By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
We continue with our series on the 13 principles of Jewish belief.
Maimonides writes: “The seventh principle involves Moses. We believe that Moses was the leader of all prophets. He was superior to all other prophets, whether they preceded him or arose afterwards. Moses attained the highest possible human level. He perceived the Godly to a degree surpassing every human being that ever existed. He literally elevated himself from the level of the mere human to that of an angel. There was no barrier that he did not penetrate. Nothing physical held him back. He was not tainted by any deficiency, great or small … His conscious mind was completely separated and became a spiritual being. It is for this reason that we say that he spoke to God without needing an angel as a mediator.”
Maimonides goes on to discuss more deeply the high, angelic state Moses achieved. He also discusses the four main differences between the prophecy of Moses and others. For one thing, other prophets were spoken to through an intermediary, such as an angel and received prophecy only while sleeping. They were put into a type of trance, which was a highly traumatic experience, leaving them trembling and powerless, sapped of all strength. Lastly, others prepared themselves to receive prophecy only when God deemed fit, which could take months or years, and the prophets would never know in advance when it would come. Moses was different in all aspects. He spoke directly to God while fully awake, did not fall into a trance but spoke like one speaks to a friend, and would be answered whenever he approached God.
Maimonides emphasizes another key difference in his “Code.” All prophets established the veracity of their prophecy by the performance of some miracle. The Jewish people did not believe in Moses merely because of any miracles he might have performed, although he performed many such as the 10 plagues, splitting the sea and bringing down the manna. Miracles alone are not totally convincing; some may still have doubts there was some trickery or magic involved.
The belief Jews had in Moses resulted from their presence at Mt. Sinai, during which they heard God speaking directly to Moses. The entire Jewish nation was an eyewitness to Moses’ intimate connection with the Almighty, directly observing their interaction, speaking as two friends — no further proof of Moses’ veracity was necessary. Any future prophet who disavowed Moses’ teachings and claiming to hear from God was immediately deemed a false prophet, as no prophet holds the level of genuineness as that of Moses.
In the last column, we discussed the fact that God does, indeed, speak to man and there are prophets to hear. Then why is it necessary to have a totally separate principle giving fealty to the prophecy of Moses?
In true Jewish form, the answer can be sought through another question: Why, indeed, did God endow Moses with a level of prophecy so different from that of all other prophets?
The answer to both is that Moses, unlike other prophets, did not receive his prophecy to offer rebuke to the Jews or warn them of some future event. Moses received his prophecy to bring Torah down from heaven to earth. The Torah is God’s purpose in creation; it’s the message of how to precisely serve Him while fulfilling our mission, as individuals and as a nation, during our lifetimes. It is absolutely imperative that this message is transmitted with crystal-clear lucidity and no ambiguities. If Moses received his prophecy by way of hints and visions requiring interpretation, or while in a trance or dream, the Torah would lack that absolute clarity. Moses’ prophecy was qualitatively unlike any other prophecy. This creates a separate principle to believe that not only does God communicate with humans, but He can — and did — convey a message with absolute clarity, leaving no room for doubts. This lays the foundation for the principle we’ll discuss next week: the Truth of Torah.
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.