Learn Emunah:
Section One, Lesson Seven:
The Words of the Prophets


By Rabbi Shlomo Nachman © November 19, 2018

6. I believe with perfect emunah
    that the prophecy of Moses our teacher,
    peace be to him, was true,
    and that he was the father of the prophets --
    those who preceded him and those who followed him.
What is a prophet from a Jewish perspective?
From an elementary perspective a prophet is a human being chosen by HaShem to reveal His message. Here Rambam includes the existence and importance of prophets among his thirteen foundational principles of the Jewish emunah. As Jews we accept that G-d communicates to mankind through prophecy.

Since the days of Moshe Rabbeinu (our teacher Moses), who was the greatest of all prophets, the messages of the various prophets are not theological. The prophets, Moshe aside, reveal practical points of divine intervention and not theological truths. Torah is clear on this point:

"For this [Torah] which I command you this day, is not concealed from you, nor is it far away.
It is not in heaven, that you should say, "Who will go up to heaven for us and fetch it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can fulfill it?"
Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, "Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us and fetch it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can fulfill it?"
Rather,[this] thing is very close to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can fulfill it.
Of these verse Rashi notes that, "if it were in heaven, you would have to climb up after it [in order] to learn it. - [Eruvin 55a] [However] The Torah was given to you in writing and [accompanied by an] oral [explanation]" so that you have it in your possession. We do not need any word of prophecy to explain what is clearly written in our Torah and elaborately explained by our sages. The Truth is fully available if we choose to read it and put it into practice.

Since we have the whole Torah accompanied by the Rabbinic exegesis, if any word of theology or prophecy arises that contradicts the teachings of Torah and the Rabbinate we are commanded to reject it. The Talmud goes so far as to record an amazing account on this point. Once the sages were debating a certain point of Torah law and were unable to come to an agreement. The majority opinion was one way while the equally certain minority opinion went another. Suddenly a divine voice rang out supporting the minority view. What were the sages to do? Most felt they had resolved the issue to their satisfaction, one way of another. Hearing the "voice from the heavens" the sages were unimpressed and maintained their judgements, citing the Torah passage that, "it is not in heaven" (Deuteronomy 30:12, Bava Metzia 59).

Torah is with the Jews under the administration of the Rabbinate It is the central task of the rabbis throughout the ages to carefully guard, interpret and rule on all matters, religious and secular, for our people based upon it. Prophecy therefore has it set limitations (read Deuteronomy chapter 13).

Prophecy is given by HaShem only to maintain Derech HaShem ("the Way of G-d") already revealed to us in Torah. Prophecy gives practical direction, go here, go there. Likewise we will recognize Mashiach ben David according the prophecies of the revealed Scriptures as interpreted by our sages. Real prophecy never presents anything that is at odds with the Torah.

Are There Prophets Today?

As explained in the Talmud at Yoma 9b:
The Gemara asks: What rot infests cedar? Ulla said: It is sasmagor, a type of worm. The Gemara asks: What does sasmagor have to do with the Divine Presence during the Second Temple era? Rabbi Abba said: Just as little remains from a cedar tree infested by this worm, similarly, all that remained from the Divine Presence during the Second Temple period was a Divine Voice, as it was taught in a baraita: After the last prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi died, the Divine Spirit of prophetic revelation departed from the Jewish people, and [but] they were still utilizing a Divine Voice, which they heard as an echo of prophecy.
The Tanach or Hebrew Bible ends with the final prophet, Malachi.

Does this mean that no prophecy was given after Malachi? How about (fill in the blank)? Ozer Bergman of Breslov.com clarifies this for us:

Rebbe Nachman’s teachings are based on the Written Torah (TaNaKh) and Oral Torah (Talmud, Midrash, Zohar), both the revealed and esoteric (Zohar, Kabbalah).

The combination of Rebbe Nachman’s genius and tremendous purity (kedushah v’taharah) is so powerful and astounding, that it does often seem that the Rebbe’s writings are prophetic. In fact, many of us Breslovers often feel that the Rebbe's teachings are "personal letters" written just for us. I will be so bold as to say, that I, personally, think that Rebbe Nachman's teachings were written with ruach hakodesh, a low-grade form of Divine communication, somewhat akin to prophecy. (I will also say, any genuine Chassid will say the same of his Rebbe’s teachings!).

Prophecy certainly continues, however the people anointed by HaShem to serve as "prophets" in the biblical context ended with Prophet Malachi.

Prophecy Was Removed From The Prophets And Given To The Rabbis.

Nachmanides explains: The Talmud (Bava Batra 12a) states “R. Avdimi of Haifa said, ‘Since the Temple was destroyed , prophecy has been removed from prophets and given to the sages’.” Nachmanides explains this saying as follows: "Even though prophecy -- i.e. vision and apparition -- has been removed from the prophets, the prophecy of the sages,which [vouchsafed them] by means of the wisdom, has not been nullified. Rather, they know the truth through the Ruach HaKodesh which is within them" (note 1). The context of the remarks there suggests that Nachmanides is referring to implanted Divine Wisdom concerning worldly matters which emanates from the Ruach HaKodesh present among the sages (note 2) Of this continuing emanation Prophet Joel foretold:
And it shall come to pass afterwards that I will pour out My spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy; your elders shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions (Joel 2:32).
Of this Rashi notes:
... upon anyone whose heart becomes soft as flesh. Comp. (Ezekiel 36:26) “And I will give you a heart of flesh.”
Throughout history accepting the words of the prophets has been difficult for our people as the Bible candidly admits. Once the "spirit of prophecy" was transferred to the rabbis new difficulties arose. Within Rabbinic Judaism today there are many sects and movements. Many feel that Judaism has become a rudderless ship. This is not so. HaShem has not abandoned His people! As in the days of prophets the question now is only whether we will accept the authority vested by HaShem in our leaders, the Rabbinate, or will we rebel. It is our choice.

Emunat Hakhamin: Trust in the Sages and "Rabbinic Judaism"

We must learn from the example of Korah, Dathan and Abiram recorded at Numbers chapter 16. In their own minds their rebellion against Moshe Rabbeinu seemed just. They felt they had ample cause usurp his authority. The result however was disastrous as publicly demonstrated. Their destruction has been a stern warning to our community ever since.

Likewise today with Rabbinic Jews. We sometimes forget that we are not only "Jews," which is to say the inheritors of Torah with its blessings and obligations, we are "Rabbinic Jews." Following the days of Prophet Malachi, since the days of the Second Temple and Ezra and the Men of the Great Assembly, our anointed leaders have been the Parushim (or Pharisees), who gradually came to be known as the rabbis or "teachers." Today the rabbis hold the same authority as the Holy Prophets of the past.

The word Pharisee is derived from the ancient Greek Pharisaios (Φαρισαῖος), from the Aramaic Pərīšā (פְּרִישָׁא), plural Pərīšayyā (פְּרִישַׁיָּא‬), meaning "set apart" or "separated." These are drawn from the Hebrew word pārûš (פָּרוּשׁ, plural pĕrûšîm (פְּרוּשִׁים‬), which in English can be written as Perushim (not to be confused with the followers of the Vilna Gaon of the same name). The divine authority of the Jewish people and the proper understanding our Scriptures resides therefore with the Rabbinate just as surely as it resided previously with the Holy Prophets. The Tanach is clear about what happened when the people opposed the prophets HaShem sent to them.

R. Simcha of Vitri states..."One should believe in their words [i.e. the authors of the Talmud], unlike the Sadducees or the Boethusians." This means that only one who takes upon himself the yoke of the Oral Torah [i.e. Talmud and related texts] merits acquiring Torah (note 2).
In other words, those who study the Torah (and/or the entire Tanach) without seeking Rabbinic interpretations and rulings, will never realize its true import. This error leads to countless heresies and much sorrow.

It is of course difficult for people to place absolute acceptance in the words of others. It always has been. This is a difficult test from on High. There are many things in the Oral Talmud and associated sources that are difficult to comprehend and disagreements are always close at hand. We are certainly permitted to question and debate within the confines of Torah and our Tradition, but these differences of interpretation have fixed limits. Of the more difficult points Rabbi Isaac Aboab explains in his Menorat HaMa'or:

If we find there something which appears to us to be exaggerated or outside of nature [impossible], we must attribute it to the short comings of our own comprehension, and not to their utterance... for every person ought to believe that whatever is written in their name [i.e. the names of our sages] is a true thing (dvar amiti).
We need Emunat Hakhamin or firm trust in the Jewish Sages who are anointed by HaShem as our teachers. Emunat Hakhamin and Da'at Torah (Torah knowledge) is discussed in the sixth chapter of Pirkei Avot in some detail. The more we abandon Derech HaShem, the Way established by HaShem through our Sages of blessed memory, as well as those who remain faithful their divine rabbinic appointment today, the more our people fall into chaos, confusion, and suffering.
One should believe in everything taught by our rabbis... as if it were given to Moses on Sinai. Concerning this it states: "You shall not turn aside....

... It seems likely that what one thinks is perception is no more than [ones] imagination and an evil spirit. This is the Torah opinion (Da'at HaTorah) concerning the definition of Emunat Hakhamim... The source of all sin and the beginning of all destruction, Heaven forbid, is the failure to acknowledge the nullification (hitbatlut) [of ones own self] in relation to our sages, for all of ones merits are of no accounts compared with the Root of Everything, which is the emunah in the sages -- (note 2).

Aside from the special anointing bestowed by HaShem onto the rabbis at their Semikhah, the tremendous amount of individual and collective study and prayer done by our rabbis and sages grants their understandings and interpretations greater weight. Were it not for the wisdom of the rabbis Judaism would not have survived the Christian onslaughts of the Middle Ages. Of all the kings, judges, prophets, sages, and rabbis none have ever attained the heights of Moshe Rabbeinu, our principle teacher and prophet.

Points to Consider:

Go to Lesson Seven

Notes:

1: Ruach HaKodesh refers to Divine Inspiration.

2: Taken from a study on the views of Rabbi Dessler by Yeshiva Avur Kol HaYihudim Al Pe' Chukee Moshe.

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