The prophet is the nation’s conscience. He incessantly and adamantly demands moral purity. But there’s a tension: No government or leadership can be morally pure. All leadership ultimately is a matter of negotiating compromises. Diplomacy, policy, planning, budgeting or any leadership decision is a matter of trading away some of your principles to preserve others.
Were a prophet to find himself invested with power, he would soon despair. It’s no wonder Moses was not allowed into the Promised Land — into the real world of limitations and accommodations.
The Greek philosopher Plato argued for a philosopher-king. He was wrong. Philosophers are like prophets. They deal in the realm of the pure, the theoretical and the ideal, and they make very poor kings. When philosophers/prophets take power, they tend to become tyrants, forcing everyone into the mold of their theory.
Kings need prophets. The tension between them is essential. Those in power need to be reminded of the ideal and the pure. They need to hear the truth. And even while they make moral compromises, let them be reminded that their compromises are in fact compromises. Let them know what they’re compromising and the costs of compromise. Let them remember that, while necessary, it’s not ideal, and while pragmatic, it’s not perfect. Let them hear again and again: We can do better.
Rabbi Edward Feinstein, “Shemini”, Jewish Journal (17-23 April 2015), 56-57.