By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
We continue with our discussion of the 13 principles of Jewish belief.
Maimonides writes in his commentary:
“The sixth principle concerns prophecy. We must realize that there exist human beings who have such lofty qualities and achieve such great perfection that their souls become prepared to receive pure spiritual wisdom. Their human intellect can then become bound up with the Creative Mind and receive an inspired emanation from it. This is prophecy, and those people who achieve it are the prophets … Many verses in the Torah testify to the prophecy of many different prophets.”
Truth be told, the Torah and the Scripture are, in their entirety, books written through prophecy. Without this belief, all of Judaism becomes irrelevant as the Word of God.
Maimonides further elucidates this principle, at great length, in his “Code” (“Yesodei HaTorah,” chapters 7-10). There he states God’s granting of prophecy to man as a core foundational Jewish concept. He spells out the required character traits as well as the type of unique mind one must possess to be a candidate for prophecy. That individual must achieve a constant diligence in connecting his or her mind to the highest spiritual concepts and bind his/her intellect to the Throne of Glory, living a life and thoughts of purity and holiness. With this effort and with the guidance from other prophets, his/her intellect becomes bound up into the world of the angels, and a new spirit descends upon him/her, enabling an understanding and completely different type of knowledge he or she experienced beforehand.
In another section of his “Code,” Maimonides makes a strong statement with regards to prophecy: “There are three categories of the heretic (apikores); one of them is one who says that prophecy does not exist and that there is no way that God communicates information to man Hilchos Teshuva).”
Do we believe there is prophecy today? One would seemingly only need to turn on Sunday morning radio in Dallas to hear those to whom “the Lord spoke to them last night” (and said to tell the people to send them their money) to be a believer!
Judaism points out that prophecy ended after the first period of the second Temple. The “Men of the Great Assembly,” 120 sages who led the Jewish people of that time (and authored the Siddur prayer book), had among them a small number of prophets, including Mordechai of the Purim story.
From that time on we, as a people, have not been on a lofty enough level to attain prophecy. I often say, that was the point during which we became a “non-prophet organization!” However, though actual prophecy ceased, other levels of divine inspiration continued. The Talmud says even after the Jews no longer had prophecy they still used the bas kol, literally, a “daughter of the voice,” which consisted of a type of voice heard from heaven, often in response to a question posed by the sages in their study halls. Below bas kol exists another level of divine inspiration called ruach hakodesh, a “holy spirit.” This level existed well past Talmudic times and was known to exist even as late as Maimonides’ generation. This is a type of divine revelation which comes through the study of Torah with complete purity, dedication and nullification of one’s mind to the mind of Torah; in a sense, to the mind of God.
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.