The Dangers of Prophecy

Moshe Kempinski

The airwaves on the internet are filled with dire predictions and ominous signs of doom and gloom. They focus on climactic changes, signs in the heavens and significant dates in the calendar that all seemingly point to dramatic future events. All this needs to be treated with great caution and a healthy dose of skepticism.

These concerns are highlighted in this week’s Torah portion. The Torah portion of Shoftim essentially deals with the establishment of four bodies whose roles are to provide governance and guidance in the Land of Israel. The words and instructions regarding these institutions are being delivered by Moshe 36 days before his death. The systems seem to be so important that Moshe makes them a critical part of the intricate legacy he bequeaths his people before he leaves this world.

The four bodies are Shoftim veShotrim, judges and officers (Deuteronomy 16:18), Kohanim, or Levitical priests (18:1 ), a Melech, or the king (17:14), and the Navi, the prophet (18:15). Each of these individual bodies or people represent a different function and purpose.

The first is a judicial system that any nation needs to institute. The second represents a system of national and individual worship, while the third, the king, points to leadership that binds them all together.

Yet the fourth, the prophet or those who bear those prophetic words, represents the vision and direction that this nation must follow in order to thrive and survive.

All four bodies can become corrupted or shunted away from their holy mission yet it is the establishment of prophets and prophecy that receives the greater concern and warnings.

“I will set up a prophet for them from among their brothers like you, and I will put My words into his mouth, and he will speak to them all that I command him. …But the prophet who intentionally speaks a word in My name, which I did not command him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other G-ds, that prophet shall die..( Deteronomy 18:18-20)

Hashem also provides the instructions to help ferret out those false prophets ;

Now if you say to yourself, “How will we know the word that Hashem did not speak?” If the prophet speaks in the name of Hashem, and the thing does not occur and does not come about, that is the thing Hashem did not speak. The prophet has spoken it wantonly; you shall not be afraid of him.( ibid 18:21-22)

It is abundantly clear that the prophecy that is being warned about is only related to prophecies of blessing and goodness. Prophecies of judgement and punishment are always open to change and reversal because Hashem is always open to repentance and positive redirection. If a prophecy of good tidings “ does not occur ” then one can be assured that we are dealing with a false prophet.

In addition we see Hashem warning again regarding those who claim to predict the future;

” There shall not be found among you… a soothsayer, a diviner of times, one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, a pithom sorcerer, a yido’a sorcerer, or a necromancer. For whoever does these things is an abomination to G-d” (18:10-12)

What then is the great danger?

One could posit the idea that the “diviner of times” may 0ffer great hope and vision in a time of great fear and concern. What could be so wrong about trying to understand what will yet happen and where the turmoil of our life is leading to?

Yet G-d clearly makes a simple request;

“ Be wholehearted with Hashem, your G-d”.( ibid:19).

On this verse Rashi explains ; Conduct yourself with Him with simplicity and depend on Him, and do not inquire of the future; rather, accept whatever happens to you with utter simplicity and then, you will be with Him and to His portion. — [Sifrei]

Rabbi Kook, of blessed memory, revealed a deep insight regarding two verses in Genesis. G-d commanded the earth to give forth fruit trees producing fruit: “And G-d said: ‘Let the earth put forth grass, herb yielding seed, and fruit-tree bearing fruit after its kind, wherein is the seed thereof, upon the earth.’ And it was so” (Gen. 1:11).

The earth fulfilled G-d’s command but with one modification:

“And the earth brought forth grass, herb yielding seed after its kind, and tree bearing fruit, wherein is the seed thereof, after its kind; and G-d saw that it was good” (Gen 1: 12).

The earth produced “trees producing fruit.” Our sages in the Midrash teach homiletically that the original and ideal creation was that the trees themselves (their bark and trunk) would taste like the fruit that it produced, fruit-trees bearing fruit.

Instead, the earth fashioned trees that only produced fruit.

Rav Kook explained that one of the basic failings of our limited perception of reality is that we generally aspire to the goal and ignore the process of attaining that goal. We focus on what will be rather than what is, on the destination rather than the journey. We tend to give importance to the fruit of the tree and ignore the sweetness of the tree that bore it. Yet focus on the voyage and the journey is the only way to ensure that we reach the right point in our destiny. That focus is also the only way to ensure that we arrive with our souls and hearts intact.

The deep instruction in such a seeming difference between the ideal and the created reality points to the flaw in the reality we all experience in life. Yet G-d “saw that it was good.” G-d purposely created a reality at odds with its ideal, a tension filled imperfect world.

All so that we yearn to reset our vision and our undertakings.

There are many theories being presented throughout the real and virtual worlds we live in. Many predictions and “so called prophecies”. Many have fallen and been proven false and yet new ones arise at every juncture in turbulent timeline we are all living through. The dangers of such thinking can be damaging and disheartening.

The simple truth is that G-d wants us to grow and flourish in the midst of journey. He wants us to grow and flourish in faith and trust and shortcuts, simple solutions and random predictions simply hamper the process.

Journey rather than destination because after all is said and done,the destination is in Good Hands.

“Be wholehearted with Hashem, your G-d.”( ibid:19)

Le-Refuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved

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