The fourth difference between Moshe and other prophets is in my opinion the most important and practical one from our perspective as Homo Religioso. But first, a little bit of a digression.
I have discussed in the past that not all prophecy is for the consumption of others. One can be a private prophet that has developed himself to such a point that he can apprehend physical and metaphysical truths beyond what a less developed thinker would. It is a result of both behavioral and mental perfection.
הנביא, אפשר שתהיה נבואתו לעצמו בלבד, להרחיב ליבו ולהוסיף דעתו, עד שיידע מה שלא היה יודע, מאותן הדברים הגדולים.
A prophet’s prophecy may be a personal experience only, whereby he broadens his mind and adds knowledge to the point that he now knows things about these great matters that he never knew. (Rambam Hil Yesodei Hatorah 7:7)
I believe that Rambam holds that this kind of prophecy is based on merit and no outside interference may stop it. I would also tentatively venture, that according to Rambam this type of prophecy never ceased and may still be attained nowadays. It is completely dependent on the prophets’ development and perfection - a natural human phenomenon. Obviously, not all the rules of prophecy, such as infallibility and authentication, apply.
The other kind of prophecy is the one addressed to others. The prophet gets an uncontrollable urge and need to share his prophecy with others. It is to this type of prophecy that all the rules, such as infallibility and authentication, apply. This prophecy requires traits other than just developed thought and personality. Giving a sometimes-unwanted message or risking one’s life just in the authentication process requires courage and boldness.
Explaining how prophecy in Judaism differs from advanced human mental development, Rambam writes –
“For we believe that, even if one has the capacity for prophecy, and has duly prepared himself, it may yet happen that he does not actually prophesy. It is in that case the will of God [that withholds from him the use of the faculty]. According to my opinion, this is like all the miracles and takes the same course as they. For the laws of Nature demand that every one should be a prophet, who has a proper physical constitution, and has been duly prepared as regards education and training. If such a person is prevented from it, he is in the same position as a person who, like Jeroboam (1 Kings Xiii.), is prevented from moving his hand, or of his eyes, as was the case with the army of
As I have shown many times, Rambam understands miracles as anomalies in nature that prove that God wills. Prophecy is a natural human development that cannot be suppressed or stopped and when it is, it is seen as a natural anomaly – “this is like all the miracles and takes the same course as they.” I understand this to mean that unforeseen circumstances outside the prophets’ internal life interfere and prevent him from prophesying. Rambam uses Baruch ben Neria as an example for someone that is ready for prophecy and could not.
That those who have prepared themselves may still be prevented from being prophets, may be inferred from the history of Baruch, the son of Neria; for he followed Jeremiah, who prepared and instructed him; and yet he hoped in vain for prophecy. (MN2:32)
Yet the same Baruch is listed among the prophets –
מיתיבי ברוך בן נריה ושריה בן מעשיה ודניאל ומרדכי בלשן וחגי זכריה ומלאכי כולן נתנבאו בשנת שתים לדריוש תיובתא
Clearly, although he was prevented from what I would call missionary prophecy, he still was a prophet in the sense of apprehending things that only prophets do. The circumstances that Baruch had to confront as one of the exiles during the destruction of the first temple prevented him from getting on a pulpit and promulgating his prophecies.
“The same circumstance, prevalence of sadness and dullness, was undoubtedly the direct cause of the interruption of prophecy during the exile. For can there be any greater misfortune for man than this? To be a slave bought for money in the service of ignorant and voluptuous masters, and powerless against them as they unite in themselves the absence of true knowledge and the force of all animal desires?” (MN 2:36)
Baruch himself however was a prophet and was able to “broaden his mind and add knowledge to the point that he now knows things about these great matters that he never knew.” He was prevented from broadcasting his prophecies being seen as a prophet to himself and not to the world. It is based on this that I believe that only the second type of prophecy, the one that is shared with others, can be prevented by circumstances while the internal kind, though affected, would not be stopped completely. It has to do with the involvement in missionary prophecy of traits other than the intellect. It is those traits such as courage and boldness that can be inhibited by circumstances. This explains the following –
“The same was the case with Moses after the disastrous incident of the spies and until the death of the warriors of that generation. He received no message of God, the way he used to do, because – seeing the enormity of their crime – he suffered greatly because of this matter. This was so even though he did not receive prophetic inspiration through the medium of the imaginative faculty, but directly through the intellect.” (MN 2:36)
Rambam is telling us that the intellect is not affected by outside circumstances that make the prophet suffer. The imaginative faculty is apparently affected by mood brought upon the person from the outside, however as Moshe did not involve that faculty in his prophetic experience, there must be another reason that his mood affected his prophecy. When describing the need for courage in prophecy Rambam writes –
Their courage was so great that, e.g., Moses, with only a staff in his hand, dared to address a great king in his desire to deliver a nation from his service. He was not frightened or terrified, because he had been told, "I will be with thee" (Exod. iii. 12). The prophets have not all the same degree of courage, but none of them have been entirely without it. Thus, Jeremiah is told: "Be not afraid of them," etc. (Jer. i. 8), and Ezekiel is exhorted, "Do not fear them or their word" (Ezek. ii. 6). In the same manner, you find that all prophets possessed great courage. (MN2:38)
I understand that this trait, courage, is one of those needed for missionary prophecy that is affected by outside circumstances and have an impact on the prophet’s mood.
Please note the conditional tone Rambam uses when describing Moshe’s changed prophecy after the disastrous incident of the spies and until the death of the warriors of that generation. He says He received no message of God, the way he used to do. This proviso is very important and I will discuss it as I continue with this subject.
The ideas that I present in this post, the difference between missionary and personal prophecy being affected by outside circumstances, are tentative and my own. I have been thinking about this issue for a long time and I believe this resolves some of the problems I have on this specific subject. I would like to hear from others on the issue.
 See Introduction to Pirush Hamishna explaining Yaakov’s fear that his sins may have changed God’s promise to him.
 See the Halacha quoted above in its full context –
ואפשר שישולח לעם מעמי הארץ, או לאנשי עיר או ממלכה, לבונן אותם ולהודיעם
מה יעשו, או למנוע אותם ממעשים הרעים שבידיהם;
וכשמשלחין אותו, נותנין לו
אות ומופת כדי שיידעו העם שהאל שילחו באמת
Only in this last instance does he require authentication.