Sunday, July 20, 2008

Visionary States and Visions.

Rambam in Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah 7:10-11 writes –

ו] כל הדברים שאמרנו, הן דרך הנבואה לכל הנביאים הראשונים

והאחרונים--חוץ ממשה, רבנו ורבן של כל הנביאים. ומה הפרש יש בין נבואת

משה לשאר כל הנביאים--שכל הנביאים, בחלום או במראה; ומשה רבנו--הוא ער

ועומד, שנאמר "ובבוא משה אל אוהל מועד, לדבר איתו, וישמע את הקול

Everything we have said so far {about prophecy], apply to all the early and late prophets except for Moshe, our teacher and the teacher of all the prophets. What differentiates Moshe’s prophecy from that of the other prophets? All prophets [prophesize] in a dream or vision while Moshe Rabbeinu is awake and standing as it says “And when Moses went into the tent of meeting that He might speak with him, then he heard the Voice…”

כל הנביאים, על ידי מלאך; לפיכך רואין מה שהן רואין במשל וחידה. ומשה רבנו, לא על ידי מלאך, שנאמר "פה אל פה אדבר בו" (במדבר יב,ח)

, ונאמר "ודיבר ה' אל משה פנים אל פנים" (שמות לג,יא),

ונאמר "ותמונת ה', יביט" (במדבר יב,ח):

כלומר שאין שם משל, אלא רואה הדבר על בורייו בלא חידה בלא משל; הוא שהתורה

מעידה עליו, "ומראה ולא בחידות" (שם), שאינו מתנבא בחידה אלא במראה, שרואה

הדבר על בורייו.

All the prophets [prophesize] through an angel therefore their vision is in the form of allegory and riddle. Moshe Rabbeinu[‘s vision] is not through an angel because it says “I will speak with him Peh el Peh [mouth to mouth]” and it says “and God speaks to Moshe face to face” and it says “he sees the likeness of God”. Namely, there was no allegory. [Moshe] saw it as it was without a riddle or allegory. That is what the Torah attests about him [Moshe], “in a vision and not in riddles”, that he does not prophesize through a riddle but in a vision. He sees things as they are.

Rambam uses the same word במראה in two totally opposed ways. In the first Halacha, he describes with it the prophecy of other prophets as opposed to Moshe; they have visions while he is awake and standing. In the second, he uses it to describe Moshe’s prophecy as in a vision as opposed to riddles. What is going on?

Rambam is basing this Halacha on two verses in the Torah that are close to each other and offer the same contradiction.

ו וַיֹּאמֶר, שִׁמְעוּ-נָא דְבָרָי; אִם-יִהְיֶה, נְבִיאֲכֶם--יְהוָה בַּמַּרְאָה אֵלָיו אֶתְוַדָּע, בַּחֲלוֹם אֲדַבֶּר-בּוֹ.

6 And He said: Listen pray to My words: if your prophet be the Lord’s in a vision to him would I be known, in a dream would I speak through him.


לֹא-כֵן, עַבְדִּי מֹשֶׁה: בְּכָל-בֵּיתִי, נֶאֱמָן הוּא.

7 Not so My servant Moshe; in all My house is he trusted;

ח פֶּה אֶל-פֶּה אֲדַבֶּר-בּוֹ, וּמַרְאֶה וְלֹא בְחִידֹת, וּתְמֻנַת יְהוָה, יַבִּיט

Mouth to mouth do I speak with him, and visions and not in riddles;

Here too we have the same use of the word ּמַרְאֶהin two opposite senses. Sifrei comments on the first Passuk -

ספרי במדבר פיסקא קג

אם יהיה נביאכם ה' במראה אליו אתודע או כשם שאני [מדבר עם הנביאים] בחלום ובחזיון כך [אני] מדבר עם משה ת"ל לא כן עבדי משה.

In other words, this verse is describing the state the prophet is in when he apprehends the prophecy. Unlike other prophets who are either asleep or in a trance Moshe was fully awake when prophesying. בַּמַּרְאָה refers to the prophet and the state he is in, namely a visionary state which is trancelike as opposed to fully awake and standing. (Note the punctuation - a Kametz – see Sforno[1]).

While on the second verse Sifrei comments –

ספרי במדבר פיסקא קג

במראה, זה מראה דיבור אתה אומר זה מראה דיבור או אינו אלא מראה שכינה ת"ל ויאמר לא תוכל לראות את פני כי לא יראני האדם וחי

Here the word וּמַרְאֶה describes the nature of the prophecy that it was perceived as clear words rather than a vision of the Shechinah. (Apparently, the heading of this comment should be וּמַרְאֶה and not במראה. Note the punctuation – a Segol – see Sforno).

Rambam based his Halacha on these verses as understood by Sifrei and used it to present two of the four differences between Moshe’s prophecy and that of other prophets. We also profited in understanding the Sifrei and how to read apparently two contradicting verses. Clearly the Chachmei Hamesora had a similar understanding of the Sifrei and the verse.

(See my article in Hakirah volume 1 for a discussion of the four verses used as proof text in the first Halacha).

[1] Sforno notes the different punctuation on the two words noting the first as Lashon Nekeiva - feminine - while the second is Lashon Zachar - masculine.

The concordance (Even Sasson) lists the two verses as two different meanings. The one with Segol is vision the one with a Kametz is mirror but can also mean vision as a homonym.


  1. Good observation, I'll have a look how Feldheim translates it.


    After reading this wikipedia article, I feel like people are completely devoid of any understanding of Scripture.

    The soul is not something believed in unless one does not know what it is. Anyone with basic literacy skills, if he merely lists together what Scripture refers to as the soul, he would understand what it is. Maimonides has this knowledge pre-assumed when writing his Pirush on Avot.

    This understanding of the soul was universally accepted in the ancient world but how it was made up or how it existed was of difference of opinion. Just like any abstract word today or back then. We Jews believe in one soul as is very clearly implied by Scripture. We accept this as trustworthy because we received it from the prophet.

    I find this the most idiotic statement in the article:
    "In his book Consilience, E. O. Wilson took note that sociology has identified belief in a soul as one of the universal human cultural elements. Wilson suggested that biologists need to investigate how human genes predispose people to believe in a soul."

    This is what they call science today. Basing theory on the lack of knowledge of the premise.

  2. You don't seem to have a soul tag. Maybe you would like to do a post on the soul.