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Rejoinder to Talmid’s Thoughts on Deuteronomy 30:6

(Concluded from page 305)

Independently of the above exposition of the nature of prophecy, we have no reasonable explanation of the schools and scholars of prophets that are mentioned in the Bible; nor of the words: “Mosheh and Aaron among his priests, and Samuel among those who called on his name” (Psalm 99:6); nor of the words of the Talmudשקול שמואל כנגד משה ואהרון “Samuel was in value equal to Moses and Aaron” (Samuel, it must be remembered, was the first founder of the above mentioned prophetic schools); or of the sixth chapter of Isaiah, the first of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Taking then the just quoted valuable words of our learned Maimonides into view, we may understand how our law speaks of two kinds of prophets. The first we may call natural Prophets, such as Bileam, the  prophets of Baal, the prophets of the grove, &c. This is proved from Deuteronomy 13:2: “If there arise among thee a prophet,” &c. Every true inquirer into human nature knows that a prophetic spirit exists slumbering in every man’s soul, and becomes active when duly wrought upon by a sufficiently potent influence. This kind of prophetic capacity seems rather to be a high state of reason than any other power, as the corresponding Hebrew word denoting it, בינה (intelligence), designates the ability מבין דבר מתוך דבר “to discover the future from present and past circumstances.” Pharaoh said to Joseph, when foretelling to him the future,אין נבון חכם כמוך “There is none so intelligent and wise as thou.” These natural prophets can therefore never point out a certain deed or event to happen with precision and certainty, specifying space and time for its occurrence, &c:; (because they know is not from an inward impulse, their whole knowledge being based on externally acquired information;) so also says the Bible, Deut. 13:2, ונתןאליך אות או מופת “And he give thee a sign or a token;” or as Bileam said of himself נופל וגלוי עינים “Falling down with the eyes open;” and אראנוולא עתה אשורנו ולא קרוב “I see him but not now, I behold him but not near.”

The second class consists of the supernatural prophets, or messengers of God, whose mission it was to bring back the wicked and erring <<351>>to the path of the Lord and virtue; strengthening the faithful in faith and the righteous in their conscientious course; proving the truth of their words by foretelling the future of nations or individuals, as the consequence of their righteousness or iniquity (and relying upon the fulfillment alone as establishing the inspiration of their words). They foretold the future generally with all the particulars of time and space, sometimes also by giving the proper names of the persons who were to be, and did become the agents in the fore-shadowed events. So, also, Bileam: כעת יאמר יעקבולישראל מה פעל אל “At the proper time it shall be told to Jacob and Israel what the Lord doth work.”

Now let us first endeavour to find a good explanation of the three important words רוח הקודש “holy spirit,” נבואה “prophecy,” and שכינה “divine presence.” The first is a holy inspiration awakened in the soul by beholding a spiritual, sanctified, or pure and moral existence. To ask in which soul can such an inspiration be awakened? would be the same as to ask, on what sort of tree can grapes grow? But as grapes can only grow on the vine, the proper plant on which they can be expected, so can a holy inspiration only take place in a holy spirit. To obtain a holy spirit, requires a pure heart, a free and independent will, and a sanctified sentiment; no one can possess these attributes without having exercised himself for a long time in every virtue appertaining to man, such as benevolence, mercy, piety, morality, and the governing of his own will and animal desires. And then are these exercises the true and surest path to the summit of wisdom, to the perception of God’s holy existence, displayed in his attributes, which are the witnesses of his perfection. The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord, and the highest elevation is to acknowledge God by a thorough comprehension of His being, so far as is attainable to man. (See Nachmanides בפירושו למדע.) These exercises are, moreover, the only means to attain purity of character, the first requisite for the possession of a holy inspiration.  But it is an old proverb of our sages: An uninstructed man cannot be one that fears sin (not knowing why?); nor an ignorant man be a saint (not knowing how?) Our Rambam says, therefore, with truth: “That this perfection cannot be elicited, except after deep study has called forth this inherent power of our race into practical effect.” So also is the other aphorism true, which says: ולא המדרש הוא עקר אלא המעשה “And yet study is not the principal requisite, but to do what religion demands.” We therefore maintain that the attainment of רוח הקודש demands that study and practice should be united. We usually judge of the morality and knowledge of a man by the topics or which he speaks; and this procedure is correct, <<352>>provided the speaker utters his words without subtlety or fraud. The inspired* speaks only the language of his heart.

* Our correspondent no doubt means any one who is strongly moved by his subject, when his whole feeling is engaged, and he has no time to dress his thoughts in words which conceal his meaning, or convey a wrong impression of what he believes to the mind of his hearers.—Ed. Oc.

We may deduce from this, established by experience, that subject and object of inspiration must correspond with one another, as the feelings and words of the inspired orator. A fool will never be inspired by wisdom, nor will the wise man, inspired by wisdom, launch out in the praises of folly. If now a man has reached that high degree of perfection as to possess רוח הקודש (holy inspiration), he can never be inspired except of God and his attributes, of nature and its various scenes, of the human race and things incident to them; because he is a witness of God’s existence and of His divine character; nor will he speak, during his inspiration, about any other subject; for this sublime idea alone fills his pure soul, and he can only speak of God, either by singing psalms and hymns, or proclaiming His holy name in diffusing the divine instruction he has received. It is therefore said in the Talmud: כתובים נאמרו ברוחהקודש “The holy writings were indicted through holy inspiration,” because they speak only of the Most High, and matters appertaining to His worship; wherefore also it is stated by the same authority: כל האומר דוד חוטא שלמה חוטא אינו אלא טועה “Whoever says David or Solomon was a sinner is surely speaking erroneously;” because their words testify to the purity of their hearts. In the same manner is explained a certain passage in the first chapter of the Sabbath of the ירושלמי which says:

ר' פינחס בן יאיר אומר זריזות מביאה לידי נקיות ׃ נקיות לידי טהרה ׃ טהרה לידי קדושה ׃ קדושה לידי ענוה ׃ ענוה לידי יראת חטא ׃ יראת חטא לידי חסידות ׃ חסידות מביאה לידי רוח הקודש ׃ (עיין רב אלפס הו״ן ונימוקי יוסף סוף פ״ק דע״ז ושיר השירים רבה א׳)

“Rabbi Phineas, son of Yair, said: Industry in study, with the will to practise it, leads to cleanness; cleanness to purity; purity to holiness; holiness to humility; humility to the fear of sin; the fear of sin to piety; piety leads to the attainment of a holy inspiration” (spirit). A man in the just described state of perfect exaltation, becomes fit to be anointed as a messenger of the Lord; only such a one is fitted to hear the voice of God; only he has attained the to others unknown power to listen for the owrds of the divine voice, and to behold the vision of the Most High; only he can explain how the words of the Almighty are to be audibly perceived by mortal man; as the Psalmist says: סוד ה׳ ליראיו “The secret of the Lord is for them who fear Him.”

If it is now God’s will that a message from Him shall reach the <<353>>human race, then such a holy inspired man becomes the messenger, and is a prophet, one inspired by a divine message. Does the human race not possess a man of this qualification, then does God not send to mankind his holy words, because there is no one worthy to bear them. If it is not the will of God to send a message to man, then the possessor of רוח הקודש becomes in no wise a prophet, except, as already stated, one of the natural order. Some prophets had only one vision, as Jonah, &c.; not, however, because they were not in a high state of perfection, but only because God did not desire to send a message to man at that time. If a prophet reaches that high degree of divine grace, as to enjoy always the presence of God’s majesty, as Moses, and some others, then is נבואה (prophecy) the most perfect, and is called שכינה (the divine presence). The reader will no doubt call to mind here that Moses is said to have beheld the future in אספקלריא יותר מאירה “the brightest mirrors.” (See Moreh Nebuchim, Part I. chap 25.)

This view of the Rambam will aid us to explain the rabbinical assertion: אין הנבואה שורה אלא על חכם גבור ועשיר “Prophecy is imparted only to one who is wise, strong, and rich;” taking these three epithets in the sense of Ben Zoma, who defines wisdom to be learning of every man; strength the governing of the passions, and riches the contentment with our apportioned lot. Also the following passage:לעולם לא ירדה שכינה למטהמעשרה ולא אדם למעלה “The Shechinah never came down, and man never went up;” because the divine presence will not come down to the dust of the ground (figurative, for the state of unintellectuality and grossness of unsubdued desires in man); for a mortal must needs arrive at the requisite perfection of רוח הקודש holy inspiration; and the proper אדם, the child of the earth, will also never ascend upward, because he needs to leave the earthly desires and impulses subdued behind, in order to reach the perfection of רוח הקודש.

Now, friend Talmid, you will see that the principal idea on which you build your system is erroneous according to Bible, Talmud, and philosophy; and by what other proof can you establish it? The simple words ויאמר ה׳ אל אברם “And God said to Abram,” are proof enough that he possessed the רוח הקודש before then.

Talmud and Midrash, and I suppose Josephus himself, tell us enough of Abraham’s holy inspiration, before God had yet appeared unto him, how he destroyed the idols of his father, and instructed persons who came to worship them, in the way of truth; how fearlessly he confessed his belief before Nimrod, notwithstanding the cruel punishment of the king, and how he converted his own father to the true faith. There is no occasion for the Bible’s telling us all these things; because the <<354>>very words which convey to us the announcement that God communed with Abram, compel us to assume a pre-existing merit in the patriarch, which caused the Almighty to choose him; and I hope, consequently, that both you and the readers of the Occident will acknowledge that a mistake has been made by you in the premises.

I would not have written in reply to Talmid, if it were not that I wished to advise him to be careful in the prosecution of his studies, so as not to fall into the method of certain missionaries, to wrest a single verse from its place and context, and to elicit from it any of the peculiar views which one may wish to prove from it.

Will Talmid accept as a remembrance from me a copy of a letter of Eben Ezra, which reads alike backward and forward?

דעו מאביכם כי לא בוש אבוש שוב אשוב אליכם כי בא מועד׃

I am truly yours,
W. [Isaac M. Wise]