The Range of Prophecy

      The Torah highlights for us Moshe’s greatness, and even construes it as an article of faith. Hashem explains to Miriam and Aharon: “If there are prophets among you, I make Myself known to them in a vision or in a dream. Not so My servant Moshe, who is trusted in My entire house. I speak to him mouth to mouth in a clear vision without riddles” (Bamidbar 12:6-8).  Hashem’s message to Moshe is direct, unimpeded, and unambiguous – and no other prophet had or will ever have such a relationship.

     In fact, this principle is one of the fundamental concepts of the Jewish people – that no prophet is like Moshe and no prophecy is like Moshe’s. It is the seventh principle of the Rambam – that Moshe is the master of all prophets, and that all others are inferior to him. We maintain that G-d communicated with Moshe b’aspaklaria hame’ira, with a crystal clear vision, but to other prophets b’aspaklaria she’enena me’ira, with a visualization that was cloudy, opaque, and unclear.

     That was Moshe’s greatness. The question is: why is this important ? How does it affect our lives whether or not Moshe was the greatest prophet? Who keeps score ? Why should this be a fundamental tenet of Judaism ? And what is an aspaklaria hame’ira, the clearest mental picture attainable ?

     Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook zt”l explained (Orot 121) that there is a difference between Moshe’s prophecy and that of other prophets, and this distinction affects us greatly until today. The other prophets only spoke of ideals, principles, values, and strivings – of justice and righteousness and kindness. They reinforced to the Jews again and again the basic norms of decent behavior, the foundation of the entire Torah. They never admonished the people for not keeping Shabbat or Kashrut – but for not being good people, or for not being conscious of G-d’s presence. The prophets were not allowed to innovate in halacha, or to tamper with, deviate or supplement the Torah.

     Their vision was of ideals and generalities, but nothing specific. It was a vision b’aspaklaria she’enena me’ira.

     Moshe’s prophecy was b’aspaklaria hame’ira. He transmitted to us not only the ideals of Torah, but also specifically how those ideals are translated into practical behavior. Moshe spoke not only of justice in the abstract, but also how the particulars of every mitzva produce a just person; he taught not only of the imperative of kindness, but also how the details of each mitzva help fashion the kind personality. Moshe taught us how each mitzva translates the theoretical into the practical – and that is why his prophecy was unique, and itself one of the thirteen cardinal principles of the Jewish faith.

     Moshe saw the entirety of Hashem’s message b’aspaklaria hame’ira, with a clear lens. He perceived both the particulars and the principles as one. The prophetic vision can only complement Torat Moshe; it cannot add to it intrinsically.

     Certainly, this is no denigration of the prophets of Israel. Indeed, the particulars of Moshe’s Torah – the Mitzvot – are wasted on and easily corrupted by those who observe them without reference to the prophetic vision. And clearly those who speak in the lofty and exalted terms of the prophets while divorced from the mitzvot of Torat Moshe have emasculated the Torah and essentially created another religion.

     Both visions form the composite Jewish experience. And yet, both currents today inhabit two different worlds. We are confronted by a Jewish world that, at one end, ignores halacha as not germane to modern life, or, at the other end, is wrapped up compulsively in issues of kosher wigs, kosher water and wormy fish, and the like, that, notwithstanding that it reflects a lack of sophistication about the world (and even a very narrow view of halacha), but is almost designed to make us look peculiar in the eyes of our contemporaries. “You shall safeguard and perform the mitzvot, for they are your wisdom and discernment in the eyes of the nations, who will hear of these decrees and shall say about you ‘Surely a wise and discerning people is this great nation’” (Devarim 4:6). Unfortunately, few people who read of current events in the Jewish world will be moved to exclaim ‘Surely a wise and discerning people is this great nation’. (When the facts remain the same and only the halacha purports to change, something more than sober analysis is afoot.) Much has been lost in the synthesis of Torat Moshe and the vision of our prophets.

      We witness some of this dissonance every week. Although prophecy ceased some 24 centuries ago, the words of the prophets ring true until today. They are not written on the subway walls, but read in shul – the weekly haftara. Yet, some of us are so unmoved by them that we literally walk out on them every Shabbat. We may tolerate Torat Moshe – the details of the mitzvot – but we cannot bear to hear the words of the prophets. They do not speak to us, and, like some other mitzvot, often do not remind us of Hashem or evoke a spiritual response. Thus, some may be quite diligent in uttering the correct blessing at Kiddush, or make sure not to turn on the TV on Shabbat, or support Israel generously  – but the whole framework of the Jewish experience simply does not resonate. And that is most unfortunate.

     Conversely, the world – even part of our world – is filled with spiritual seekers, people trying to get in touch with G-d, their soul, something beyond the physical. That is why kabbala and the New Age and all that other stuff are so popular. They may not know where to look, but at least they are looking; many of us are not even looking anymore. We are content to keep the Indians out of our hair and the bugs out of our water, recite the appropriate prayer formulas by rote, and that is our divine service.

     Even worse, parents worry about their children “flipping” in Israel. Many witness the spiritual apathy of teenagers, who, for a time will stop going to shul or observing some of the mitzvot – and wonder what will become of them. They may even pray that their children learn to just go through the motions – “just show up, say the words, bind the tefillin unthinkingly, and move on” ! Like “I” do.

     Then, after a year in Israel where a child sees the holistic, fully-integrated system of Torah, and for the first time actually feels a closeness with Hashem, the parents will often wonder what has become of their child. By the same token, the child begins to wonder why his/her parents attend shul primarily for social reasons – to visit and chat with friends – or because of social conventions – it is what Jews do on Shabbat. They feel estranged from their elders who are going through the motions and observe the Mitzvot out of habit and routine, and may even feel spiritually empty. In shul, while the child is talking to Hashem, the parents are oblivious to Hashem and talking to their friends. So, who is really “flipped” ?

     Rav Kook wrote that in the end of days, there will be a return of the light of the prophets and then a hatred of the details will prevail – the details which simple people feel hampers their ability to serve Hashem, and which frum people often feel constitutes the totality of their service of Hashem.

     We are seeing that today – as a prelude to the return of the spirit of Moshe that infuses every particular of halacha with not just a behavioral component but also with its profound spiritual essence. People will see the inner beauty of the mitzva, and we will coalesce the vision of the prophets with the vision of Moshe. We will be able to view the Torah itself b’aspaklaria hame’ira.

     Not all of us can do that today. Some of us may be spiritually burnt out and feel spiritually ice cold. But ice cold is not dead. The embers burn deep within every Jew, and only need to be ignited. We already have the great gift – the Torah. “For I have given you a precious gift…” (Mishlei 4:2). We already have the mitzvot;  we only need to bring them alive, appreciate them, embrace them with fervor and enthusiasm – daven, learn, serve G-d, do chesed as befits us as serious Jews – and a thirsty world will turn to us yearningly, with respect and reverence, for the spiritual guidance that it craves.

     That is our legacy from Moshe. Only Moshe’s prophecy could transmit to us such a system. Only through appreciating it in its fullness will we merit the true joy of the present and the glories of the future. Only then will we be receptive to and worthy of welcoming the divine presence into our midst, speedily and in our days.

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