YISRO (Exodus, 18:1-20:23) — “Modern-Day Prophecy”

Our Nation has had many prophets.  Thousands.  Perhaps millions.  Most of their prophecies were not recorded for posterity.  (Only 24 of them made into the Bible.)

The greatest of all prophets was Moses.  (Deuteronomy 34:10)  His level of prophecy was clearer than those of other prophets.  (See “Who’s Your Brother?”)

In preparation for the Revelation at Mount Sinai, G-d wanted to ensure that we all would be aware of Moses’ greatness:

G-d said to Moses, “I will come to you in the thickness of a cloud, so that the people will hear when I speak to you, and they will also believe in you forever.”  (Exodus, 19:9)

Nachmanides explains: G-d said, “I will come to you in the thickness of a cloud, so that the people will hear when I speak to you — rather than the people hearing about it from someone else — and they will also believe in you — in later generations.  If some day a future prophet will arise and try to contradict your teachings, he will be immediately dismissed as a fraud because they will have already seen and heard that you have achieved the ultimate level of prophecy.”

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My Rebbe, Rabbi A. Henoch Leibowitz, of Blessed Memory, questioned this explanation from Nachmonides.  It’s all well and good to say that by personally witnessing Moses’ lofty level of prophecy, the people would be likely to accept Moses as their undisputed leader.  But that should only work for the generation that actually witnessed the event.  How would a prophecy that my great-great grandfather saw affect me and my great-great-grandchildren?  How would we be able to resist the temptation to follow some new leader with new ideas?

Rabbi Leibowitz answers that our people experienced more than a one-time prophecy at Mount Sinai.  The legacy that we possess as a result of that miraculous day is more than just the Torah itself.  The entire prophecy of the Revelation is permanently installed on our spiritual “hard drive.”  You and I stood at Mount Sinai, and to this day, that inspiration enables us to reject anything that is less than genuine Torah.   This inspiration is what has given our people the ability to withstand persecutions and torture, clinging tenaciously to our precious Torah and its values.

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In all due respect to my esteemed teacher, I am troubled by his observation.  My Rebbe understands Nachmonides to be telling us that the very fact that the people of Israel saw Moses’ prophecy enables us to rebuff all the various influences that attempt to lead us away from Torah.

If that prophecy works so well, why is there so much assimilation?  Why are we not all sustained in our religious devotion by the prophecy of seeing Moses communicate with G-d 3500 years ago?  How can it be that there are more than 200,000 Hebrew-Christians in North America and Israel?  Where is that innate ability to reject false philosophies?

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This week I read a book written by a political commentator who happens to be Jewish.  The author is a very astute and insightful observer of the political scene.  (I agree with him upwards of 90% of the time.)  The book was somewhat autobiographical in nature; he provided an intimate glimpse into his personal life.  I read about his wife, his kids, and his dogs.

What struck me about the book was how far apart he and I are on theological and philosophical issues.  His casual mention of having ham in his house and driving on Saturday didn’t bother me as much as his celebration of the “Hanukkah and Christmas season”, complete with a menorah and stockings.  Here is a man whose political views I share.  He is a brilliant attorney and an accomplished author.  I usually appreciate what he has to say, even on those occasions when I do disagree with him.

How does an individual who is otherwise so bright so totally clueless when it comes to religious values?  What about my teacher’s observations that throughout the generations, Jews are intuitively tuned in to the prophecy of Sinai?  What happened to G-d’s promise that the Jews would always believe in Moses’ teachings?

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Actually, we don’t have wait until 3500 years after Sinai to ask this question.  That morning our Nation heard G-d tell us that He took us out of Egypt, and that we may have no other gods before Him, along with eight other Commandments.  A mere forty days later, we were dancing around a Golden Calf, singing, “This is your god, Israel, who took you out of Egypt!”  (Ibid, 32:4)  (See “Fool’s Gold” and “Abs Of Steel/Calves Of Gold”)  How’s that for a short memory?

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The answer, I believe, is obvious.  G-d put us here and gave us free will.  We can choose to be inspired, or we can choose to be disinterested.  The ability is there, the deep-rooted sub-conscious memory of that great prophecy is there, waiting to be awakened.

How do we awaken it?  With Torah study.  If we have the good fortune to have been exposed to our belief system, we must strive daily to re-connect with our Creator.  We must delve into the teachings of the Torah and make every effort to get closer to G-d.  The prophecy of Mount Sinai is there; we have to bring it out.

What about our neighbors?  What about our fellow Jews who have not yet tasted the beauty of Torah?  The problem is that they don’t know what they are missing; therefore they tend to decline to make the effort.  It behooves us to demonstrate, by our actions and attitudes, how uplifting a Torah lifestyle can be.

In other words, we have to teach.  Each of us, in our own way, needs to find a way to share the prophecy – Oops!  Do I sound like an evangelist?  Not a problem!  Once a Jew sees the depth, profundity, and warmth of authentic, unadulterated, Torah learning, he’ll know the difference between Torah and the artificial stuff.

G-d promised.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES

“American Idol Worship – Does G-d Care Who Wins the Super Bowl?” (2013)

Is it appropriate for players like Tim Tebow to make grand gestures of prayer to a Master of the World Who has His Hands full dealing with things that are much more important, like whether people who are out of work will find a way to make their mortgage payments?…

Read more.

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“Ouch!” (2010)

Jethro, the high priest of Midian, was impressed.  His son-in-law, Moses,… had led his People out of Egypt.  He had led them triumphantly through the Red Sea, and presided over the defeat of the Amalekites who had attacked them.

Jethro heard about it all, and wanted to join Moses in celebrating G-d’s salvation …  Jethro brought offerings and sacrifices to G-d.

The miracles of the Exodus changed Jethro’s life.  He had already given up his life of idol worship, but had not yet found “the true religion.”  He now embraced Judaism…

But, something was amiss.  Jethro was ill at ease…

Read more.

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“Modern-Day Prophecy” (2009)

… our people experienced more than a one-time prophecy at Mount Sinai.  The legacy that we possess as a result of that miraculous day is more than just the Torah itself.  The entire prophecy of the Revelation is permanently installed on our spiritual “hard drive.”  You and I stood at Mount Sinai, and to this day, that inspiration enables us to reject anything that is less than genuine Torah.   … If that prophecy works so well, why is there so much assimilation?  Why are we not all sustained in our religious devotion by the prophecy of seeing Moses communicate with G-d 3500 years ago?  …

Read more.

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“But Rabbi, How Come YOU Can Come to Work on Shabbos?!”  (2007)

…I work for a large corporation with many employees.  Ironically, I am the only Jew in the company who’s allowed to “work” on Shabbos.

Yes, every Saturday, bright and early, I walk to work.  I go into the kitchen to make sure our food service staff is maintaining our kosher standards.  I go into our synagogue and oversee the Sabbath Services.   I make sure the appropriate prayers are recited, and I deliver a sermon.  (Sh-sh-sh!  Don’t tell anyone – sometimes my sermons are recycled Torah Talks! :-)) What am I doing at work?!…

Read more.

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“Honor thy … Self!” (2005)

…  It has been pointed out that the Commandments on the first Tablet deal with man’s relationship with G-d, while the second Tablet addresses his relationship his fellow man.

… the explanation of “G-d-Mitzvahs” on Tablet #1 and “Humanity-Mitzvahs” on Tablet #2 is at least 90% accurate.  Where we run into trouble is at Commandment #5 — Honor your father and your mother.  The last time I checked, parents are human beings (although some teenagers might tend to disagree!)  What are parents doing on G-d’s Tablet?!  …

Read more.

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“The Sword and the Stone” (2003)

…This prohibition goes further than banning the cutting of stone for the Altar.  It forbids any contact at all with iron.  The Altar was plastered twice a year; the plaster had to be applied with a nonmetallic applicator.  If a piece of iron so much as TOUCHED the Altar, it invalidated the Altar, and the stone needed to be replaced.

Isn’t this a bit much?  If you want to establish a symbolic link between a chisel cutting a stone and a sword cutting a person, that is understandable.  But a piece of iron TOUCHING the Altar?!  If a carpenter was doing repairs in the Temple, and his hammer accidentally brushed against the side of the Altar, why should the stones need to be replaced?…

Read more.

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“Divine Patience and Human Acceptance” (2002)

…Sometimes G-d’s patience with Evil is difficult to understand.

A famous Jewish author has sold millions of books, claiming to explain why bad things happen to good people.  His basic theory is that G-d can’t help it. (R”L) This author describes G-d as an impotent, grandfatherly figure who is powerless to save people from disease and other tragedy.  The G-d, (or should I say, “god”) of this man’s theology is there as a shoulder to cry on; someone to turn to for inspiration; little more.

I call this approach “religious atheism.”  You don’t have to be angry at G-d and you don’t have to deny His existence. You can believe in Him; just pretend that He is confronted by powers that even He can’t overcome, and you can still be a “believer.”

It is very comforting.  The only problem is that it isn’t Judaism…

Read more.

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“Hey, What About the Other 603?” (2001)

…There was a time when the Ten Commandments were recited as part of the morning service…the rabbis of the Talmud removed it from the liturgy and banned public readings of the Ten Commandments…

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2013 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com)  and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on February 11, 2009 at 10:18 am  Leave a Comment  

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