When We Must Disobey!

Rabbi Reuven Mann


This week’s parsha, Re’eh, considers the subject of prophecy, which is one of the fundamental tenets of Jewish belief. Judaism insists that man must live according to the Will of G-d. We are convinced that both the Written and Oral Torah come directly from the Creator. But how does Hashem communicate with man?

G-d makes His will known to a genuine prophet who then communicates It to all who “need to know.” But not anyone can qualify for prophecy. Only rare individuals who attain a very high moral and intellectual level can be eligible for divine communication.

The Prophet enjoys a very high status among the Jewish people. We are commanded to obey his words, and failure to do so may incur death “by the Hands of Heaven.” There are, however, cases where it is expressly forbidden to yield to the dictates of even the most exalted Navi (prophet). For example, if he claims that Hashem commanded us to engage in idolatry. Even if this is only a one-time thing, we must not listen to that prophet but also subject him to capital punishment.

How do we know whether to accept someone as a legitimate prophet? According to the Rambam, not everyone can attain that exalted stature. Only someone extraordinarily talented, emotionally and spiritually, and in possession of great intellectual capabilities, can qualify for this vocation. But even so, Hashem may decide not to charge him with a prophetic mission.

Only if Hashem wills it, will He grant that prophet a divine communication, which he will then be obligated to share with all the relevant parties. But how are we to know if the person claiming to be a prophet is genuine? Are we to believe the claimant simply because he appears to be genuine and sincere?

Judaism responds in the negative. When a person asserts that he is a prophet, his legitimacy is considered by the Great Sanhedrin on the basis of very exacting criteria. At the outset, they will ascertain that the individual is on the exalted level of human perfection that would make prophecy possible. If he meets that standard, how do we know that Hashem actually spoke to him?

This is addressed in the story of Moshe at the “Burning Bush.” After Hashem told Moshe the special name by which He would be known to the Jews, he responded, “But they will not believe me, and they will not heed my voice, for they will say, ‘Hashem did not appear to you.’ ’’ 

According to the Rambam, Moshe realized that it was not enough for him to demonstrate that he was qualified to receive a prophetic message. He also needed to provide evidence that he had actually received one.

Hashem then provided him with three miraculous signs that he would perform before the elders of Israel, “So that they shall believe that Hashem, the G-d of their forefathers, appeared to you, the G-d of Abraham, the G-d of Isaac, and the G-d of Jacob.”

Parshat Re’eh talks about a spiritual dilemma that can occur when a bona fide Navi meets the requisite requirements and even provides miraculous signs to confirm his assertion of prophecy. But there is one little problem. “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, 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.”

This false prophet did not receive his nefarious message from Hashem, but made it up out of the maliciousness of his heart, intending to bring great harm to the Jewish people. Yet his words have been seemingly endorsed by successful performance of an impressive miracle. What are we to do?

The answer emphatically is to use our minds. We were all gathered at Mount Sinai and heard directly from Hashem, “Thou shall have no other gods beside Me.” We know by direct perception that the Creator has absolutely proscribed idol worship. Therefore, no ostensible messenger can attribute a contradictory imperative to Him. The messenger of idolatry must therefore be false.

What must we do? “And that prophet and that dreamer of a dream shall be put to death, for he has spoken perversion against Hashem, your G-d—Who takes you out of the land of Egypt and Who redeems you from the house of slavery—to make you stray from the path on which Hashem, your G-d, has commanded you to go; and you shall destroy the evil from your midst.”

This constitutes a severe test of the Jews. It demands that we put aside all emotions of subservience to human beings, even exalted ones. We must be prepared to challenge the veracity of even the greatest of our authorities when their words violate clear Torah norms. To be a true servant of Hashem, we must possess significant intelligence as well as independent critical judgment, and courage. 

Let us pray that we be spared from this type of dangerous test. Let us strive to attain the spiritual level where, if it ever became necessary, we would pass it with flying colors.

Shabbat shalom.

Dear Friends,

In this time of social isolation, we should seek ways to avoid boredom by staying occupied with meaningful activity. The world of virtual reality allows us to stay in touch with friends and attend all kinds of classes available online. 

But that can only take you so far. Comes Shabbat and Yom Tov, and you need books, especially on the parsha. I personally recommend Eternally Yours on Genesis http://bit.ly/EY-Genesis and Exodus http://bit.ly/EY-Exodus, and my newest one on Numbers http://bit.ly/EY-Numbers2. They are easy to read, interesting, and thought-provoking conversation starters. I am especially interested in your feedback and hope you can write a brief review and post it on Amazon.