Beware of the False Prophet
Rabbi Reuven Mann
In Parshas Re’eh the Torah takes up the subject of prophecy. The prophet can be a great benefit to the people. In ancient times G-d would make hidden things known to those who were qualified to receive His word. Thus, when faced with perplexing problems and a need for special information people could turn to a prophet and seek his guidance. This was true even with regard to mundane matters. Thus when Saul despaired of finding his father’s lost animals he was reminded that a prophet was nearby and he turned to him for help. It so happened that the prophet was Samuel and the meeting had been arranged by Hashem so that Saul could be anointed as king.
The prophet can also be a source of danger. Our parsha warns us about a Navi who claims that Hashem has instructed us to worship other gods. This could create a tremendous dilemma. The prophet is renowned for his wisdom and holiness. When he claims to have received a message from G-d we are obliged to follow it. Yet now he is telling us to commit what normally is regarded as the worst sin in the Torah, idolatry. What are we to do?
Well, you will say, let’s not just take him at his word. Let’s test him out by demanding some “sign or wonder”. After all, the Jews did not just believe Moshe back in Egypt when he appeared to them in the name of Hashem. He performed very convincing miracles such as transforming his staff into a snake, turning water into blood, etc. As a result of these signs the pasuk says “The people believed that Hashem had encountered Moshe…” Now, a different prophet comes to us claiming that G-d has instructed that we commit an act of Avodat Zarah. We demand a proof and he performs wondrous signs. He executes a miracle equal to those of Moshe Rabbenu. What are we to do in that situation?
The Torah is clear and unequivocal and warns us, “Do not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer…” We are absolutely forbidden to commit the deed of Avodat Zarah, even though we are told to do so by a prophet who backs his words with undeniable miracles.
This teaches us that we must use our minds in the service of Hashem. Certain of the mitzvots can be temporarily suspended by a genuine prophet. However, that cannot be the case with idol worship. Judaism is founded on the absolute renunciation of any and all forms of idolatry. Nothing is more destructive of the divine soul than its rejection of the true G-d and embrace of false deities. No human, regardless of his spiritual stature can convince us that our G-d who is a G-d of truth would ever want us to abandon Him and embrace falsehood.
If that is the case, how are we to explain the miracles? The answer is that while miracles are impressive they can only affirm that which is possible but cannot validate something which our minds decree must be patently false. The holiness of the Jew consists in the fact that he does not allow his emotions to overwhelm him into believing that which is false and nonsensical. We must use our reason and reject the impossible even if it is enunciated by the greatest authorities such as prophets.
Why would Hashem allow such a thing to happen? The answer is that “the L—d your G-d tests you to know whether you love the L—d your G-d with all your heart and all your soul.” Sometimes, Hashem puts us to the test. One whose knowledge and love of the Almighty is weak will not understand what is so bad about Avodat Zarah. He will be of the opinion that it is not so harmful as long as one’s intentions are good. However, the true lover of Hashem who strives for a genuine relationship with the Creator, and seeks to embrace Him with all his heart and soul will never be able to commit the blasphemy of serving an idol. He will know that the message of the prophet is false and will disregard all the wondrous “stunts” that he performs. Let us strive to cultivate a genuine love and fear of Hashem based on the highest degree of knowledge we can attain. In that way may we find favor in the sight of Hashem and be worthy of all His blessings.