This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Shoftim (5762)
This week's section contains the commandment to listen to true prophets of G-d (18:15) "G-d will stand a Jewish prophet like me (Moses was speaking), to him you must listen."
This commandment, as unusual as it is, is one of the bases of Judaism: the entire Torah (Except for the first two of the Ten Commandments heard by everyone directly from G-d) was purely the prophecy of Moses.
But even more, even now, over three thousand years AFTER Moses, we must believe that G-d sends prophets to strengthen the Torah and Judaism. (See Ramba'm Yesodi HaTorah 9:2).
Each generation has its tests, temptations and difficulties that impinge on and cast doubt upon genuine Judaism and without prophets Torah observance would be endangered!
But at first glance this is problematic. The Talmud (Yoma 9 :b etc.) says that some 2,500 years ago, after the prophets Chagai and Malachi, prophesy departed from Israel!
So are there prophets today or not?
If they are then who are they?
If there aren’t then how has the Torah held out for almost 2,500 years without prophets to enforce it?
(And, conversely) if Judaism has succeeded without prophets for so long, maybe they aren't so necessary?
To answer this here is a story.
During World War Two the Jews in Poland suffered terribly and often their only hope was to cross the border and flee to Russia. But when the war ended suddenly the situation was reversed. Jews in Russia, especially religious ones, tried desperately to leave Stalin's hell, even by forging passports, and get into Poland.
A Chabad Chassid called Yaakov Lefkefker also tried this trick but instead of escaping to freedom his forgery was discovered by the Russian border guards, he was 'tried' and then sentenced to life in Siberia.
But, in a miraculous stroke of good luck, after he managed to survive there over ten years, when the evil Stalin died, he, along with tens of thousands of other prisoners, was released from exile.
But getting out of Russia was a different story.
As the clerk in the government office in Tashkent put it the first time Yaakov gave him his form requesting an exit visa to mail to Moscow;
He held up his hand as though to slap him and declared, "Before a criminal like you gets permission to leave Russia …… hair will grow on the palm of my hand".
And so it was; every year Yaakov repeated the same futile ceremony: He filled out all the forms, mailed them to Moscow (it was permissible to request only once a year) waited a week or two and received an official letter of rejection.
But there was something else he did as well. Each time immediately before filling out his annual request he would call his relatives in America and ask them to would request the Lubavitcher Rebbe to give a blessing that it would work …. but the Rebbe never replied.
Perhaps the normal reader will be perplexed as to how religious Jews, who are supposed to believe ONLY in G-d, can ask a human being for blessings. The answer to this is that since G-d blessed Abraham and said “You will be a blessing”, blessings were given into the hands of holy Jews (see Rashi on Gen. 12:2). Such a person was Rabbi M.M. Shneerson a.k.a. the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Back to our story.
One year his relatives received an envelope from the Rebbe's office! The first time there was a reply! It contained a letter from the Rebbe informing them that he had received Yaakov’s request and promised that this year he would the visa would be granted!
Of course their joy was immense! As soon as they called Yaakov in Russia he packed his bags and waited for the good news
….. But it didn't come.
People all around him in Tashkent were receiving replies; some positive, some rejections but he received nothing and the time was getting short. There was a deadline for using such visas, and after that date a new request had to be made to Moscow. And he didn’t even have a visa!
Back to New York; a few weeks later on Shabbat the Rebbe made a large 'Farbringen' ('Chassidic get-together'). All the Chassidim were there when suddenly the Rebbe turned to Yaakov's relative and motioned to him as to say "Why haven't I heard any news?" When the latter just shrugged his shoulders the Rebbe called him over and said.
"The permission is there, he just has to pound on the table… even turn over a table, and he will get it."
After Shabbat they again called Yaakov in Russia and told him what the Rebbe said.
The next morning Yaakov, usually a mild mannered, quiet fellow went to the government office, walked up to the clerk, took a deep breath, braced himself and shouted,
"Give me my visa!!! I know it's here. I! WANT! MY! VISA!"
At each of the last four words he pounded on the table with all his might. The two soldiers standing at the door walked toward him but before they got there he yelled…..
"And I want it…. NOW!!!"
He swiftly grabbed the edge of the table nearest him, closed his eyes and lifted up with all his might turning it over and sending papers and metal things flying and crashing all over the office.
The police were astounded, Yaakov just stood there and quietly said to them, "I want my visa and they won't give it to me."
For some reason in all the confusion someone took a look at the clerk's papers on his desk and there it was!! An official letter from Moscow addressed to Yaakov! And in it….. Yaakov's Visa!!
It seems that the clerk was a rabid anti-Semite and planned to hold the letter until the last day so Yaakov wouldn't be able to use it. And somehow….. the Rebbe knew!!!
A week later Yaakov was in Israel.
This answers our questions. When Maimonides explains (ibid chapt. 7) that believing in prophets is a basic tenant of Judaism he nowhere indicates that this commandment is only in the Temple days, exactly the opposite; his book is PRACTICAL law for today as well.
In fact elsewhere (Egrot Taimon chapt. 3) he reckons a date that prophecy should return to Israel (several hundred years ago) and says there that it will certainly return before Moshiach. In fact, Messiah himself (whose arrival is the goal of Judaism and whom we await every instant) will be a prophet. ( Hilchot. Tshuva 9:2)
So prophesy is very much alive (as we can see from the above story) and what the Talmud means when it says that prophesy departed after Chagai etc. does not mean that prophesy ceased permanently but rather that it temporarily went away.
But today it is operating full force.
In fact, the Lubavitcher Rebbe announced in 1990 (after he correctly predicted the fall of the iron curtain and every detail of the Gulf war) that we must announce to our generation that he himself, being the replacement for the previous Rebbe, and being that he NEVER made a mistake (hard to believe but true) is a prophet.
“And” he concluded “the MAIN prophesy is that Moshiach is here!"
But it's up to us to bring him;
Just as Rabbi Lefkefker had to pound on the table so we must do all we can (see chapt. five of our Moshiach essay at http://www.ohrtmimim.org/torah/ moshiachessay.htm ).
Even one more good deed, word or thought (how much more so a LOT of them) can tilt the scales and reveal ….
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