Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Rav, Tisha Be'av and Prophecy.

Rav Y.B.Soloveitchik in his fabulous classic Halakhic Man (translated by Lawrence Kaplan) states:

The most exalted creation of all is the personality of the prophet. Each man is obligated to give new life to his own being by modeling his personality upon the image of the prophet; he must carry through his own self-creation until he actualizes the idea of prophecy – until he is worthy and fit to receive the divine overflow. “

The idea of prophecy in Jewish thought has two schools. R.Yehuda Halevi in his Kuzari believes that it is a miraculous act and God gives prophecy to whom he chooses. Manoach, who the Rabbis say was an ignoramus, had prophecy. That school of thought has been adopted by many great thinkers and is still the most prevalent nowadays. To me it is quite depressing because it takes away self-empowerment from man. Man is passive and has no control over his future. It also diminishes God and is the source of all the questions about God’s justice. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why the Holocaust? Man after all has no choice. God has refused to give them the insight that would have allowed changing their future and preventing the bad outcome. Yirmyahu the prophet of the destruction of the First Temple says it so eloquently:

מַלְכָּהּ וְשָׂרֶיהָ בַגּוֹיִם, אֵין תּוֹרָה--גַּם-נְבִיאֶיהָ, לֹא-מָצְאוּ חָזוֹן מֵיְהוָה. her king and her princes are among the nations, instruction is no more; yea, her prophets find no vision from the LORD. {S}

The other school spearheaded by Rambam understands that prophecy is a human ability. Man can access the universal knowledge through scientific inquiry and gain insights about his future. It is up to man to develop himself to the point that he develops this ability. That makes him into a man of God no longer completely dependent on nature and circumstances. He is responsible for his actions. God is not to blame for his mishaps as they are of his own making and could have been prevented had he used his abilities to the fullest. Yirmyahu was saying that we had screwed up so badly, our ancestors had mismanaged in such a way, that even men worthy of prophecy could not develop the necessary insight. The state of the nation was in such shambles that the required state of mind that comes with self- perfection was not reachable by even the best of us.

The Rav continues:

The principle of prophecy, as an article of faith, like the fundamental of providence, has a twofold aspect: the belief in (1) prophecy as a reality – i.e. that God causes men to prophesy; (2) prophecy as a norm- i.e. that each person is obliged to aspire to this rank, that every man should make a supreme effort to scale the mountain of the Lord, until he reaches the pinnacle of the revelation of the Divine Presence… Prophecy is man’s ultimate goal, the end point of all his desires.” (Pages 128-129).

The fast of Tisha Be’av is meant to make us aware of the causes for the destruction of the Temple, the actions that brought about a state of affairs that prevents our great men, those who have tried to achieve more, from having the necessary insights to prevent the tragedies we face periodically. Introspection brings about awareness and hopefully will allow for actions that will help us bring peace to our war torn land and the return of the great insight known as prophecy.


  1. You sort of glossed over the machlokes within the view of the Rambam -- whether God still has to grant prophecy to the man who has achieved the level or God can just remove it from someone who would otherwise receive it. If I recall correctly, philosophical commentators tend toward the latter while the Lechem Mishneh adopts the former.

  2. Gil, rambam is clear that God can stop a man that is Ra'uy for nevuah not to have and he proves it frrom Baruch ben Neri'yah. The question is what does stopping mean? I interpret it as a natural occurrence that is the result of man's action and the negative state he finds himself as a result. I base it on Baruch be Nery'ah who was at the time of the churban, Rambam's comment that how can we have Nevu'ah while we are under the yoke of the nations, and his comparison to the freezing of yerav'am's hand. The latter is a miracle and in my opinion Rambam has a very naturalistic view of miracles. I am not sure which echem Mishna tyou refer to, but Rambam is clear like your second option. i have not seen any disagreement so far, only in the interpretation.

  3. I'm not really fond with the way you charachterise the first school of thought of prophecy, even though I know its only a side point.

    The point, is that the actions and personality traits of a person that makes them worthy of being a prophet, is not necessarily what one would expect.

    If one prophet is pointed out as being an ignoramous, than perhaps that is not the norm. Perhaps there are two paths, 1. study of the mind, and 2. purity of the soul. Ideally, 1 will lead to 2 and normally you can't get 2 without doing 1 for a bit, however, some people are able to do 2 without 1, and that is what is ment by Gd giving it to whomever. Because nobody can ever really know what 2 means.

  4. Irviner, Please follow my upcoming posts about prophecy. You can also read my article here

    Could you explain the meaning of "Purity" and "soul" and as they relate to each other? Please no new age lingo.

  5. Great posting, David. Thanks for making Tisha B'av more relevant more me.

  6. I can't remember his name exactly, but when I think of "purity of soul" I am reminded of a charachter from "Pride and Prejudice" A person who was moral and upstanding and good in every way, but he was illiterate.

  7. Jewishskeptic8/02/2006 5:38 PM

    How does one explain according to the Rambam the maamar Chazal:

    כדתניא הרבה נביאים עמדו להם לישראל כפלים כיוצאי מצרים אלא נבואה שהוצרכה לדורות נכתבה ושלא הוצרכה לא נכתבה Megillah 14

    Were there really 1.2 milion who reached that high state of self perfection that Rambam requires.
    If that were so,there would have been no need for Yeshayahu,Yirmiyahu & others...
    Just think of the haftarah of the 1st ch.of Yeshayahu.

    Another point I wish to make is that it seems from the plain peshat of Tanach to support R.Y.Halevi.
    E.g Shemuel received his first call while still a lad in Shiloh.
    And with yirmiyahu-"beterm etsorcha babeten
    & v.6 "hineh lo yadati dabber ki naar anochi"
    And Amos "hayah min hanokdim"-one of the herdsmen.
    It doesn't seem that they were engaged in 'hasagat hamuskalot' of the Rambam.

  8. "Man can access the universal knowledge through scientific inquiry and gain insights about his future. It is up to man to develop himself to the point that he develops this ability. That makes him into a man of God no longer completely dependent on nature and circumstances. He is responsible for his actions."

    If this is the form of knowledge accessed by prophecy, wouldn't we see we have more prophets today rather than saying prophecy was taken from us?

  9. >Please no new age lingo.

    By the way, I don't think I use new age lingo. However, I would just like to point out and ask you how you would like it if someone said

    Please no legalistic lingo.


    Please no Rambam lingo.

  10. I don't think you are representing the kuzari in a proper fashion. He does see prophesy as a gift but does not deny that a certain level of preparation must still occur before it is received.

    This conversation is almost impossible to have without a definition of what prophesy IS.

    To the Rambam for whom the intellectual faculties were the greatest level that man can achieve, then prophesy MUST be achievable by anyone who can reach the level of intellectual ability of the prophet - it is an entirely egalitarian construct.

    The the Kuzari, however, prophesy itself is a separate and higher form of wisdom (1:49):

    אמר הכוזרי: אבל המעלה הזאת אלוהית מלאכותית (= מלאכית) אם היא נמצאת, וזה מדין העניין האלוהי, לא מן השכלי ולא מן הנפשי ולא מן הטבעי.

    To the kuzari prophesy is a construct which is above nature and above intellect. NOR CAN IT BE ACHIEVED THROUGH INTELECT alone. This is seen in countless areas in tanach and in midrashim.

    To the rambam, meditative experiences and the ponderings of contradiction are simply foolish products of man imagination and often he is right. But to the kuzari, a man can achieve such a level of perfection intellectually and morally at which point he transforms his imaginative faculties to the point where the become vehicles for higher truth.

    The kuzari's approach to nevuach is intrinsically liked to his view of the Jewish nation as an am segula which he makes clear in 1:103. The abilities of the Jewish people are beyond those of the intellect which is also given to the other nations. The ability to prophesy is an angelic one מין אחר, מלאכותי.

    I don't think that it is possible to discuss their respective views on WHO can achieve prophesy without understanding their view of what prophesy IS.

    On a different note, for an intesting perspective on the nature of prophesy by Rav Bezalel Naor, there is a good read called Lights of prophecy

  11. JS, re the 1.2 million I guess they were referring to the Lahakat Nevi'im that Shaul joined and probably there were more such instances. It is fascinating that in such a short time, by the time Elyahu came around, he said "Va'ani Notarti levadi". I do believe that at the early stages of our nation there was many more involved in the quest than later on. It is always so during pioneering periods.

    Re your other comments Rambam's nevuah has 11 levels. The early levels are more inspiration then real nevuah. I see those early experiences of Shmuel etc... in such a light. No one can argue that Moshe at the Sneh, coming from the sheep, was at a very advanced stage of nevuah. Like Rav YBS in one of his speeches says " why did the torah point out Umoshe Haya Ro'eh" Ehr is geven areingutun in pashen shepselech.

    But your point is well taken . Rambam addresses most of the cases you bring one place or another.

  12. Chrdal, you are 100% right. I just summarized Kuzari in a few words . Of course his thoght is much more nuanced as you point out. I was trying to contrast it with Rambam and the way the Rav describes it here.

    Of course both Ramabm and Kuzari have an integrated theology where all the pieces fit. Rambam's am segula and Kuzari's are different as is hashgacha and every other facet.

    I have a few of R.Bezalel Naor's books. I find his English a little difficult tofollow. Thanks for the reference but where does one find the time....

  13. Irviner, You are right and I appologize. My frustration sometimes gets the better of me.

  14. Oh yes Chardal, one more thing - I plan to dedicate quite a few posts to Nevuah . It is my favorite subject.

  15. Its only 83 pages and was writen in a simpler language. Its worth a read and will probably only take one or two shabbat afternoons.

  16. David, I'm curious to know your vision of the future state of Israel.

    Do you look forward and anticipate the rebuilding of the temple with animal sacrifice? Would you want to change Israel from a state of democracy and religious freedom to a theocracy?

  17. response to spinoza regarding why we look forward to the reconstruction of the temple(in my opinion) would be the return of the sannhedrin in order to fix the problems that spinoza has with religion and the return to non biased justice with monitors to prevent a theocracy-alex

  18. By the way, I was thinking about this comment, and in honesty, I don't think traditional Jewish sources suggest a theocracy.

    A theocracy is where the "Priests" are in charge of the government.

    Judaism has clear lines between the King, Priests and Law makers.

  19. Irviner and Alex,

    The question is do you want a court system set up that will punish a person for violating shabbos or any other of the rituals or laws which are purely religious in nature. I am not talking about social laws such as stealing, murder etc. Of course we need an unbiased court system for that.

  20. Maybe what you are really worried about is what such a system would do to pantheists? ;)

  21. BS, I suggest you go back and spend afew years learning the Halachot that deal with punishments and their implementations. You will be surprised what at you will find.

  22. >The question is do you want a court system set up that will punish a person for violating shabbos or any other of the rituals or laws which are purely religious in nature. I am not talking about social laws such as stealing, murder etc. Of course we need an unbiased court system for that.

    If a person is driving on shabbat in a world where nobody drives on shabbat, and thus pedestrians walk around the streets freely, yes I would want that person punished because they would be putting everyone's lives in danger, and in general ruining the standard of living that the people wish to adhere to.

  23. My point being that nothing is purely religious in nature, and not social.

  24. >My point being that nothing is purely religious in nature, and not social.

    really? If I eat a cheese burger someone is getting hurt? or if I gather some sticks on shabbos? Your example of driving is disingenuous

    And what about the people who don't want to practice these religious customs? Aren't they getting hurt by being forced to comply with a practice that they don't believe in? What if the USA forced all Jews to practice the customs of Christianity, would you like it?

  25. by the way, if my point isn't clear, I am not trying to attack religion. I personally find value in it. My point is to attack coercion. People should not force other people to serve God. We should all choose to serve God in the way we see fit.

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  27. I think a possible solution (and maybe Alex was alluding to) is that what we are all waiting for is a time when God's name is recognized by everyone in the world. When this happens there will be no need for coercion because everyone will want to serve God with true intentions and understanding. Then we can set up a court system to establish proper modes of worship for this new era. Until this time comes we should wait patiently and not force others to serve God.

  28. If the USA forced people to be Christain, then it wouldn't be the USA, it would be more like Spain in 1492. If Israel existed in 1492, I don't think there would have been a problem.

    Modern psychology and sociology explain how ever little detail affects the rest of society. I can't really go into that explanation here.

    Eating a cheaseburger, requires for there to be a store that sells cheaseburgers, or it requires for you to be lieing to the pepole around you who would otherwise not be willing to eat in your home.