Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah, Chapter 7: Prophecy

Chapter 7: Prophecy

Halacha 1: The fundament of prophecy in Judaism and who is eligible for it

  • It is a fundament of the Jewish faith that G-d provides prophecy to humans.
  • Who is eligible for prophecy: Prophecy is only given to a person with the following characteristics:
    • He is a great scholar.
    • He contains broad mental capacity.
    • He has a refined character.
    • He is always in control of his inclination and never allows his inclination to control him.
    • He has a complete and healthy body.
  • When does the above person begin to prophesize: When the person with the above characteristics fulfills the following steps then immediately upon reaching this state of spirituality and holiness, the divine spirit rests on his:
    • He enters into the study of the secrets of Torah known as Pardes.
    • He studies these deep mystical matters until he acquires great wisdom in them.
    • He sanctifies himself with holiness and separates from the ways of the masses who walk in darkness, to the point that his thoughts are filled only with understanding spiritual matters relating to G-d and the spiritual beings until he comprehends them and he does not ponder any of the nonsense of the world, then immediately upon reaching this state of spirituality and holiness, the divine spirit rests on his.
  • Becoming a different person: The moment that the divine spirit rests on the above individual, he becomes elevated to the level of the Angels known as Ishim and becomes a completely different person, comprehending that he is no longer the same person as before, and has rather become elevated above other sages, as stated regarding Shaul.

Halacha 2: The different levels of prophecy

  • The same way there are many levels of sages and degrees of wisdom, so too regarding prophecy, there are different degrees of prophecies and prophets.
  • Prophecy takes place during sleep and through a dream: All prophets receive their prophecy through a dream at night, or after falling into a deep slumber during daytime.
  • The effect of the prophecy on the body of the prophet: During prophecy, the body of the prophet begins to shake and tremble and he loses all of his strength and energy and they lose control of their senses. This allows the mind of the prophet to remain completely free to comprehend the prophecy.

Halacha 3: The prophetic message

  • Prophecies come in the way of a parable. Immediately after the parable is given the prophet will have engraved within his heart the interpretation of the parable.
  • When telling over the prophecy, some prophets would say over the parable with its interpretation, and some prophets would only say the parable and not the interpretation, and some prophets would say only the interpretation and not the parable.
  • An example by Yaakov: An example of this could be seen from the dream of Yaakov in which he saw angels going up and down a ladder which was a prophecy for the empires and the Jewish people subjugation to the nations.

Halacha 4: The auspicious times for prophecy

  • Prophecy does not fall onto a prophet whenever he desires.
  • A state of joy and happiness-no depression or laziness: Prophecy can only come to a prophet upon him preparing his mind for it and rejoicing his heart and secluding himself, as prophecy cannot come during a state of sadness or laziness but rather specifically in a state of joy.
  • Playing musical instruments: It is for the above reason that there were musical instruments being played in front of the prophets when they desired to prophesize.

Halacha 5: The students of prophecy

  • Those who desire to receive prophecy and prepare themselves accordingly are called the sons of the prophets.
  • Nonetheless, there is no guarantee that they will receive prophecy after the above preparations, and rather it is possible that the divine presence will reside on them and is it possible that it will not.

Halacha 6: The prophecy of Moshe in contrast to other prophets

  • The above rules apply to all prophets with the exception to Moshe who is considered the father of all prophets. The differences between the prophecy of Moshe and the other prophets are in the following matters:
    • Moshe received prophecy in an awake state while standing, in contrast to other prophets which receive it only in a dream or vision.
    • Moshe receives prophecy directly from G-d in a clear manner, in contrast to the other prophets who receive it through angels in a manner of parables.
    • Moshe retained his calm state even during prophecy in contrast to the other prophets who would fall in trepidation and panic.
    • Moshe would receive prophecy at all times whenever he desired, in contrast to the other prophets who can only receive prophecy at select times, irrelevant of their desire.
    • Moshe was not required to prepare himself for the prophecy as he was considered constantly in a state of readiness similar to the Angels. This is in contrast to the other prophets who required preparation in order to receive prophecy.
    • Moshe was considered a constant prophet, who was constantly in a state of prophecy, and therefore he could not return to his home and be with his wife. This is in contrast to the other prophets were considered like all other men after their prophecy, and would return home to their wives.
    • Moshe’s mind was constantly connected to G-d, and the glory of G-d never left him to the point that his skin shown with this divine light, and became sanctified like an angel.

Halacha 7: The purpose of the prophecy and how to authenticate the prophet

  • Not all prophecies are for the sake of giving a prophetic message to the public.
  • A prophet for personal gain of knowledge: Rather, some prophets experience prophecy for their own personal sake, in order to widen their knowledge [of G-d and His Torah].
  • A messenger prophet: Others would receive prophecy for the sake of giving messages to the public, either to the members of their city, or country, or the entire Jewish people. The purpose of the message would be to direct them in what to do or to prevent them from doing evil.
  • Testing the authenticity of the prophet: When a prophet comes with a prophetic message for the public, he needs to be tested for his authenticity so the nation know that he is truly a messenger of G-d. The test takes place through asking him to perform a miracle and wonder. If he does so, and as well is now to fulfill the qualifications of holiness which make him befitting of prophecy, then his prophetic messages are to be believed when he says that he is saying them as an emissary of G-d.
  • It is a mitzvah to listen to the words of such a prophet even though it is technically possible that he is lying, being that he is a very holy man and a great Sage and therefore is to be believed. This is similar to the command to accept testimony from two witnesses even though it is technically possible that they are both lying.
  • One who claims to be a prophet, and even performs a miracle, but is not known to fulfill the qualifications of holiness needed for one to prophesize, then he is not to be believed.

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