One of the things I tripped across was the profound love the Neviim (Prophets) held for their fellow Jews.
When I first read Shlomo Rotenberg's account of Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah) Hanavi in Am Olam: The History of the Eternal Nation, I was astonished to learn how badly he was treated and even more astonished to discover the depths of his love for the very people who'd tormented him. His great mesirut nefesh (self-sacrifice) to do whatever he could for his people went beyond anything I'd ever imagined. And even when he couldn't do anything to relieve their suffering, he went to great lengths to suffer along with them out of his great love and empathy.
Recently, I wanted to take a look at Yonah Hanavi's early life, which takes us back to Melachim (Kings) II, Chapter 9. He was the young Navi and unnamed disciple whom Elisha Hanavi appointed to risk his life by anointing Yehu as king.
Right there in the text, the men around Yehu mock Yonah Hanavi, calling him "meshugah" (crazy). The commentaries explain that these types considered the Neviim "meshugah" because the profuse hitbodedut (seclusion in personal prayer) of the Neviim cut them off from "inyanei ha'olam" ("issues of the world").
People also considered Yonah Hanavi to be a false prophet because when he revealed a doomsday prophecy to the Jewish people, they did teshuvah, which cancelled the harsh decree of doom.
This is supposed to happen regarding doomsday prophecies (teshuvah cancels them out) and the entire reason why Hashem reveals doomsday prophecies (to inspire the kind of teshuvah that wipes out this type of prophecy), but people didn't take that into consideration.
His prophecy wasn't fulfilled (fortunately), so they judged Yonah Hanavi wrongly.
But later in Sefer Yonah, Yonah Hanavi risks his life to avoid prophesying to Nineveh.
Because he doesn't want the upcoming teshuvah of Nineveh to be used against the Jewish people, as in: "See? The non-Jewish people listen to You. But as for Your own People? Look at their lack of loyalty and dedication to You..."
He resisted any Heavenly prosecution against the Jewish people, anything that might cause any suffering to the Jewish people.
He was willing to die just to avoid this.
His urging the sailors to toss him overboard in the middle of a violent storm is incredible. If you've ever seen powerful waves or read the accounts of megahurricane survivors, you'll know how terrifying that kind of water is.
Yet his love for the Jewish people was greater than the violence of the storm.
We find this same quality in Moshe Rabbeinu, who despite being slandered by certain elements, still expressed his wish to die rather than be the leader of a new and better-behaved people.
And in fact, as is well-known, this was the defining difference between the righteousness of Noach and that of Avraham Avinu. Noach cared deeply about his own teshuvah and his merit saved him and his family members (even the not-so-deserving ones like Cham and Canaan).
But Avraham Avinu cared about everyone, as evidenced by his pleas to spare the evil city of Sodom (among other compassionate acts).
We could go on and on. The Tanach is full of such inspiring examples.
How to Emulate the Neviim
But with proactivism stamped into our souls and Jewish DNA, we always need to bring the lessons home.
I'm pretty far from the level of Yirmiyahu or Yonah or Moshe Rabbeinu. So what can I do other than bask in warm fuzzy feelings toward the extremely holy people of yore?
Well, there's a little prayer that pleads for Hashem to bring us back in complete teshuvah before Him from love, and not via trials or humiliations.
I can't always love people and I especially can't feel driven to sacrifice my life for people who treat me like something stuck on the bottom of their shoe. (Heck, it's often all I can do to refrain from indulging in some cathartic lashon hara about them, let alone get all lovey-dovey about them.)
But I can certainly ask Hashem to transform them into the kind of wonderful people He originally created them to be.
And I can ask that they do teshuvah from love, and not from suffering.
Suffering feels awful. It's better that everyone does teshuvah from love.
So if we can't internalize the love and compassion of our great holy ones, we can at least ask Hashem to inspire everyone to do complete teshuvah from love and not from suffering.
And by doing so, we transform ourselves too.
We get one step closer to the level of our Neviim.