Thursday, September 21, 2006

Prophets and Moshe's prophecy - Two different experiences.

There are two very different kinds of prophecy – the prophecy of all prophets including Moshe Rabbeinu and the exclusive prophecy of Moshe Rabbeinu through which he gave the Law. Although both have the same name, they are two different experiences. A prophet that makes decisions on how to lead the people takes into consideration all the consequences of his actions, whether they fit within the framework of God’s will. He tries to understand how the universe, society and history interact, deduces from his observations how God would act under the circumstances. He uses all his faculties to accomplish this. Starting with his rational faculty and the physical world he enters the realm of metaphysics and speculates about the future, at which point his imaginative faculty becomes active as is his intuition and courage. The combined effects of all these faculties allow him to act on his convictions. That is why most prophecies are metaphors or poetic language. It is an experience the prophet tries to transmit to others after interpreting it internally. The prophecies are filtered through the prophet’s personality and state of mind at the time. That is also why different prophets will report the same prophecy in different syntaxes. They are similar in content but use different words.

This type of prophecy cannot work when legislating. Laws require precision especially when they are the basis for an all-encompassing system that covers societal, social, personal and ritual behavior all with theological implications. The prophet’s personality cannot play a role in this type of prophecy. He must remove all outside interference and preferences so that the prophecy is 100% rational (Sechel) totally untainted by any other faculty. Moshe Rabbeinu to be able to give the Divine Torah had to completely divest himself of his physicality. Physical urges and needs had to be completely sublimated to the point that he could say about himself that he did not need to eat or drink for 40 days. No one else ever accomplished that level of attachment to God and removal from physical needs nor will there be another one like him. At Har Sinai Moshe reached this level of prophecy and he used it over the rest of his life as he gave the Torah to the people. The major accomplishment at Sinai was Moshe attaining this level of perfection and the Jewish people being able to get a glimpse, each according to his level, of the concept of this type of prophecy. That is the meaning of the Passuk:

ט וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי בָּא אֵלֶיךָ בְּעַב הֶעָנָן, בַּעֲבוּר יִשְׁמַע הָעָם בְּדַבְּרִי עִמָּךְ, וְגַם-בְּךָ יַאֲמִינוּ לְעוֹלָם; וַיַּגֵּד מֹשֶׁה אֶת-דִּבְרֵי הָעָם, אֶל-יְהוָה. 9 And the LORD said unto Moses: 'Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with thee, and may also believe thee for ever.' And Moses told the words of the people unto the LORD
(Shemot 19:9)

God is unknown as if covered by a thick cloud. He is completely outside anything physical. To “hear” Him “speak” to Moshe transmitting Laws, one has to realize that. One also realizes that to properly understand these and translate them faithfully, one has to remove himself from physicality. The people understood that and feared they could not abide by such a condition.

כב כִּי מִי כָל-בָּשָׂר אֲשֶׁר שָׁמַע קוֹל אֱלֹהִים חַיִּים מְדַבֵּר מִתּוֹךְ-הָאֵשׁ, כָּמֹנוּ--וַיֶּחִי. 22 For who is there of all flesh, that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived?
כג קְרַב אַתָּה וּשְׁמָע, אֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר יֹאמַר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ; וְאַתְּ תְּדַבֵּר אֵלֵינוּ, אֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר יְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ אֵלֶיךָ--וְשָׁמַעְנוּ וְעָשִׂינוּ. 23 Go you near, and hear all that the LORD our God may say; and you shall speak unto us all that the LORD our God may speak unto thee; and we will hear it and do it.'
(Devarim 5:22-23)

In other words the realization of what was required to receive the Law was too overwhelming even for the greatest among them. Only Moshe could reach that elevated state. He reached it over the next 40 days. Rambam Hil Yesodei Hatorah 8:2 -

ובמה האמינו בו, במעמד הר סיניי: שעינינו ראו, ולא זר, ואוזנינו שמעו, ולא אחר--האש והקולות והלפידים. והוא ניגש אל הערפל, והקול מדבר אליו; ואנו שומעים: משה, משה--לך אמור להם כך וכך. וכן הוא אומר "פנים בפנים, דיבר ה' עימכם" (דברים ה,ד), ונאמר "לא את אבותינו, כרת ה' את הברית הזאת" (דברים ה,ג).

It was the assembly at Mount Sinai that made them believe in Moses, when our eyes, and no-one else's, saw, and our ears, and no-one else's, heard, and Moses drew near to the darkness, and the voice spoke to him, and we heard it saying to Moses, "Moses, Moses, go tell them such-and-such". In connection with this it is written, "The Lord talked with you face to face", and it is also written, "The Lord did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us".

On the calendar Moshe was on Har Sinai for the second time (third according to some Rishonim) at this time of the year. Rosh Hashanah was the start of the last ten days before he came down with the second Luchot on Yom Kippur. May we grow in our own understanding of the Torah that Moshe gave us and follow in its teachings emulating our Creator. After all we are descendants of the one it was said:

יט כִּי יְדַעְתִּיו, לְמַעַן אֲשֶׁר יְצַוֶּה אֶת-בָּנָיו וְאֶת-בֵּיתוֹ אַחֲרָיו, וְשָׁמְרוּ דֶּרֶךְ יְהוָה, לַעֲשׂוֹת צְדָקָה וּמִשְׁפָּט--לְמַעַן, הָבִיא יְהוָה עַל-אַבְרָהָם, אֵת אֲשֶׁר-דִּבֶּר, עָלָיו. 19 For I have known him, to the end that he may command his children and his household after him, that they may keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice; to the end that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which He hath spoken of him.' (Breishis 18;19)

Shana Tova Umevorechet.

No comments:

Post a Comment