August 21st-22nd, 1998
30 Av/ Rosh Chodesh Elul, 5758
This week's issue is being sponsored for the refuah sh'leima of Mr. Ben Portman, Binyomin
Hertzl ben Rochel Leah.
Imagine that a great seer arises from amidst the Jewish people. His deeds are
righteous, his love of humanity is sincere and overflowing, his words of Torah are
profound and his personality is powerfully compelling. He becomes a leading rabbi of
At some point in his career, he begins to inform the Jewish world that he has dreamed a
dream (or if this scenario would occur in the days of prophecy, that he has been sent a
prophetic vision). In the dream, the Almighty came to him and declared unequivocally
that the mitzvah of tefillin is no longer binding upon men; the supernal worlds had
already been appropriately rectified through the mystical effects of generations of Jews
loyally performing this most sacred commandment, and the Almighty had now seen fit to
abolish it. ("One down, 612 to go!!")
To convince us skeptical Jews, this seer announces that he will perform tremendous
miracles as a sign of the truth of his word: he will cause the earth to stop rotating
about its axis, end famine and tribal warfare in Africa...and, closer to home, make the
temperature mid-70's and zero humidity in Savannah for the whole month of August!
(Hey, I can fantasize, can't I?) And guess what? He does every single
one of them.
What exactly would the Torah say about this most
You guessed it: Kill him! He is a navi sheker, a false prophet, as discussed by the
Torah in this week's parsha:
"If there should stand up in your midst a prophet or a dreamer of a dream, and he
will produce to you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes about of which he
spoke to you, saying, 'Let us follow gods of others that you did not know and we shall
worship them!'--do not hearken to the words of that prophet or to that dreamer of a
dream...And that prophet and that dreamer of a dream shall be put to death, for he had
spoken perversion against Hashem, your G-d." (13: 2-4, 6; Artscroll Chumash.)
Although the verse itself makes mention only of idolatry, the Oral Law explains that his
punishment is the same if he seeks to abrogate any of the Torah's commandments (Babylonian
Talmud: Sanhedrin 90a). (A proven prophet is allowed to temporarily suspend a
mitzvah, however, in a time of national crisis, as Elijah did when he offered sacrifices
outside of the Temple grounds on Mt. Carmel in his "showdown" with the priests
of Baal. The prohibition of idolatry, though, cannot be suspended even for a
From here we learn a secret of our stubbornness, of our
historical success in remaining steadfast in our faith: our loyalty to the Torah is not in
the least threatened by miracles!
Therefore, even if, for argument's sake, the founders
of world religions did perform miracles, their claims to divine truth or heavenly
communication were still proven false once they challenged any portion of the Torah,
or--even moreso--declared that the entire Torah had been supplanted. The greatest
signs and wonders (i.e., making Savannah livable in August) cannot sway us one iota if the
message of the wonder-worker contradicts the Torah.
In fact, our own acceptance of Moshe Rabbeinu as the authentic teacher of G-d's Torah to
the Jewish people is not, in any way, based on the miracles he performed! As Rambam
explains in Chapter of 8 of Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah, Moshe performed certain miracles in
the desert --splitting the Red Sea, bringing water forth from the rock, etc.--because of
the pressing need of the particular moment, not because he wished to offer proof of his
unique prophetic status.
On what, then, do we base our belief in Moshe, Rambam asks? On the Revelation at
Sinai, which the entire Jewish people witnessed--hearing directly from Hashem at least the
first two of the 10 commandments (Makkos 24a), and experiencing an exalted level of
prophecy. We would thenceforth have faith in Moshe, as he transmitted the rest of
the Torah to us which we didn't hear directly. This was one of the primary purposes
of Sinai: "Hashem said to Moshe, 'Behold! I come to you in the thickness of the
cloud, so that the people will hear as I speak to you, and they will also believe in you
forever.'" (Exodus: 19, 9; my
Since the Torah declares that the Torah must never be changed, any would-be seer, or
movement, that comes to contradict the prophecy of Moshe--i.e., the Torah--is not to be
Rabbi Elie Munk (The Call of the Torah) beautifully summarizes the implications of the law
of the false prophet:
"To be legitimate, any prophetic act must fit into
the framework established by the Revelation at Sinai and the complementary oral tradition.
It is thus rather simple to tell true from false prophets, by applying that rule
and by judging the impact of the "prophet's" words on the
of the Law...
One must choose--either to acknowledge Hashem and
thereby admit there is but one path, or to claim that there can be a new direction in the
teachings, which is quite simply incompatible with the most elementary notions of our
knowledge of Hashem." (Devarim, pp. 143-4)
One may well ask why G-d would allow a false prophet to
produce convincing signs that could potentially lead to our seduction. Don't worry:
there's a good answer.
After commanding us not to listen to the false prophet,
the Torah explains the reason why he is allowed to have some success:
"...for Hashem, your G-d, is testing you to know whether you love
Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart and with all your soul (13, 4)." To
maintain our love of the One G-d and His eternal Torah, despite persecutions,
blandishments and even the evidence of our very own eyes, perhaps--this is the supreme
test which we have undergone throughout our history, up to this very day.
The great Chofetz Chayim writes that this test will be particularly difficult in the time
preceding the coming of Moshiach. The ways of the wicked will prosper, "false
prophets" will abound; as it states in the very last prophetic book in our
Scriptures, Malachi, the House of Israel will be gripped by doubt: "...what profit is
it that we have kept His charge, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of
Hosts?" (3, 14). It ain't gonna be easy.
I'm not going to tell you for certain that these are
the generations immediately preceding Moshiach, but the Chofetz Chayim definitely thought
so. And if you want my
own opinion on the matter...uh, it doesn't hurt to get ready. (Elul, the month of
repentance in preparation for the High Holidays which begins this Shabbos, is a perfect
May Hashem give us the strength to pass the test, to cling to Him and His Torah in
love...and to greet Moshiach speedily, in our days.
Insights Into Genesis
Insights Into Exodus
Edelstein is Director of the Savannah Kollel/ Savannah Torah Education Project. Phone:
fax: 354-9923; e-mail address: Yosef18@aol.com
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