and your sins; return (shuva) unto Me, for I have redeemed you (ga’altecha)” (Is. 44:22). When these twin hemispheres coexist compatibly, creativity and vitality flourish.
Priests seek order. Prophets seed hope. An additional setting where their voices harmonize elegantly is at the Passover Seder. The identity of the Seder itself means ‘order’, given how baked into its origins the priestly Pascal Sacrifice has always been. Yet the prophetic voice which vectors toward Elijah holds sway by Seder’s end.
Often we feel called by prophetic expectations. Sometimes we feel nourished by priestly habits and familiar rituals. May we draw inspiration from a sacred blend of both.
A sweet Shabbat to you.
Rabbi William Hamilton, Congregation Kehillath Israel, Schechter alumni parent