Relating to Biblical Prophets as Prophets

[Be-Ahavah U-B-Emunah – Mishpatim 5773- translated by R. Blumberg]


How should we approach the Tanach? First you have to approach its author. “But your eyes shall see your teacher” (Yeshayahu 30:20). The author is the Prophets who bring us the word of Hashem, for it is G-d who gives prophecy to the prophets, as Rambam said in Hilchot Yesodei Ha-Torah, chapter 7. There are different levels to the Tanach. There is the Torah, the prophecy of Moshe, transcending all other prophecy. There are the Prophets, with their prophecy, and there are the Writings, whose source is Ruach Ha-Kodesh, divine intuition. All of them are the word of G-d.

The idea of the word of G-d reaching man involves a miracle. The King of the Kuzars had difficulty believing this, and he asked the Jewish wise man to convince him that it is possible.

We thus derive that a prophet is an entirely different type of person. An angel revealed himself to the parents of Shimshon, and they thought he was a prophet, until he rose to heaven in a flame. Then they understood that it was an angel, but before that they were incapable of distinguishing between a prophet and an angel.

Therefore, when King Shaul met the prophets, he turned into a different person, and since he was worthy of it, he prophesied. We, too, when we study the Tanach, become different people. The entire world, with prophets or without prophets, is another world.

When prophecy ceased in Israel, the entire human race declined. There were three reactions to this: that of the West, that of the Far East, and that of ourselves, the Middle East. The Greeks said: prophecy has not ceased, because it never existed in the first place.  There is human intellect, and nothing more.

The mysticism of the Far East said: G-d spoke, and He continues to speak, yet He does not speak except from within man. G-d is not someone, but something that has been absorbed in man.

We say: G-d spoke, and then ceased to speak, but we continue to learn the prophets’ words with absolute steadfastness, as our Sages, the disciples of the prophets, instruct us to do. The prophets handed down the Torah to the Men of the Great Assembly. Ezra the Scribe, first of the Great Assembly, is Malachi, last of the prophets.

We try a bit to encounter and to understand the words of the prophets, and this turns us into different people - not in the sense of being cut off from this world, but of being people who bring G-d's blessing into this world. As Rabbi Meir said in Avot 6:1: "whoever studies Torah for the sake of Heaven, merits many things." He merits supreme, ethereal heavenly things which we lack the human words to define. "Nay more, the whole world is worthwhile for his sake. He is called friend, beloved.  He loves G-d and he loves mankind. He pleases G-d and he pleases mankind. The Torah invests him with humility and reverence. It enables him to become righteous, godly, upright and faithful. It keeps him far from sin, and draws him near to virtue. Men are benefited by him with counsel and sound wisdom, understanding and strength, as it says, ‘Mine are counsel and sound wisdom; Mine are reason and might’ (Mishlei 8:14). It gives him rule, a commanding personality and judging ability. To him the secrets of the Torah are revealed. He is made like a fountain that ever gathers force, and like a never-failing stream. He becomes modest, patient, and forgiving of insults. The Torah makes him great and raises him above all creatures.” The entire world takes on a new countenance.

What the Tanach possesses is something that we cannot find through our own intellect i.e., through philosophy, but only through prophecy. True, mankind is capable of achieving a certain degree of contact with the word of G-d, because we possess a divine soul (see the end of Guide to the Perplexed). For the sake of that we must pull ourselves upward towards heaven. We must exalt ourselves to the pinnacle of our spiritual abilities.

We mustn't lower the words of the Tanach to our own small stature. Rather, we must recall that it is divine and not human, that these are things that we have never heard. These things are infinite, and it is puzzling that I am able to understand even the least bit of it. For the sake of doing so, one must exit himself, one must burst out of an astrological mindset and one must transcend one's own limitations. Otherwise, one will never meet the Tanach.

If someone studies in the modern fashion, distinguishing between what is relevant/understood and what is old-fashioned/primitive, then he has never studied Torah in all his life. He has only studied himself, his own personality, fashioned by his surroundings, by life, the street, the marketplace, the media. He gains mastery over a text, in a postmodern fashion, when there is nothing absolute, nothing all-encompassing, nothing eternal. There is only the personal, the individualistic. That is not the "Torah study for the sake of heaven” that Rabbi Meir was talking about, but "Torah for my own sake”.

Certainly, the prophecies were recorded because they were needed for future generations (Megillah 14). True, they were revealed at a certain time and under certain circumstances, but their inner essence transcends time and place. Hence they also illuminate other times and other circumstances.

All the more so that the Torah itself transcends time and place, that it stands above and before reality. Therefore, it illuminates all the circumstances of reality. It illuminates in the State of Israel and the Exile, and it provides illumination to those who are healthy and those who are ill, to the honest man and to the thief, to rich and to poor.

The King of the Kuzars asks, “How did your Torah develop?” After all, he says, it is the way of religions that they have a founder, and then every generation adds or subtracts, lengthening or shortening at will. No, answers the Jewish scholar, our Torah was given all at once in its entirety. There was a bursting forth from On High, with thunder and lightning, a heavy cloud over the mountain, a stentorian Shofar blast, and the entire camp trembled with fear. Indeed, the entire mountain trembled. The Torah was given all at once, in its entirety, and gradually it is revealed to us.

The Tanach views the world from a divine perspective, and it trains our eye to see things in parallel to the eye of G-d. “For they will see eye to eye, as G-d returns to Zion” (Yeshayahu 52:8).  Certainly we must delve deeply into the Tanach. Certainly we must ask questions and answer them, and clarify matters all the way. Yet, said Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook in his article, “Emet Bilti Me’ur’eret” [An Unassailable Truth], regarding the scientific approach to Torah learning, in the book Li-Netivot Yisrael (vol. 2, p. 242), everything depends on one’s starting point – on whether or not we believe that we have before us a divine truth, a heavenly truth that we accept with perfect faith.

The Tanach is divine, superhuman, and it instructs us to elevate ourselves to G-d, to emulate Him, as a man with a divine image, and not, G-d forbid, to fashion a G-d in the image of man.

The Tanach enables us to hear the word of G-d. The prophets are a different world. They possess a divine fortitude that we lack, as Maran Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook wrote in his book Orot, in the chapters on Warfare, regarding the spiritual level of the Patriarchs.

Taking this approach, my learning has an influence on me, intellectually, morally and in terms of my faith.

A prophet has an alternate perception. He speaks out of an absolute world, a different world. He hears the word of G-d which bursts forth into our own world, and then almost collapses, like a small device that has been struck by lightning. We, too, learn Torah with fear and dread, with shaking and with trembling, as at the Sinai Revelation (see Berachot 22a).

If one does not understand that the Tanach is superhuman, one has not understood a thing. We are talking about prophecy, not philosophy.

Certainly there is room for independent thought, but only after I accept with perfect faith the word of G-d. As we say in our morning prayers, first one must “admit the truth” – the supreme, absolute, divine truth – and only then can one “speak truth in his heart”, as is explained in the “Olat Re’eiyah” prayer book of Rav Kook. Yet if we begin by “speaking truth in our heart”, that constitutes a post-modern utterance, in which the text is nothing but the interpretive worldview of the reader, a subjective, human analysis.

Do not mix up your own thoughts with the absolute divine truth that illuminates all generations and circumstances.

Prophecy constitutes a spark from the Upper World, as Ramban explains in his introduction to the Guide to the Perplexed, in his “Torat Ha-Berakim”. It is not a small flashlight, but a giant bolt of lightning that bursts forth from heaven to earth and momentarily illuminates the whole horizon in a manner which you have never seen before.

Likewise, one who learns Torah for the sake of heaven sometimes merits such a bolt of lightning, as is mentioned at the beginning of the work, “Tanya”. He merits a true understanding of the word of G-d.