Introduction from Rabbi Trugman’s upcoming new book
Prophecy and Divine Inspiration – The Ohr Chadash Commentary on the Prophets
Maimonides (Moshe ben Maimon, also known by the acronym of his name: Rambam; 1135 – 1204), the great codifier of Jewish thought and practice, compiled what he considered to be the Thirteen Principles of Faith of the Jewish people. He did so in order to help clarify and organize Jewish belief in an easy to remember, all-encompassing manner. The first five of these principles establish the unique oneness and absolute non-physicality of God as Creator and ruler of the universe. The next two principles profess a belief in the truth of the words of the prophets, and especially the unique stature of the prophecy of Moses. These are then followed by the principle that declares that the Torah we have today is the one given by God to Moses and that there will be no other Torah given to replace it. The last few principles outline a series of more general religious ideas including the belief in Divine Providence, the spiritual mechanism of reward and punishment, and the fulfillment of the prophecies regarding the eventual coming of the Mashiach, the Messiah, and the future Resurrection of the Dead. Thus, we can see that out of Rambam’s Thirteen Principles of Faith, four of them relate in some manner to prophecy.
It is highly significant that Rambam lists a belief in the truth of the prophets even before the principle that the Torah we have now is the same as the one given to Moses. In this way, Rambam is making a subtle and structural statement about the fundamental role of prophecy within Judaism. For, from a logical point of view, if we did not believe in the words of the prophets, of which Moses was the greatest, then the very basis of our belief in the transmission of God’s word to the Jewish people would be compromised. Even before the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai the unique relationship between God and the Jewish people was established through prophecy as evidenced by the fact that the patriarchs and matriarchs were all prophets themselves or were at least imbued with ruach hakodesh, Divine inspiration. Furthermore, according to the Torah, prophecy is not only the foundation of Jewish religion and revelation, but, as evidenced by the fact that God spoke directly to Adam, Eve, Cain and Noah, all of whom preceded the patriarchs and matriarchs, prophecy can in fact be understood as an inherently human capacity to communicate with the Divine.
Although this book is certainly not the first to deal with the subject of the Jewish prophets (nor will it be the last), I decided to undertake this project in order to clarify and emphasize a number of very important concepts that I feel warrant further exploration and explication. These points will be enumerated shortly as I present to the reader a brief overview of the structure of this current volume.
Each generation is different. Therefore the same subjects treated in previous generations need re-examination and a renewed perspective in order to meet the spiritual needs of people as they encounter and attempt to understand the constantly shifting historical factors and current events of the times. This is especially true in the past few generations when so many of the prophecies of the prophets of old are literally coming true before our very eyes.
In order to accomplish this task, first we must establish the importance of establishing a personal relationship with the Creator. Although followers of monotheistic religion may take this type of relationship with God for granted, it is certainly not a given. In fact, the greatness of Abraham lies not only in his general revelation that there is only one true God, but also in his existential example, as recorded in the Torah, that a human being can enter into an intimate relationship with the Divine Creator. Although many religions, philosophies and spiritual paths throughout history have recognized the reality of a first cause, the existence of spiritual laws that define reality, or the presence of an all-encompassing Divine force or energy within the universe, Abraham specifically and Judaism in general established a radically new understanding of our relationship with this Divine reality. While a generic belief in God may very well be at the heart of Judaism, it is a personal belief in the viability of prophecy (i.e., communication and relationship with the Infinite One) that makes Judaism possible. For without the belief that God can and does communicate His will, love and concern to humanity, there would be no concept of Torah or commandments. As Rabbi Eliezer Berkowitz points out in his excellent essay, The Encounter with the Divine, the basic belief in a Creator, first cause or Divine force in the form of an energy or wisdom that permeates the universe is a matter of philosophy not religion. It is the fundamental belief in a God who not only creates but also expresses His care and regard for His creation that defines religion in general and Judaism in particular.
Before undertaking a broad summary of prophecy as presented in the five books of Moses and the books of the Prophets (Nevi’im), the second of three major divisions in the Tanach, the Bible, we will seek to develop a basic understanding of what prophecy is, including how and when it takes place, and a functional understanding of the connection between prophecy, consciousness, the power of imagination and symbolism. This endeavor will include the very important task of identifying and understanding the meanings and significances implied by the specific Hebrew words used to refer to both prophecy and Divine inspiration. This will further enable us to articulate the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between these two related concepts. In addition, we will also seek to elucidate the meaning of prophetic experience as it relates to each and every person.
Only then, once we have explored and established these more fundamental principles of prophecy, will we begin to encounter prophecy as it is presented in the Torah. As we do, we will not only explore the varied and intriguing accounts of prophecy in the five books of Moses, but we will also expand our discussion to include viewing the Torah itself as a prophetic document. In so doing, we will discover within the Torah text itself unique revelations concerning the mystical relationship between prophecy and dreams, the connection of prophecy to time, as well as the very important link between prophecy and music.
Next we will search through the second division of the Tanach, the books of the Prophets, in order to discuss the many vivid accounts of prophetic experience, including the specific individuals referred to as prophets; but also, even more importantly, we will try to establish a broader framework in which to understand the role and mission of the prophet in Biblical times, as well as their lasting effect and relevance today. Although they were often despised and hounded by those in authority for their harsh diagnoses of the spiritual state of their contemporaries, as well as their terrible predictions of consequential events if those abuses were left unchecked, they also wielded great power and authority. Of course, power corrupts in the hands of the wrong people and there were always those who yielded this power for selfish reasons, or who were simply false prophets. Nonetheless, as we hope to demonstrate, the words of the true prophets of Israel have had an enormous impact and influence on poets, writers, philosophers, politicians, religious figures and societies throughout the world in every successive generation.
The words of the prophets are as relevant and meaningful today as they were when they were first spoken. It is absolutely vital in a world that seems to have lost its moral and ethical compass to engage and integrate the eternal messages of the prophets as they represent God’s expectations of humanity and the collective destiny of Israel, and in fact, of all mankind. We will be presenting the crux of these various fundamental teachings and their recurring themes in an organized manner as we review the lives and teachings of the canonized prophets of Israel. To reiterate: Every generation is in fact different than its predecessors. It is therefore crucial to investigate anew the prophetic tradition in Judaism and its relevance and contemporary meaning for not only our generation, but for each individual as well.
According to tradition, Prophecy with a capital “P” ceased during the Second Temple era. Yet, the potential for achieving prophetic experience and Divine inspiration did not cease. Therefore we will also explore the last two thousand years of Jewish history in order to locate and elaborate the strands and remnants of prophetic experience and Divine inspiration as they have been creatively woven into the fabric of Jewish history and literature.
It would have been logical to assume that we would present our discussion of prophetic experience and Divine inspiration in a chronological order: first starting with the past, then moving on to contemporary times and finally concluding with traditions regarding prophecy in the future. Yet, we have veered from the linear path and instead offer teachings related to the return of prophecy in the future Messianic era directly after our detailed examination of prophecy in the past, and only then conclude by exploring the role and realm of prophecy and Divine inspiration in the present.
Although the concluding section will not be the longest it is in a sense among the most important, for not only is it critical to translate the message of the prophets into today’s reality, but one of the main reasons this book is being written is to highlight the idea that one does not have to be a prophet to have prophetic experiences or to be Divinely inspired, and that everyone, even today, has the potential to develop their soul’s spiritual nature in order to access the Divine within themselves and the world around them.
Furthermore, we hope to expand the general understanding of the importance of pursuing acceptable and established Jewish spiritual practices that can awaken prophetic consciousness to the degree that each person is capable. There are no prophets today but everyone has a glimmer of prophecy within their soul and it is part and parcel of Jewish tradition to learn about our prophetic heritage and then to apply it to our own lives. As Elijah the Prophet, exclaimed: (Tana D’Bei Eliyahu 9): “I call heaven and earth to witness, that any individual, man or woman, Jew or gentile, freeman or slave, can have ruach hakodesh (“Divine inspiration”) come upon him. It all depends on his deeds.” Similarly, Moses, the greatest of the prophets, pronounced his fervent hope: “Would it be that all God’s people were prophets and that God would put His spirit upon them!” (Numbers 11:29).
The means through which the prophets, mystics, sages and rabbis throughout history achieved prophecy, Divine inspiration and prophetic experience are as available today as they were in the past. We pray that through exploring the many important elements that together form the prophetic tradition in Judaism we will both inform and inspire the reader to integrate this glorious link to Jewish history deeply into his or her innermost soul and ultimately draw ever-closer to the Creator.