Earnings from profits or prophets?

It was a terrific typo. During yesterday’s soaring tribute to John Lewis, the closed captioning of one of the eulogies accidentally rendered the intended phrase “a shattered prophet” instead as “a shattered profit.” Telling and ironic.

This is because when we’re emotionally forlorn, we can derive substantial reassurance from biblical prophets. Isaiah is the prophet who guides our steps in this season when we rise from the mourner’s bench of Tisha B’av and make our way up to the New Year seven weeks from now.

Isaiah is most agitated by arrogance. He sees overconfidence, or self-worship, as the root of most missteps. He reliably helps us get back on course by way of justice and righteousness, qualities that serve as bulwarks against self-inflation. His formula is interesting and potentially compelling for our tumultuous times. Isaiah is great at assigning meaning to events. He famously remakes a destructive period into the springboard toward restoration that vaults toward a distant, end-of-days, messianic dream when a beleaguered Israel will become a light unto the nations. In this week’s first of his seven prophetic passages, Isaiah reframes ‘created nature’ into a spiritual resource for human nature. When we’re feeling down, we should take a stroll and look up. “Life up your eyes and consider, who created all of this?” (Is. 40:26).

Re-assigning meaning can be a helpful tool these days. For example, what looks like hypocrisy can be really be an expressing of a different loyalty. When our proofs are, for others, unpersuasive, it’s not only because they argue differently, but also because their experiences are entirely different from ours. Gifted writer Tara Westover notes, “Our partisan divide isn’t just about ideas anyone. It tracks with people’s real experiences.”

Long ago a mighty ruler who conquered much of the world went mad. What was the key to his recovering sanity? “I looked up and contemplated who created all this, and my reason was restored to me” (Dan. 4:31) This is how the King of Babylonia, the destroyer of Jerusalem’s Temple, regained a clarity that brought even him to a penitent posture.

Where shall we turn? Looking all around, let us look up and consider. Not for personal profit. Rather to draw forth cupfuls of prophetic wisdom that enable us to experience for ourselves how that which lies within us can be in accord with that which is found beyond us.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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