Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

29 Av 5760 - August 30, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Exalted Life

by L. Jungerman

"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 one.

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 Knesses Hagedola"?

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 Shemini).

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