Saturday, February 17, 2007

Of Angels, Prophets and Moshe.

On my last post the discussion somehow ended up about angels – instigated by Rabbi Maroof of – and the angel in last week’s Parsha came to mind.

כ הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי שֹׁלֵחַ מַלְאָךְ, לְפָנֶיךָ, לִשְׁמָרְךָ, בַּדָּרֶךְ; וְלַהֲבִיאֲךָ, אֶל-הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר הֲכִנֹתִי.
20 Behold, I send an angel before thee, to keep thee by the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared.
כא הִשָּׁמֶר מִפָּנָיו וּשְׁמַע בְּקֹלוֹ, אַל-תַּמֵּר בּוֹ: כִּי לֹא יִשָּׂא לְפִשְׁעֲכֶם, כִּי שְׁמִי בְּקִרְבּוֹ.
21 Take heed of him, and hearken unto his voice; be not rebellious against him; for he will not pardon your transgression; for My name is in him.
כב כִּי אִם-שָׁמוֹעַ תִּשְׁמַע, בְּקֹלוֹ, וְעָשִׂיתָ, כֹּל אֲשֶׁר אֲדַבֵּר--וְאָיַבְתִּי, אֶת-אֹיְבֶיךָ, וְצַרְתִּי, אֶת-צֹרְרֶיךָ.
22 But if thou shall indeed hearken unto his voice, and do all that I speak; then I will be an enemy unto thine enemies, and an adversary unto thine adversaries.
כג כִּי-יֵלֵךְ מַלְאָכִי, לְפָנֶיךָ, וֶהֱבִיאֲךָ אֶל-הָאֱמֹרִי וְהַחִתִּי, וְהַפְּרִזִּי וְהַכְּנַעֲנִי הַחִוִּי וְהַיְבוּסִי; וְהִכְחַדְתִּיו.
23 For Mine angel shall go before thee, and bring thee in unto the Amorite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Canaanite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite; and I will cut them off.

Who is this angel?

Rambam considers this so important that he dedicates the whole of MN 2:34 to this angel. After introducing the different concepts of prophecy held by the different philosophers in chapter 32, Rambam discusses Ma’amad Har Sinai in chapter 33. He then discusses our angel followed by a declaratory chapter (35) where he tells us that the type of prophecy that Moshe experienced is not the subject of this treatise. He shows a series of verses that differentiate Moshe’s prophecy from that of the prophets and only then in Chapter 36 can he begin the discuss prophecy. Apparently he felt that one had to understand these three chapters before he could address prophecy. He further emphasizes the importance of these chapters ending 33 and 34 with De’ehu – know this - and 35 with a statement that one must differentiate Moshe’s prophecy in one’s mind before continuing.

Rambam is addressing the context of these verses. After describing the Sinai experience and reporting the laws promulgated during that time, those listed at the end of Parshat Yitro and Mishpatim, Moshe tells them that this kind of prophecy is unique. The type of prophecy that Moshe experienced was such that he could tell them directly what he apprehended from God without having to translate and interpret it, as Rambam in his introduction to Chelek describes it “as a scribe who writes what is dictated to him”. Prophets would lead them in the future; advise them on how to act and how to protect themselves. Their prophecy will no longer be the direct type. They will apprehend the necessary information through intermediaries. They will have to filter and interpret the visions that they have before transmitting it to the people in an intelligible form. The metaphor for this process is that the prophecy comes via an angel. Whenever that metaphor is used it is an indication of prophecy. That is the meaning of Rambam in MN 2:41

You must know that whenever Scripture relates that the Lord or an angel spoke to a person, this took place in a dream or in a prophetic vision".

This is exactly what Rambam is trying to impress on us. He understands that the Torah is giving us the message he is insisting on as he starts to address prophecy; Moshe’s prophecy is completely different from the one experienced by other prophets.

The meaning of the passage quoted above is this: God informs the Israelites that He will raise up for them a prophet, to whom an angel will appear in order to speak to him, to command him, and to exhort him; he therefore cautions them not to rebel against this angel, whose word the prophet will communicate to them. … The object of all this is to say to the Israelites, This great sight witnessed by you, the revelation on Mount Sinai, will not continue forever, nor will it ever be repeated. Fire and cloud will not continually rest over the tabernacle, as they are resting now on it: but the towns will be conquered for you, peace will be secured for you in the land, and you will be informed of what you have to do, by an angel whom I will send to your prophets; he will thus teach you what to do, and what not to do. Here a principle is laid clown which I have constantly expounded, viz., that all prophets except Moses receive the prophecy through an angel. Note it.”

From a practical point the Torah is warning that although a regular prophet does not have the same authority that Moshe had, he must still be obeyed because prophecy is real. A genuine prophet, although his prophecy requires involving an intermediary and he has to interpret his vision, can be relied upon if he meets the criteria laid out by Halacha.

Shavua Tov.

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