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Shabbat Parashat R'ei 5773

Parashat Hashavua: A Prophet or a Dreamer of Dreams

Harav Yosef Carmel

This week we read about the “prophet” who tries to incite the nation to worship idols. “Should a prophet or a dreamer of dreams get up in your midst and give a sign or a wonder. And the sign or the wonder about which he spoke to you comes [true], and he says: ‘Let us follow other gods, which you do not know, and worship them’ – do not listen …” (Devarim 13: 2-4).

How does such a phenomenon (a prophet whose predictions come true encouraging idol worship) occur, and how does one combat it? We begin the answer with one short word from the pasuk: “ki,” which we translated as “should,” but in this context means to introduce a scenario that might or might not happen, and if it does, raises consequences.

There are two parts to the Torah’s warnings regarding severe aveirot: the warning (statement of prohibition) and the punishment. (Chazal have a famous rule connecting the two: there are no punishments without warnings.) The warnings are written in absolute terms: “Do not murder”; “Do not bear false testimony,” etc. The punishments are written in terms of “If … then …” Let us give but one of many examples: “Should there be found a man who kidnaps one of his brothers … and sells him, and this kidnapper shall die …” (Devarim 24:7).

The explanation of this “linguistic” distinction is simple. A prohibition is absolute and does not depend on the question of whether the sinner is discovered or whether he is willing to pay the punitive price. In contrast, the punishment waits in the wings. It only becomes applicable if and when one carries out a sin, in which case the punishment becomes the post facto reaction to the unfortunate situation.

A prophet is supposed to be a constant and positive phenomenon. A prophet who is described as “should a prophet …” refers to a situation of b’di’eved – after the fact of an unfortunate situation. The fact that we are talking about a prophet who is not a prophet in the normal sense is also apparent from another linguistic nuance. As people say in the world of yeshivot: “Tell me who his chavruta (learning partner) is, and I will tell you who he is.” The “prophet” is mentioned three times in this section, each time along with the “dreamer of dreams.” We are told: “The magicians saw lies, and dreams speak empty things” (Zecharia 10:2). The difficulty to distinguish between a dream, which is one sixtieth of prophecy (Berachot 57b), and a true prophecy can be confusing and problematic. Our pasuk, which speaks about a sign and a wonder, can connect to the aforementioned pasuk in Zecharia, which talks about dreamers and magicians in one breath. Wonders always were a tool used by magicians who use sleight of hand and charlatans. Our “prophet” in this context is one of those deceivers, who try to use the pain and desperation of others for their own personal gain. The Torah warns us: “Do not listen to the words of that ‘prophet.’”

Let us pray for the return of true and just prophets, who will lead us on a path of integrity.
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