"A prophet from your midst, from your brethren, like myself,
shall Hashem your G-d appoint for you; him shall you obey."
Rashi comments: "Just as I am from your midst, from your
brethren, so shall someone like me replace me, and similarly,
[a replacement] from one prophet to the next."
The Brisker Rov asks: Why does Rashi add the seemingly extra
word "replace me," someone who will be in his stead? Did the
prophets who rose up from the people's midst after Moshe
Rabbenu actually come to replace him? Is not every prophecy
different from another, every prophet of one generation,
different from that of another, each one designated to serve
the needs of his contemporaries? No one was meant to
replace Moshe, merely to succeed him!
Even Rashi's ending needs clarification: "And similarly, from
one prophet to the next." Prophecy is not something actually
transmitted from one prophet to another but each utterance is
a separate message in of itself. One prophecy does not
necessarily -- and rarely does it -- follow the previous
But we find a similar phrasing later on in Tanach. Before
Hashem gathers Eliyohu up to Heaven in the chariot, He tells
him, "And you shall anoint Elisha ben Shafat as a prophet
in your stead," that is, to replace him. This is
stated very explicitly and therefore, we must understand what
is meant by the term.
The Brisker Rov replies that the message embodies a very
tenet of faith. "It appears that aside from what is written
concerning the basic rule of prophecy, it also states a
promise, a guarantee, that prophets would always exist in
each generation. The people would not have to resort to
sorcerers and witchcraft, and the Jewish people would never
be without their seers. Why then is it written in Pirkei
Ovos that the Torah was transmitted, "from the Elders to
the prophets and the prophets transmitted it to the Anshei
We see that at a certain point, the Divine Spirit did leave
the Jewish people, for prophecy ceased. This, in itself, is a
form of punishment, as it is written, "They shall wander
about in search of the word of Hashem, but they will not find
it." In the future, however, prophecy will never cease to the
end of time. This, then, is the explanation presented by
Rashi: "He shall establish for you in my stead . . . And
similarly, from one prophet to the next . . . for prophecy
will be forever amidst Jewry. And before the sun [glory] of
one leader wanes, the sun of the next prophet will already be
on the wax."
We here discover a new dimension in the essence of the very
need for prophecy amidst the Jewish people. It is not a mere
phenomenon, a blessed state, but a necessity, a requisite.
This is the tone of spiritual life, and to such an extent
that Jewry was given a guarantee that it would return, that
they would not be forsaken.
Prophets would yet rise up from the people and supply them
with whatever knowledge Hashem wished to impart. Hashem would
convey His will to the people through an intermediary. Jews
would be informed what was expected of them and what they had
to refrain from doing. Not only were they promised prophets
in every generation, but even that if, in the natural course
of events, one prophet would pass away, the next one in line
would already be waiting to step into his place. The balm
would have preceded the blow. The declining sun of one
luminary would intercept the rise of the next one to follow.
They were guaranteed to be constantly accompanied by their
urim vetumim, their oracles, the guiding light, the
pillar of leadership to go before their camp.
This is not all. In the Rambam's famous "Letter to Yemen" we
find an additional message: "It states: the prophet in your
midst -- that every prophet that is sent to us to tell us
about the future will be from your ranks so that you will not
have to go from city to city in search of him, or traverse
great distances to find him. This is the meaning of `from the
midst of your brethren'."
Jewry's dependence upon its seers is so absolute that Moshe
Rabbenu finds the need to promise them in advance that
prophecy will continue unabated and, furthermore, that these
leaders will be accessible, from your midst, and there will
be no need to go far and wide in order to reach them.
The Jewish people without prophecy is maimed, crippled. It is
missing a vital limb. Our finding ourselves alive and
existing without prophecy is an unnatural state. It is the
result of the curse of the tochocha which decrees that
the afflicted ones will wander about aimlessly in the search
of the word of Hashem, in vain.
Despite this, despite the fact that our sins have thus
decreed and we are without prophecy, nevertheless, the Torah
promises, "And even in spite of this, when they be in the
lands of their enemies, I shall not despise them or abhor
them to annihilate them and violate My covenant with them."
Chazal, in Megilla 11a, interpret, "I did not despise
them -- in the times of the Kasdim, when I established
Chananya, Mishoel and Azarya for them. And I did not abhor
them -- in the times of the Greeks, when I established Shimon
Hatzaddik to guide them, and Matisyohu Kohen Godol and the
House of Chashmonai. To annihilate them -- in the times of
Homon, when I provided them with Mordechai and Esther. To
break My covenant with them -- in the times of the Persians,
when I set them up with Rebbe, his disciples, and the chain
of sages throughout the ages."
In other words, how do we know that despite the exile, Hashem
has not despised or rejected us? How does this reassurance
find expression? In the fact that He did provide us with a
substitute for prophecy. In the first case: Chananya, Mishoel
and Azarya, then Shimon Hatzaddik, followed later by
Matisyohu, the House of Rebbe, and from then up until this
very day -- the long chain of sages. Indeed, we are never
forsaken, never alone!
This is how Chovos Halevovos sums this up (Gate 7,
Chapter 6): "Chazal said: Before the sun of Moshe waned
completely, the sun of Yehoshua had already risen. Before the
sun of Eli Hakohen waned completely, the sun of Shmuel the
Ramati had already risen. Before the sun of Eliyohu waned,
the sun of Elisha had already risen. On the day that R' Akiva
died, Rabbenu Hakodosh was born. This sequence is repeated
throughout the generations, and in every land. One who seeks
Hashem and wishes to serve him will always find the one to
instruct him in Hashem's Torah."
Chazal incorporated a most reassuring message in these words:
"Said R' Akiva: Yisroel is likened to a bird. Just as a bird
cannot fly without wings, so can Yisroel not do anything
without its sages" (Yalkut Shimoni, Parshas