So the Prophet remains in the wilderness, buries his own generation, and trains up a new one. Year after year passes, and he never grows weary of repeating to this growing generation the laws of righteousness that must guide its life in the land of its future; never tires of recalling the glorious past in which these laws were fashioned. The past and the future are the Prophet’s whole life, each completing the other. In the present he sees nothing but a wilderness, a life far removed from his ideal; and therefore he looks before and after. He lives in the future world of his vision and seeks strength in the past out of which that vision-world is quarried.
Forty years are gone, and the new generation is about to emerge from its vagabond life in the wilderness and to take up the broken thread of the national task, when the Prophet dies, and another man assumes the leadership and brings the people to its land.
This passage is taken from the 1904 essay “Moses” by Ahad Ha-Am, which can be found in Selected Essays, translated and edited by Leon Simon (Philadelphia: JPS, 1912). Low-cost used copies of this volume are available from AbeBooks, e.g. A limited preview is available at Google Books; “Moses” begins on p. 306, and the passage quoted on p.325.
For more on Ahad Ha-am (aka Asher Ginsberg; 1856-1927), see YIVO or My Jewish Learning. Sources update July 2019
I originally found the passage quoted above in Plaut (The Torah: A Modern Commentary).
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