Prophecy (Parshat Shoftim)


Parshat Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18 – 21:9) introduces the major roles in the commonwealth of Israel, shown here in order of priority (Horayot 13a):

  • Judges – judicial branch
  • Kings – executive branch
  • Priests – ritual branch
  • Prophets – social and religious critics and teachers

As the Talmud (ibid.) states when a sage passes away, we have no one like him (to replace him), but in the case of a king of Israel who dies, all of Israel are fit for royalty. The high priest follows the king in priority because the king is the supreme temporal ruler.  The prophet follows the high priest because the prophet has no official function. In addition the high priest serves every day in the temple. By contrast the prophet may go many days without a prophecy depending upon divine will and needs of the people.     

With different roles, power is not concentrated in any one group. Rather it is divided amongst outstanding individuals with different aptitudes and inclinations. Some have compared this division of power to the American political system (i.e. judicial – courts, executive – president, and legislative – congress). While there are some similarities between the biblical and American systems there are some significant differences as follows:

ConstitutionTorahMan made

In the biblical system the state is run as a theocracy where Hashem is the ultimate authority with the Torah as its constitution.  The judges (i.e. Sanhedrin) resolve any disagreements in interpretation of the Torah (Maimonides Laws of Mamrim 1:1- 4). In addition all of the officials in the Torah system are either appointed or inherit their position.   

Literal Meaning – פשט

The Torah discusses the subject of a prophet in several places in the book of Deuteronomy 13:2-6 (false prophet) 18:15-22 (prerequisite, role, and duties), and 34:10 (uniqueness of Moses). In Deuteronomy Moses is preparing the Israelites to become an independent nation in Israel, serving Hashem with a new leader. Hence the nature of a prophet is explained in this book and not earlier in the Torah.


This section of the Torah briefly outlines the nature of the prophet. Verse 18:15 states, “A prophet from your midst … like me (Moses), shall Hashem establish for you; to him shall you hearken.” This verse cannot mean that the prophet will be exactly like Moses for the Torah emphatically states (ibid. 34:10), “Never again will arise a prophet in Israel like Moses whom Hashem had known face to face.” This is the 7th principle of the 13 principles of faith of Maimonides.  The reader may ask, “What, then, are the prerequisites to become a prophet?” As is often the case, details omitted in the written Torah law are explained in the oral law as discussed in the next section.


The prophet must speak when commanded by Hashem (ibid. 18:18), “I (Hashem) will place my words in his mouth. The prophet shall speak to the people as I (Hashem) command him.”


The prophet must abide by Torah laws as related to prophecy as mentioned in Deuteronomy including consequences for infraction.


The next verse states the consequence of not following Hashem’s directive, “It shall be that the man who will not hearken to My (divine) words that he shall speak in My (divine) name,  I will exact (punishment) from him.” The reader may ask, “What are the parameters of not hearkening and what exactly is the punishment?” The Talmud Sanhedrin 89a fully answers both questions.

Capital Punishment

The following verse (18:20) speaks of infractions that could lead to capital punishment, “But the prophet who will willfully speak a word in My (divine) name, that which I did not command him to speak, or who shall speak a word in My name in the name of other gods – that prophet shall die.” Again the reader may ask, “What are the parameters of this false prophecy and why such a severe punishment? Again the Talmud fully answers both questions.

False Prophet

The reader may ask, “Since Hashem selects a prophet, often in a private manner, how can a person know if the prophet is genuine or a fraud?” In fact the Torah asks this exact question (Deuteronomy 18:21), “When you ask in your heart: How can we know the word that Hashem has not spoken (i.e. false prophet)?” The written Torah identifies the following prophets as fraudulent, if the prophet advises the Israelites to:

  • Serve idols (ibid. 13:3).
  • Permanently reject a commandment, “make you stray from the path of Hashem” (ibid. 13:6).
  • Follow his prophecy, even if he upholds the Torah, but in the name of other gods (ibid. 18:20).
  • Follow his prophecy, even though he speaks in the name of Hashem, after his prediction did not come true (ibid. 18:22).

In the first three cases the prophet is fraudulent even if the prophet works a miracle or makes a correct prediction. In the last case the oral law makes a distinction between prophecies of good fortune verses misfortune as explained in the section of exegesis.

Exegesis – דרש 


The Talmud discusses the prerequisites of becoming a prophet. These requirements serve as a means to easily identify false prophets and a road map for aspiring prophets.

The Talmud (Nedarim 38a) quotes Rabbi Yohanan who said that the Holy One, Blessed be He, rests His Divine Presence (on a continuous basis) only upon one who is mighty (גבור), wealthy (עשיר), wise (חכם), and humble (עניו). All of these qualities are derived from Moses as the verse states (Deuteronomy 18:15), “A prophet from your midst … like me (Moses), shall Hashem establish for you; to him shall you hearken.”

However the Talmud Shabbat 92a lists these prerequisites as wise (חכם), mighty (גבור), wealthy (עשיר) and tall in stature (קומה בעל). Here the order is different and humility is replaced with tall stature. It is interesting to note that these four qualities are also listed by Ben Zoma (Avot 4:1) albeit in a different order (i.e. wise, mighty, wealthy, and honoured) in reference to ethical character development. The following table lists the sources and qualities for high character.   

Nedarim 38aShabbat 92aAvot 4:1
Mighty (גבור)Wise (חכם)Wise (חכם)
Wealthy (עשיר)Mighty (גבור)Mighty (גבור)
Wise (חכם)Wealthy (עשיר)Wealthy (עשיר)
Humble (עניו)Tall in stature (קומה בעל)Honoured (מכבד)

The following paragraphs will discuss these qualities based upon these sources and Maimonides’ rulings on prophecy.

Source 1 – Nedarim 38a

The Talmud interprets each of these requirements literally and provides verses to support their interpretation.


Moses was able to hold two tablets of stone before breaking them (Deuteronomy 9:17). Although the Torah does not indicate the weight of these tablets, the Talmud does specify their dimensions, albeit with a dispute. According to the Talmud (Nedarim 38a) the two tablets were 6 handbreadths in length, 6 handbreadths in width and 3 handbreadths in thickness. There is a dispute whether the 6 handbreadths of width refer to one tablet (Bava Batra 14a) or both tablets combined (Shekalim 6:1). In any event, the biblical amah is equal to 6 handbreadths or 0.5 meters. Although contemporary halachic decisors provide a range of 0.48-0.57 meters, for ease of calculation this article will use 0.5 or ½ meter. Hence the volume of each tablet is ½ * ½ * ¼ or 1/16 of a cubic meter (following the larger dimension). The density of sapphire, the material of the tablets (Midrash Tanchuma Ki Tissa 29), is about 4,000 kg per cubic meter. Hence the gross weight of the each tablet is 4,000 * 1/16 or 250 kg. However with letters were carved on both sides of the tablets, the net weight of each tablet was probably ½ of this amount or 125 kg. Using the smaller dimension the weight of each tablet is 62.5 kg.

Using another method of calculation, the Midrash Tanchuma (ibid. 26) states that the weight of the tablets was 40 seah (presumably of water) which corresponds to a weight of 375 kg as follows. The measure of 40 seah is equivalent to the approximate dimensions of a person moving freely in a mikveh namely 3*1*1 amot cubed or in metric terms 3 * ½ * ½ * ½ or 3/8 of a cubic meter. Since the density of water is 1000 kg per cubic meter, the weight of the tablets is 1000 * 3/8 or 375 kg. (Perhaps this refers to the gross weight before engraving).

According to either calculation, Moses was capable of lifting and casting a heavy burden proving that he was very mighty.


Moses became wealthy from a sapphire quarry right underneath his tent from which he carved the second set of tablets (Midrash Tanchuma ibid.).


Rav and Shmuel said (Nedarim ibid.), “Fifty measures of understanding were created in the world, and all were given to Moses except one.” He obtained the highest level of Torah knowledge that a mortal can obtain as it is stated (Psalms 8:6), “Yet you have deprived him of little, Hashem. He lacked only complete knowledge of Hashem.


 Moses was humble, as it is written (Numbers 12:3), “Now the man Moses was exceedingly humble, more than any person on the face of the earth.”

The prophet needs these qualities to impress and influence people. Hence the prophet must be physically strong to be available to his people at all hours and of strong temperament to deal with criticism and rejection. He must be financially independent to deliver his message fearlessly. Certainly he must be wise to teach and lecture to those who seek his guidance. In addition he must also maintain his humility as a servant of Hashem and relate to a sometimes unconvinced and indifferent public.    

Source 2 – Shabbat 92a

This source differs from the first in that:

  1. The first three qualities are the same but the order is different, namely the requirement of wise is 3rd in the former source and 1st in the latter source.
  2. The 4th qualities are different, namely humble in the former source and tall in stature in the latter source. Some commentators understand tall in stature in a metaphorical sense, meaning an imposing character. 
  3. In addition this source does not provide verses from scripture to explain these qualities. However Ein Yaakov, a compilation of homiletic teachings of the Talmud, provides verses as a suggestion but not as a primary text. The inference that a prophet should be tall is related to Exodus 40:19 where Moses personally spread the coverings of the Tabernacle without assistance. Since the boards of the Tabernacle were 10 amot high (5 meters), Moses must have been mighty and tall.    

To resolve these differences the author would like to suggest that these two sources refer to different roles of a prophet. The first source refers to Moses and those who follow him and serve as the temporal and religious ruler of the Israelites, hence might is mentioned first to control the people and humility fourth to avoid abuse of power. By contrast the second source refers to a prophet who does not possess any official role in the commonwealth of Israel; hence his primary gift is wisdom to impress the people with his teachings and advice. Therefore wisdom is mentioned first and stature to impress the people with his personality is listed fourth.      

Source 3 – Avot 4:1

Although this Mishna is not discussing prophecy, the order and definition of the qualities mentioned in this source have a bearing on prophecy and are developed by Maimonides in the next source. Ben Zoma asks who is:

  • Wise? – One who learns from every person.
  • Mighty? – One who controls his inclination.
  • Rich? – One who is happy with his lot.
  • Honoured? – One who honours others.

Source 4 – Maimonides

Laws of Fundamentals of Torah (7:1) and Eight Chapters the Introduction to Avot (Chapter 7)

Maimonides write near the beginning of chapter 7, “Know, then, that no prophet received the gift of prophecy, unless he possessed all the mental virtues (i.e. wise) and a great majority of the most important moral ones (i.e. mighty, wealthy, and humble as explained below).” Since Maimonides draws upon Avot 4:1 for his requirements of a prophet the following discussion will integrate sources 3 and 4.


Although a prophet’s wisdom is supported by divine inspiration, he should also take in to account the wisdom of others. For example, Moses became angry, at the inauguration of the Tabernacle, when the meat of the sin offering of the new month was burnt (Leviticus 10:16-18). However Aaron explained his reason and Moses accepted it (ibid. 10:19-20).   

Maimonides writes that a prophet must also possess a very broad and accurate mental capacity. He should be an expert in both the revealed and hidden teachings of the Torah. His mind should constantly be directed towards Hashem (e.g. His throne of glory), striving to comprehend the holy and pure forms (i.e. angels) and contemplating divine wisdom (7:1).


Prophecy is only bestowed upon a sage of a strong character, who is never overcome by his natural inclinations in any regard. Instead, with his mind, he overcomes his natural inclinations at all times (7:1). Similarly in Chapter 7, Maimonides writes that mighty – stands for a moral perfection; that is, one who is controls his faculties in accordance with intelligence and reason, as in Avot 4:1.


He is happy with his lot and does not have any thoughts whatsoever about fruitless things or the vanities and intrigues of the times (7:1). Similarly in Chapter 7, Maimonides writes that ‘being rich”, indicates  one who is satisfied with what Hashem brings him and does not grieve on account of things which he does not possess.

Honours Others/Humble

Even though a prophet has the responsibility to rebuke the Israelites when they stumble he must nevertheless maintain the honour of the community (i.e. respect others). For example Isaiah was punished when he said, (Isaiah 6:5), “For I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell among a people of unclean lips.”  In verses 6 and 7 he recalls, “One of the Seraphim (angel) flew to me with a coal in his hand. He touched it to my mouth and said that your iniquity is removed and your sin shall be atoned (at present).” Rashi on verse 7 indicates that his sin was speaking ill of the people (i.e. a people of unclean lips). The Talmud Yevamot 49b mentions that this sin was a causative factor in his death at the hands of King Manasseh.

It is interesting to note that Maimonides did not explicitly mention the quality of humility in either source. Perhaps this quality is self-evident and is included in his statement about moral qualities.


Maimonides (Laws of Fundamentals of Torah 9:2) describes the role of a prophet as follows, “He is not coming to establish a (new) faith, but rather to command the people (to fulfill) the precepts of the Torah and to warn against its transgression, as evidenced by the final prophet (Malachi), who proclaimed Malachi 3:22: Remember the Torah of Moses, My servant.” In addition a prophet may command us to do something which [is neither permitted nor forbidden by Torah law] – for example, go to such and such a place or not go there. Wage war today or not do so.”


The prophet must abide by Torah laws as related to prophecy and expounded by the oral law including consequences for infraction.


The Talmud Sanhedrin 89a elaborates on the parameters of not listening to a prophet based upon different interpretations of the word hearken (ישמע) in Deuteronomy 18:19. Since a Torah scroll is written without any vowel markings above or below its letters. Biblical exegesis, when accepted by the sages, allows a word to be expounded in other combination of vowels or letters. This is in addition to the literal reading of the text as passed down through tradition. Of course, this exegesis does not overturn the literal meaning of the verse. The following table lists the infractions, the exposition of the word hearken (ישמע), and the grammatical tense.

InfractionWord (ישמע)Tense
Prophet –suppression of prophecyישמיעCausative (הפעיל)
Person – ignores prophecyישמעDirect (קל)
Prophet – transgressing his prophecyישמעPassive (נפעל)

For the first infraction, the Talmud interprets the word hearken (ישמע) as if the word is written with an extra letter “yud י” which means to cause to be heard. Hence if the prophet suppresses his prophecy he will then cause his words not to be heard and be in violation of this verse. The second infraction uses the direct reading and vowelization of hearken (ישמע) and is the literal meaning of the verse that any individual should not ignore the words of a prophet. The third infraction keeps the same letters but uses different vowels (e.g.ׇ for the letter shin ש) to interpret hearken in a passive form, meaning that the prophet should be influenced by his own prophecy and not transgress it.    

For these three cases, the verse (Deuteronomy 18:19) states that Hashem will deal with the offender, “I (Hashem) will exact (punishment) from him.” The Talmud Sanhedrin 89a explains that due the severity of this offence Hashem may take his life. 

Capital Punishment

By contrast the Talmud Sanhedrin 89a elaborates on the parameters of a false prophet, leading to capital punishment, by explaining each phase of (ibid. 18:20) as follows, one who:

  1. Prophesies falsely (i.e. fabricated message) – based upon the phrase (ibid.) “But the prophet who will willfully speak a word in My (divine) name”.
  2. Plagiarizes a prophet – (ibid.) “That which I did not command him to speak”, meaning that I commanded another prophet but not this one.
  3. Prophesizes in the name of other gods – (ibid.) “Shall speak a word in My (divine) name in the name of other gods”. This means even if his prophecy accorded with the words of Torah, his prophecy is rejected because he spoke in the name of other gods.   

Note: There are a number of conditions that must be met before capital punishment is applied for certain offences:

  1. Two (or more) people must warn the offender of the offence and its punishment (Maimonides Laws of Sanhedrin 12:2).
  2. Two (or more) people must witness the transgression (ibid. 12:1). Circumstantial evidence is not accepted in these types of trials (ibid. 12:3).
  3. A confession of the transgressor is not accepted as evidence (ibid. 18:6).
  4. A case of capital punishment must be judged by a Sanhedrin of at least 23 judges (ibid. 5:2). However, depending upon the severity of the case (e.g. judging a false prophet), the Supreme Sanhedrin of 71 is required (ibid. 5:1).  
  5. Capital punishment may only be applied when the temple in functions in Jerusalem and the Supreme Sanhedrin of 71 judges in the temple mount (ibid. 14:11).
  6. Capital punishment was rarely applied as the Talmud states, (Makkot 7a) “A Sanhedrin that executes a transgressor once in seven years is characterized as a destructive court. (Since the Sanhedrin would subject the testimony to exacting scrutiny, it was extremely rare for a defendant to be executed). Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya says that (this categorization applies to a Sanhedrin that executes a transgressor) once in seventy years.   

The reader may ask, “If capital punishment was rarely applied, why does the Torah specify this action in so many verses?” The answer is that Hashem wants to inform the Israelites of the severity of the offence and its impact on society even when capital punishment is not applied. Hence the Torah mandates capital punishment for a false prophet because of the disruptive nature of this  individual whom people may respect and then be led astray.

False Prophet

As mentioned above the Torah clearly indicates the following examples of false prophecy:

  • A command to serve idols.
  • A command to permanently reject a commandment of the Torah.
  • A prophet who speaks in the name of other gods.
  • A prophet whose prediction did not come true (even though he speaks in the name of Hashem).

In addition to the cases mentioned above, the Talmud adds the following cases not clearly discussed in the written Torah:

  • Changing the Torah – Prohibition of a prophet to permanently add or uproot a mitzvah of the Torah.
  • Authentication of a prophet in regard to voluntary matters (e.g. going to war, making peace treaties).
  •  A prophecy of a punishment from Hashem that did not occur.   

Changing the Torah

The Talmud Yevamot 90b interprets the verse in Deuteronomy 18:15, “To him (the prophet) you shall hearken” to mean that a prophet may temporarily override a Torah law in a situation that demands extreme action. For example, Elijah the prophet (1 Kings 18:19-39) built an altar on Mount Carmel and had an animal offered to Hashem in violation of the verse (Deuteronomy 12:13). “Beware, lest you bring up your elevation-offerings in any place that you see.” Elijah felt that the Israelites needed a clear proof of Hashem’s power to convince them to abandon idolatry and return to Hashem. To further his proof Elijah had water poured on the wood and altar. In turn Hashem responded with a miraculous fire that consumed both the wood and offering.

In addition a prophet is not permitted to permanently add a mitzvah based upon the verse in Leviticus 27:34, “These are the commandments that Hashem commanded Moses to the children of Israel.  The Talmud Megillah 3a emphasizes the word these (אלה) meaning only these commandments are from the Torah and a prophet is not authorized to add permanent commandments. He may temporarily add commandments or practices which are different from those of the Torah (e.g. Ezekiel 45:18-25). The Talmud Menachot 45a presents two views on these differences. Rabbi Yehudah says that these differences are problematic and will be resolved in the future by the prophet Elijah at the time of the messiah. Rabbi Yose countered by saying that these verses refer to offerings at the inauguration of the third temple. Therefore they are both different from the standard offerings of the Torah and are temporary, as were the offerings at the inauguration of the Tabernacle (Leviticus 9:1-24). Rabbi Yehudah accepted this explanation and said to Rabbi Yose that you have set my mind at ease.   

Authenticating a Prophet

The written Torah did not clearly discuss the means of authenticating a prophet when he speaks about discretionary matters (e.g. issues of state – war, treaties, and economy). Maimonides (Fundamentals of Torah 7:7) outlines the tests that the Israelites must perform to authenticate a prophet. The prophet must:

  1. Possess moral/physical requirements as discussed above (i.e. might, wealthy, wise, and humble).
  2. Not prophecy as a false prophet (e.g. commands to serve an idol; permanently rejects a commandment the Torah, as listed above).
  3. Perform a supernatural sign or make a prediction that comes true (ibid. 10:1) to confirm his selection by Hashem. This test is repeated at least 3 times (Turei Even on ibid. 10:2) to ensure his authenticity.   

Once these conditions are satisfied the Israelites must follow the prophet without further proof even though there is room for error. We can safely assume that Hashem would not test us with a false prophet after all of these safeguards (ibid. 7:7).   

Punishment that did not occur

Maimonides (ibid. 10:4) points out that if a prophet predicts a misfortune (e.g. war or famine) for the world or a particular nation and the prophecy does not come true, the prophet is not disqualified. Hashem in his mercy may withhold punishment or repeal the decree if the people return to Hashem (e.g. Jonah 3:3-10). However, as mentioned above, if the prophet predicts good events and they do not come true then the prophet is disqualified.      

Historical Perspective

The development of prophecy may be viewed historically as shown in the following table.

Before TabernacleJews and non-JewsSong of Songs Rabbah 2.12
After First TempleCeasedBava Batra 12a
MessianicReinstatedJoel 3:1

Before Tabernacle

Prior to the building of the Tabernacle Hashem gave the gift of prophecy to both Jews and non-Jews. Once the Tabernacle was constructed in the desert prophecy resided exclusively with the Israelites as Hashem promised (Exodus 25:8), “Make Me (divine) a sanctuary so that I will dwell among them (e.g. prophecy).” This Midrash points out the exception of Balaam, a non-Jew, who was a prophet after the construction of the Tabernacle and concludes that his prophecy was for the benefit of the Israelites (e.g. Numbers 24:5-9) and thus permitted.    

After First Temple

After the destruction of the first temple, prophecy ceased in the world as the Talmud (ibid.) states, in the name of Rabbi Avdimi from Haifa “From the day that the (first) Temple was destroyed prophecy was taken from the prophets and given to the sages”, meaning that prophecy in terms of predicting the future or performing supernatural wonders ended with the completion of the bible. However sages receive divine inspiration when studying and applying Torah principles to Halacha. In addition prophets who lived in the time of the first temple maintained their gift of prophecy during the beginning of the second temple (e.g. Haggai, Zachariah, and Malachi).

Song of Songs Rabbah 1.18 points out that a prophet must prove his position (either through a sign or a prediction) before we follow his prophecy. By contrast a sage does not have to establish his credentials by any supernatural event. Rather his credentials are established by his prodigious knowledge of Torah, moral character, and acceptance by other sages. When introducing a temporary measure, an authenticated prophet does not need to justify his decision or consult with sages. The Torah commands us to follow an authenticated prophet even when his opinion is not supported by others. By contrast the sages have to justify the need for a temporary measure or  permanent ruling in Halacha. A prophet cannot determine Halacha through his gift of prophecy. As the Talmud states Bava Metzia 59b, “(Torah matters) are not in heaven. Since the Torah was given at Mount Sinai, we do not regard a Divine Voice (or prophecy). Rather we follow the majority of sages, who expound the law through Torah principles, based upon Exodus 23:2: After a majority (of sages) we follow.” The following table summarizes the roles of a prophet and sage when enacting temporary measures or legislation.

CredentialsSign or PredictionErudition
CharacterHigh moral standingHigh moral standing
Temporary MeasureNo justificationRequire justification
Legislation (Halacha)Not as a prophetTorah principles
VotingSole vote as a prophetMajority

Messianic Era

In the Messianic era, prophecy will return as the prophet Joel predicts:

3:1 – “It shall come to pass that I will pour out My (divine) spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy; your elders shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.”

3:2 – “And even upon the slaves and the maidservants in those days will I pour out My (divine) spirit.”

During this era Hashem will neutralize the evil inclination (Ezekiel 36:26) and mankind’s main preoccupation will be to know Hashem because there will be abundant material prosperity (Maimonides Laws of Kings 12:5). Hence the prerequisites of prophecy (i.e. might, wealth, wisdom, and humility) will be common place resulting in widespread prophecy.   

Hints and Allusions – רמז

Authority from Sinai

Exodus Rabbah 28:6 quotes Rabbi Yitzchak who says, “All of the prophecies originate from the giving of the Torah.” Even if these prophets were not physically present at Mount Sinai, their souls were present and energized. The commentator Eitz Yosef explains this teaching by expounding upon Exodus 20:1, “Hashem spoke all these statements saying”. He understands the word “all” to include the gift of prophecy, starting from Moses and continuing through the books of the prophets, in addition to the laws of Torah. He further understands the word “saying” as referring to the obligation of the prophets to preach and teach.  Hence the authority and authenticity of the prophets was established by Hashem at the giving of the Torah. The verses in Deuteronomy build upon this source and provide the halachic framework of prophecy.   

Allusions of Deuteronomy 18:15

The opening verse of the section of prophecy (Deuteronomy 18:15) contains a number of hidden meanings which may be expounded upon using the following techniques of hints and allusions:

Opening and closing letter50 (נ)Wisdom
Number of words in verse10Torah
Number of letters in verse43Greatness (גדול)

Both the opening and closing letters of the verse use the letter נ which has a gematria of 50 corresponding to the 50 levels of wisdom to which every prophet should aspire (Baal Haturim on this verse). The opening letter may refer to the Moses, the first prophet, and the end letter may refer to the following prophets. The number 10 refers to the written Torah, in reference to the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 4:13 and 10:4), and indicates that a prophet and his message must follow the dictates of Torah.  The number 43 is the gematria of the word great (גדול) which applies to Moses as in Exodus 11:3, “The man Moses was very great (גדול) in the land of Egypt, in the eyes of the servants of Pharaoh and in the eyes of the people.” In addition this word applies to the Israelites and their connection to Hashem as stated in Deuteronomy 4:7, “For which is a great (גדול) nation that has Hashem close to it (like the Israelites) … whenever we call to Him?” Although the literal meaning of the verse refers to prayer, this call may also refer to the role of a prophet to guide the people and inform them of future events.    

Allusions of Deuteronomy 18:21- Eichah איכה 

It is interesting to note that Deuteronomy 18:21 uses the word איכה when the Israelites question the authentication of a prophet, “When you say in your heart: How can we know the word that Hashem has not spoken (i.e. false prophet)?” The simpler form of the word “how” in Hebrew is איך. This word איכה only appears 6 times in the Torah and 5 of them in the book of Deuteronomy. In each of these 5 cases, Moses chastises the Israelites for their failings as follows:

1:12 – Quarrelsome people.

7:17 – Lack of courage to conquer Israel.   

12:30 – Attraction to idolatry.   

18:21 – Inability to discern a false prophet.

32:30 – Defeat on the battlefield as a result of their sins.

Using this pattern we can see that Moses was disappointed in the people for the inability to distinguish between a true and false prophet. With Torah knowledge, which Moses taught, they should instinctively distinguish between a bona fide and false prophet. In addition Moses through the oral law outlined the parameters and tests for authenticating a prophet.  

Similarly the prophet Jeremiah laments the fate of the Israelites after the destruction of the first temple using the word איכה in Lamentations 1:1 2:1, 4:1, and 4:2. His book called Lamentations (איכה) is read on Tisha B’Av, the national day of mourning for the Israelites.  

 Secrets of Torah – סוד

Prophets vs. Sages

The Zohar (2:6b) writes that Hashem desires to reveals his secrets of the Torah and future events to sages and prophets based upon the verse (Amos 3:7), “For Hashem does nothing unless He has revealed His secret to His servants, the prophets. “The Zohar (ibid.) then proceeds to explain the difference between sages and prophets as shown in the following table.

Divine spirit (הקודש רוח)IntermittentAlways
MessageMust communicate prophecyAt his discretion
Torah interpretationAs a sage onlyAuthorized

The divine spirit of prophecy rests on a prophet according to divine will, which means that there will be times when the prophet does not receive a message from Hashem depending upon the need and level of the people. By contrast a Torah sage always receives divine inspiration when studying the Torah and applying its teachings. The prophet must communicate his prophecy as interpreted by the Talmud (Sanhedrin 89a) on Deuteronomy 18:19. A sage is not commanded to reveal secrets of the Torah and may teach some of them at his discretion. In effect these secrets are revealed to him as a special consideration from Hashem and may not be suitable to the public (הנםתר תורת). However the sage must teach the revealed Torah (הנגלה תורת) and is authorized by the Torah to applying its teachings to situations as they arise (ibid. 17:9-10), guided by the divine spirit. If a dispute arises amongst the sages then the Halacha follows the majority (Exodus 23:2). Even though a prophet is divinely inspired, he cannot determine Halacha through prophecy. Rather he must use the rules of Torah interpretation and follow Torah jurisprudence (e.g. Talmud and now codified in Shulchan Aruch and its commentaries.)Moreover in a dispute amongst sages, the opinion of a prophet, who is also a sage, carries no more weight than the other authorized ages.    

False Prophets

The Zohar (1:106a) asks, “Why would Hashem allow a false prophet to mislead the Israelites?” The Torah provides the basic answer in Deuteronomy 13:4 “Do not hearken to the words of that (false) prophet … for Hashem is testing you to know if you (truly) love Hashem with all your heart and soul.” The Zohar seeks the underlying reason for this test and concludes that by overcoming these challenges, a person becomes stronger in this world and achieves merit for the world to come. In addition a challenge of faith leads a person to reexamine one’s beliefs and not serve Hashem by rote or through complacency.   


This article examined the role of prophets through multiple sources and discussed the difference between prophecy and Torah legislation. Although we are not privileged to receive prophecy at present we are assured by scripture that prophecy will be restored (Joel 3:1-2) and led by the messiah as Isaiah  predicts (ibid. 11:2), “A spirit of Hashem will rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and strength, a spirit of knowledge and reverence for Hashem.”  

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