Can You Be a Prophet?
One night, when I couldn’t sleep, I found myself channel surfing and came across a program featuring Richard Roberts, the son and successor of Oral Roberts as head of Oral Robert University. He was addressing the well-groomed student body and spoke of the necessity to listen to the voice of Gd and to guide their lives by that voice. And he offered a personal example.
Troubled by what to do about an aging student center building, he spoke of repeatedly praying to Gd for guidance. And then finally, he said, he heard the voice of Gd tell him what to do and so he announced that although he had no idea where the funds would come from, he would have the student center razed to the ground and replaced with a bigger and better structure. The camera immediately showed him outside with a shovel symbolically starting the new building.
In some Christian circles, hearing the voice of Gd is something that happens every day. The notion that Gd calls one to the ministry, that one can perceive a divine calling from Gd, is part of the language of Christian discourse.
But as a Jew, this kind of hearing the voice of Gd does not happen every day. If I got up here and announced that Gd had commanded me to embark on a multi-million dollar building campaign to build a new shule you might look at me and say, “Really???” However, it is from Judaism there emerges the prophetic tradition of responding to Gd’s voice, often relaying it, at one’s peril.
After the last of the prophets, Malachi, the Talmud tells us that prophecy was reserved for fools and children. Nonetheless, even the rationalist like Maimonides saw the possibility of prophecy. Through the study of Torah he thought it possible to attain a prophetic level of holiness and merit the spirit of prophecy.
I once read that the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Schneerson, z”l, had prophetically foreseen the demise of the Soviet Union. In my classes I often quote some of the great sages that accurately predicted the future—like the Vilna Gaon who predicted in the late 1700’s that the State of Israel would be reborn in 1948. And then there are the Torah Codes unearthed in our computer age that makes it clear, among many other things, that the Torah 3,327 years ago—as I pointed out Shavuot night—predicted the Holocaust in Germany and in those same versed were encoded, “Hitler,” “Eichman,” “the final solution” and “Zyklon B” the poison gas used to kill the Jews.
A few weeks ago ISIS seized full control of the historic Syrian city of Palmyra. I read a blog called Yeranen Yaakov where Rabbi Eliyahu Webber points out that Palmyra is the ancient city of Tadmor—sometimes referred to as Tarmud. The Talmud (Yevamot 17a) mentions Tarmud: “R. Joseph sat behind R. Kahana while R. Kahana sat before R. Judah, and while sitting he made the following statement: ‘Israel will make a festival when Tarmud will be destroyed.”
Why should we rejoice upon the destruction of this city? The Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 56:19) explains: [On the verse in Gen. 22:17, Gd tells Abraham] And thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies.” Rabi says that this refers to Tarmud, who cooperated [with Israel’s enemies] in both destructions [of the 1st Temple and the 2nd Temple].
The blog mentions the commentary of 19th century scholar Rav Menahem Mendel of Shklov on the Zohar where he predicts the downfall of Tadmor in the year 5775—our current Jewish year—and 5776—next year.
Rabbi Matityahu Glazerson’s had previously published a Torah code—using equidistant letter sequences—that tells us: Dameshek tipol, “Damascus will fall,” and nearby in the text we find coded the words: Da-esh koveysh Tadmur Milchama Kaf Sivan taf-shin-ayin-hey Mashiach, “ISIS captures Tadmor, the war, the 20th of Sivan, 5775, Mashiach.” Incidentally, the 20th of Sivan 5775 is tomorrow! Now I wouldn’t bet on a full scale war in the Middle East erupting tomorrow and the Messiah soon following because the Torah codes do indicate possible futures depending upon the choices we make. That is why those who did the pioneering work on the Torah codes went to Yitzchak Rabin and showed him that the codes say he would be killed a year before he was killed. It was possible for him to avoid this fate but he chose not to take increased security measures. But the codes do indicate that imminent war in the Middle East is certainly a possibility. And the events now happening there seem to be of Biblical proportion.
In this week’s Torah portion we find a unique moment of prophecy. Moses, feeling burdened by the demands of leadership, complains to Gd. Gd’s response is different from a similar complaint in Exodus. There, Jethro, his father-in-law, suggests a judicial system to take much of the load of decision making off his back and Gd concurs. This time Gd has him summon 70 elders to confer upon them some of the spirit of Gd He had placed on Moses in a special training session with Moses at the Tent of Meeting in the Mishkan Tabernacle.
But there were 2 of the elders that didn’t show up for this session and remained in the camp with the people. According to many of the commentators (Sifre), they didn’t show because of their humility. They didn’t want to appear better or more holy than the rest of the people. Nevertheless, as the spirit of prophecy descended upon the others in the session with Moses, it also descended upon them in the camp. Joshua then comes running to Moses in a panic: Eldad uMeydad Mitnab’im Bamachaneh, “Eldad and Meydad are prophesying in the midst of the camp.” (Numbers 11:27)
The rabbis (Rashi quoting the Sifre) suggest that this was not just a case of ecstatic frenzy. They were prophesizing that Moses would not be the one to lead the people into the land. It would be Joshua. Joshua panicked and told Moses: K’la-eym, “restrain them or destroy them.” Either he feared the leadership role, or more probably, he didn’t want his master’s authority challenged.
Joshua may have been concerned for the honor and power of Moses, but listen to Moses’ exquisite response (Numbers 11:29)—it truly points out how great he was: Mi yiteyn kol am Hashem n’vi-im, “Would that the entire people of Gd be prophets!” Moses didn’t want the honor of being the only prophet. He would have preferred it if all the people were prophets.
Among other things, this passage assures us that because each of us is a holy soul, each of us can aspire to higher and higher levels of holiness. It challenges us: Mi yiteyn kol am Hashem n’vi-im, “Would that the entire people of Gd be prophets!” Each of us is an image of Gd and each of us can achieve through living an intensive Jewish life—with prayer, Torah study and acts of chesed (loving kindness)—prophetic heights.
Perhaps none of us will become prophets in the classical sense. But, as summer approaches and we think more and more about activities that will draw us away from the synagogue and Jewish life, perhaps we can respond to Moses’ challenge by using our leisure to elevate our holy souls. Perhaps we can kasher our homes or read a serious Jewish book or take that course in August with the Kollel and finally learn to read Hebrew by Rosh Hashanah or volunteer to help in a children’s hospital or old age home or wherever you might be needed. Would that the entire people of Gd were to aspire to be more Gdly…Amen!
Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis