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6th Principle of Judaism – G-d Communicates through Prophecy

497778845We’re up to number 6 on the list of 13 principles of Judaism given by the Rambam (based on the Torah of course).  #6:    The belief that G-d communicates with man through prophecy.

On the face of it most people might think that this is one area Jew and Christian would agree upon, but it isn’t.  Christians use the term to mean “predicting the future.”    This is not the meaning of the Hebrew.  The Hebrew word for prophecy is נְבוּאָה / navua (a feminine noun).    A נָבִיא / navi (prophet) had direct communication with G-d (through dreams and / or visions with the exception of Moses who spoke directly with G-d), and who relayed G-d’s message to his or her own generation.

The way a Christian uses the term “prophet” or “prophecy” would be  a רֹאֶה Ro’eh (“Seer”) not a נָבִיא Navi (“Prophet”).

Samuel is called a רֹאֶה Ro’eh (“Seer”) in Divrei Hayamim Alef  / 1 Chronicles 9:22, 26:28 and 29:29, but he is also called a נָבִיא Navi (“Prophet”) in Divrei Hayamim Beit / 2 Chronicles 35:18, showing that the two terms are not identical.  There is also the word חֹזֶה Ḥozeh (“Visionary”).  This word describes someone who experiences “visions.”

Some messages had meaning for the current and future generations, but all prophecy must have a message for the current generation  (of that prophet), be direct from G-d (not through an angel or intermediary) and cannot contradict the Torah.

Thus prophecy is a personal relationship and contact between a tzedak (righteous person) and G-d.  This is usually through dreams although Moses had communication with G-d while he was awake.  Navua doesn’t mean fortune telling or predicting the future, although sometimes these are present.

The word is based on niv sefatayim meaning “fruit of the lips,” which emphasizes the navi’s role as a speaker.  A navi is really a spokesperson for G-d – one who speaks to his or her generation on behalf of G-d.

The greatest navi to ever live was Moses.  He could hear G-d clearly and directly (as if “face to face”). “When Moses came into the Tent of Meeting to speak to Him, he heard the Voice speaking to him.” (Bamidbar / Numbers 7:89).

Most other navi’s heard from G-d as if through a prism, or a fog – through dreams and visions  “I make Myself known to him (other prophets than Moses) in a vision. I speak to him in a dream.” (Bamidbar / Numbers 12:6).

The Rambam wrote that to be a prophet one must be wise, have a clear mind, be; of impeccable character, and totally in control of their emotions.  A prophet is mature, of a calm nature and full of joy.   A prophet is not interested in material things or the frivolities of life.  A prophet’s desire is to devote themselves entirely to knowing and serving G-d.

At the height of prophecy all Jews were prophets – and prophecy existed in Israel because having all the Jews together in the holy land made for a holy enough link for it to exist and thrive.  There were Yeshivot (schools) dedicated to training people to be navis – because one must be very much a tzedak (righteous person) to have that kind of a link to G-d.

Not all prophets were Jews (though most were) and there were women as well as men prophets.

Even if a person meets all the criteria G-d may not give them prophecy (and for now we are not in an age of prophecy so there are no prophets.  Jesus and Mohamad could not have been prophets, because prophecy was gone by then).

If a prophet did tell of what would happen in the future such a statement was given either as a promise or a warning.   Promises always come to pass.  Warnings from prophets (of potential calamities) may or may not happen.   Any negative prophetic warning can always be prevented through prayer and repentance.   Think of the story of Jonah and the people of Nineveh who were able to avoid the curse by heeding the prophet’s warning. . .

The Book of Daniel is not found in Prophets in the T’nach and is not considered prophecy.   Christians upon hearing this are usually outraged – but consider the definition you’ve been given.   Daniel did not communicate directly with G-d.  Daniel communicated with an angel.  Also, a prophet has a message for his or her own generation (which may also be pertinent to future generations).  Daniel’s message was pertinent only to future generations, not to his own.  Thus the information in Sefer Daniel (the Book of Daniel) is not prophecy. This does not lessen its value or importance.   Was Daniel a prophet?   That was a debate among our sages, some say yes and some say no.   We do know that the information we have from him is not prophecy (for the reasons just given).


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