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Friday, June 5, 2015

Parashat B'ha'alo'tkha 5775

In this week’s parashah, Moshe feels overwhelmed by his burden of leading the nation. God removes some of His prophecy inducing presence from Moshe and gives it to seventy elders. Amazingly, this seems to begin the end of prophecy and the beginning of having God’s instructions transmitted by intellectual derivations. These seventy men become the paradigm for the Sanhedrin, the high court in Rabbinic Judaism. Of course, unlike the original seventy elders, the Sanhedrin relies less on prophecy and more on wisdom and knowledge. The transition from one to the other shows how our Rabbis saw wisdom replacing prophecy as the dominant method of transmitting Jewish knowledge.

While the method of transmitting Torah has changed, we will see the qualities necessary to to be a transmitter are similar. It begins to feel like prophecy was the correct method for its time and wisdom is the correct method of transmitting Torah for our time. I can imagine a time in the world when intellectual arguments would be less convincing than great visions. However, in our current world, people shouting visions from street corners and on soap boxes are much less convincing than people making wise arguments based on human knowledge and intellect.
במדבר סיני פרשת בהעלותך פרק יא
B’midbar Sinai, Chapter 11
(16) Then Hashem said to Moshe, “Collect for Me seventy men of the elders of Israel, about whom you know that they are the elders of the nation and its officers; then take them to the Tent of Meeting and stand them up with you.
(טז) וַיֹּאמֶר יְקֹוָק אֶל־מֹשֶׁה אֶסְפָה־לִּי שִׁבְעִים אִישׁ מִזִּקְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר יָדַעְתָּ כִּי־הֵם זִקְנֵי הָעָם וְשֹׁטְרָיו וְלָקַחְתָּ אֹתָם אֶל־אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד וְהִתְיַצְּבוּ שָׁם עִמָּךְ:
(17) “Then I will descend and speak with you there; then I will withdraw from the spirit that is on you and place it on them; then they will bear the burden of the nation with you and you will not bear it by yourself.”
(יז) וְיָרַדְתִּי וְדִבַּרְתִּי עִמְּךָ שָׁם וְאָצַלְתִּי מִן־הָרוּחַ אֲשֶׁר עָלֶיךָ וְשַׂמְתִּי עֲלֵיהֶם וְנָשְׂאוּ אִתְּךָ בְּמַשָּׂא הָעָם וְלֹא־תִשָּׂא אַתָּה לְבַדֶּךָ:

We see two men, Eldad and Meidad, get some extra prophecy above everyone else. Despite the objections of Yehoshua, Moshe is not bothered by these two. Rather, he declares that the level of unceasing prophecy is something he wishes every Israelite had.

במדבר סיני פרשת בהעלותך פרק יא
B’midbar Sinai, Chapter 11
(24) Then Moshe went out and spoke the words of Hashem to the nation; then he collected seventy men from the elders of the nation and stood them around the tent.
(כד) וַיֵּצֵא מֹשֶׁה וַיְדַבֵּר אֶל־הָעָם אֵת דִּבְרֵי יְקֹוָק וַיֶּאֱסֹף שִׁבְעִים אִישׁ מִזִּקְנֵי הָעָם וַיַּעֲמֵד אֹתָם סְבִיבֹת הָאֹהֶל:
(25) Then Hashem descended in a cloud and spoke to him; then He withdrew from the spirit that was upon him and then gave it to the seventy elders; then it was as the spirit rested upon them that they prophesied and did not cease.
(כה) וַיֵּרֶד יְקֹוָק בֶּעָנָן וַיְדַבֵּר אֵלָיו וַיָּאצֶל מִן־הָרוּחַ אֲשֶׁר עָלָיו וַיִּתֵּן עַל־שִׁבְעִים אִישׁ הַזְּקֵנִים וַיְהִי כְּנוֹחַ עֲלֵיהֶם הָרוּחַ וַיִּתְנַבְּאוּ וְלֹא יָסָפוּ:
(26) Two men remained in the camp: the name of one was Eldad and the name of the second Meidad; then the spirit rested on them - and those are in the writings - and they did not go out towards the tent; then they prophesied in the camp.
(כו) וַיִּשָּׁאֲרוּ שְׁנֵי־אֲנָשִׁים בַּמַּחֲנֶה שֵׁם הָאֶחָד אֶלְדָּד וְשֵׁם הַשֵּׁנִי מֵידָד וַתָּנַח עֲלֵהֶם הָרוּחַ וְהֵמָּה בַּכְּתֻבִים וְלֹא יָצְאוּ הָאֹהֱלָה וַיִּתְנַבְּאוּ בַּמַּחֲנֶה:
(27) Then a youth ran and told Moshe, saying, “Eldad and Meidad are prophesying in the camp.”
(כז) וַיָּרָץ הַנַּעַר וַיַּגֵּד לְמֹשֶׁה וַיֹּאמַר אֶלְדָּד וּמֵידָד מִתְנַבְּאִים בַּמַּחֲנֶה:
(28) Then Yehoshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moshe from among his chosen, answered, saying, “My master, Moshe, stop them.”
(כח) וַיַּעַן יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן־נוּן מְשָׁרֵת מֹשֶׁה מִבְּחֻרָיו וַיֹּאמַר אֲדֹנִי מֹשֶׁה כְּלָאֵם:
(29) Then Moshe said to him, “Are you jealous on my behalf? Would it be that all of Hashem’s nations are prophets and that Hashem would place His spirit upon them.”
(כט) וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ מֹשֶׁה הַמְקַנֵּא אַתָּה לִי וּמִי יִתֵּן כָּל־עַם יְקֹוָק נְבִיאִים כִּי־יִתֵּן יְקֹוָק אֶת־רוּחוֹ עֲלֵיהֶם:

The Mishnah below sees the cabal of prophetic elders as the paradigm for the Sanhedrin.
משנה מסכת סנהדרין פרק א, משנה ו
Mishnah Tractate Sanhedrin, Chapter 1, Mishnah 6
The Great Sanhedrin was [composed] of seventy one and the little one of twenty-three.
סנהדרי גדולה היתה של שבעים ואחד וקטנה של עשרים ושלשה
And from where is it that the Great one is of seventy one? As it is stated, “Collect for Me seventy men of the elders of Israel,” and Moshe over them: this is seventy-one.
ומנין לגדולה שהיא של שבעים ואחד שנאמ' אספה לישבעים איש מזקני ישראל ומשה על גביהן הרי שבעים ואחד
Rebbi Yehuda says, “Seventy.”
רבי יהודה אומר שבעים

The Tosefta in Sotah tells us that there are still people worthy of prophetic inspiration even if prophecy no longer exists. These people have three traits: humility, kindness, and a student of someone passing on this tradition.
תוספתא מסכת סוטה (ליברמן) פרק יג
Tosefta, Tractate Sotah, Chapter 13
Halacha 3:
When the last prophets died - Chaggai, Zekhariyah, and Malakhi, the holy spirit ceased from Israel. Even so, it was taught them through a bat kol [heavenly voice]. It happened that the sages entered the attic of the house of Guryeh in Jericho, and a bat kol came out and said to them, “There is a person among you who is fit for the holy spirit, but his generation is not worthy for this.” They looked at Hillel the Elder. When he died, they said about him, “He was humble, he was kind, he wa a student of Ezra.”
הלכה ג
משמתו נביאים האחרונים חגי זכריה ומלאכי פסקה רוח הקודש מישראל ואע"פ כן היו משמיעין להן על בת קול מעשה שנתכנסו חכמים לעליית בית גוריה ביריחו ויצתה בת קול ואמרה להן יש כן אדם ביניכם שראוי לרוח הקדש אלא שאין דורו זכיי לכך נתנו עיניהם בהלל הזקן וכשמת אמרו עליו הא עניו הא חסיד תלמידו של עזרא
Halacha 4:
Another time they were sitting in Yavneh and heard a bat kol saying, “There is a man here who is fit for the holy spirit, but his generation is not worthy.” They looked at Shmuel the Little. At the time of his death what did they say? He was humble, he was kind, he was a student of Hillel the Elder. He too said at the time of his death, “Shimon and Yishmael will be killed, and the rest of their compatriots to the sword, and the rest of the nation to plunder and disaster.” He said this in Aramaic. They said even about Rebbi Yehuda son of Bava. They established it should be said about him, “He was humble, he was kind, he was a student of Shmuel the Little, but the moment was torn away.”
הלכה ד
שוב פעם אחת היו יושבין ביבנה ושמעו בת קול אומרת יש כאן אדם שראוי לרוח הקודש אלא שאין הדור זכיי ונתנו עיניהם בשמואל הקטן בשעת מיתתו מה היו או' הא עניו הא חסיד תלמידו של הלל הזקן אף הוא אומ' בשעת מיתתו שמעון וישמעאל לקטלא ושאר חברוהי לחרבא ושאר עמא לביזה ועקן רברבן יהויין לאחר דנא בלשון ארמי אמרן אף על ר' יהודה בן בבא התקינו שיהו אומ' עליו הא עניו הא חסיד תלמידו של שמואל הקטן אלא שנטרפה שעה

The story below is about Rabban Gamliel attempting to determine astronomical calculations for declaring a leap year. We see that Rabban Gamliel declares Shmuel the Little worthy of being among Eldad and Meidad based on his taking responsibility for someone else’s error. In the story below, someone violates Rabban Gamliel’s order by being the extra man on the roof. It seems clear that the violator is not Shmuel the Little, but he takes the responsibility. His name itself makes us feel the sense of his humility as listed in the previous text.

Notice that even though someone worthy of prophecy is with them, the group debates Torah and takes its time to determine the leap year. It does not turn to Shmuel the Little to make the determination.
תלמוד ירושלמי (וילנא) מסכת סנהדרין פרק א, הלכה ב
Palestinian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, Chapter 1, Halakhah 2
An occurrence with Rabban Gamliel:
מעשה בר"ג
That he said, “Call for me seven elders to the attic,” but eight entered.
שאמר יקרוני שבעה זקינים לעלייה ונכנסו שמנה
He said, “Who is the one who entered without permission?”
אמר מי הוא שנכנס שלא ברשות
Shmuel the Little got to his feet and said, “I ascended without permission. There was a law I needed [to understand] and I entered to ask about it.”
עמד שמואל הקטן על רגליו ואמר אני עליתי שלא ברשות הלכה נצרכה לי ונכנסתי לשאול עליה.
Rabban Gamliel said to him, “Just as Eldad and Meidad that all of Israel knows that they were two, I say you could have been one of them.”
אמר לו רבן גמליאל ומה אלדד ומידד שכל ישראל יודעים שאילו הן שנים אמרתי שאתה אחד מהן.
Even so, they did not determine a leap year on that day, but they debated matters of Torah and determined the leap year on the next day.
ואפילו כן לא עיברוה בההוא יומא ואפלגינה במילי דאורייא ועברוה ביומא דבתרה.

The Talmud tells us that Eldad and Meidad earned their great prophetic power based on their humility just like later worthy authorities like Shmuel the Little and Hillel the Elder.

Also interesting is the opinion (there are two others I did not include) that their prophecy was about the removal of power from Moshe - the greatest prophet. This has some parallel to passing on the authority of Torah from the prophets to the court system.
תלמוד בבלי מסכת סנהדרין דף יז עמוד א
Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, 17a
Rebbi Shimon says, “They remained in the camp. At the time that the Holy One, blessed be He said to Moshe, ‘Collect for me seventy men.’ Eldad and Meidad said, ‘We are not fit for this greatness.’ Said the Holy One, blessed be He, ‘Since you debased yourselves I will increase greatness on your greatness.’ And what greatness did he add to them? That all the prophets prophesied and ceased, but they prophesied and did not cease.
רבי שמעון אומר: במחנה נשתיירו. בשעה שאמר לו הקדוש ברוך הוא למשה: אספה לי שבעים איש אמרו אלדד ומידד: אין אנו ראויין לאותה גדולה, אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא: הואיל ומיעטתם עצמכם - הריני מוסיף גדולה על גדולתכם. ומה גדולה הוסיף להם - שהנביאים כולן נתנבאו ופסקו, והם נתנבאו ולא פסקו.
And what prophecy did they prophesize? They said, “Moshe dies and Yehoshua brings Israel to the land.”
ומה נבואה נתנבאו? אמרו: משה מת, יהושע מכניס את ישראל לארץ.

The Talmud tells us the traits required to have God’s presence, the Shekhinah, reside upon someone. This seems to mean the traits to be a prophet.
תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף צב עמוד א
Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat, 92a
That the Master said, “The Shekhinah only resides on one who is wise, strong, rich, and of great stature.”
דאמר מר: אין השכינה שורה אלא על חכם גבור ועשיר ובעל קומה.

The Talmud also gives us requirements to be a member of the Sanhedrin. These are similar to those of a prophet, but they do not need to be rich and they seem to have higher requirements of knowledge. Also, they must be so good at Torah dialectics that they can prove the seemingly impossible - that the most impure of creatures, a sheretz, is actually pure. This has a prophetic feel, but it is done through intellectual discourse and not through vision.
תלמוד בבלי מסכת סנהדרין דף יז עמוד א
Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, 17a
Said Rebbi Yochanan, “We only appoint to the Sanhedrin people of stature, people of wisdom, good looking people, older people, knowledgeable of magic, and knowledgeable of the seventy languages so that the Sanhedrin will not have to hear from the mouth of a translatory.”
אמר רבי יוחנן: אין מושיבין בסנהדרי אלא בעלי קומה, ובעלי חכמה, ובעלי מראה, ובעלי זקנה, ובעלי כשפים, ויודעים בשבעים לשון, שלא תהא סנהדרי שומעת מפי המתורגמן.
Said Rav Yehudah said Rav, “We only appoint to the Sanhedrin one who knows how to the declare that a creepy-crawler is pure according to the Torah.”
אמר רב יהודה אמר רב: אין מושיבין בסנהדרין אלא מי שיודע לטהר את השרץ מן התורה.

In Bava Batra, the Talmud tells us directly that once the Temple was destroyed, prophecy was removed from the prophets and given to the Sages (literally the wise). I assume this means that Torah is now taught through wisdom and not through vision.

Further, we are taught that Torah through wisdom is preferable. It might be that after the destruction of the Temple when the miraculous is not as influential on people as intellectualism, that wise Torah is preferable to visionary Torah.
תלמוד בבלי מסכת בבא בתרא דף יב עמוד א
Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Bava Batra, 12a
Said Rav Avdimi of Haifa, “From the day the Temple was destroyed, prophecy was taken from the prophets and given to the wise.”
אמר רבי אבדימי דמן חיפה: מיום שחרב בית המקדש, ניטלה נבואה מן הנביאים וניתנה לחכמים.
Can a wise person therefore not be a prophet? This is what he said: even though it was taken from the prophets, it was not taken from the wise.
אטו חכם לאו נביא הוא? הכי קאמר: אע"פ שניטלה מן הנביאים, מן החכמים לא ניטלה.
Said Ameimar, “And a wise person is better than a prophet, as it says, ‘And a prophet [more lit. let us bring] is the heart of wisdom,’ (Psalms 90:12). Which is compared with which? They would say, ‘The lesser is compared with the greater.’”
אמר אמימר: וחכם עדיף מנביא, שנאמר: ונביא לבב חכמה (תהילים צ:יב), מי נתלה במי? הוי אומר: קטן נתלה בגדול.

Even though prophecy seems to end with the (first) Temple, it may have already been on its way out after the giving of the Torah. We see that after the giving of the Torah that novel statements are outside of the hands of prophets. We see the Rabbis understanding that knowledge lost from the time of Moshe was actually regained via dialectics of Otniel son of K’naz. This knowledge involved literary derivational devices of Torah. Prophecy does not restore them, rather thought.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף קד עמוד א
Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat 104a
“These are the commandments.” That a prophet is no longer permitted to create new ideas from now.
אלה המצות - שאין הנביא רשאי לחדש דבר מעתה!

תלמוד בבלי מסכת תמורה דף טז עמוד א
Babylonian Talmud, Tractate T’murah, 16a
One thousand seven hundred a minori arguments, and g’zeirot shavot, and numerical mnemonics of the scribes were forgotten in the days of the mourning for Moshe.
אלף ושבע מאות קלין וחמורין, וגזירות שוות, ודקדוקי סופרים נשתכחו בימי אבלו של משה.
Said Rebbi Abahu, “Even so, Otniel son of K’naz returned them through his dialectics, as it says, ‘Then Otniel son of K’naz, brother of Caleb, grasped it,” (Joshua 15:17).
אמר רבי אבהו: אעפ"כ החזירן עתניאל בן קנז מתוך פלפולו, שנאמר - וילכדה עתניאל בן קנז אחי כלב (יהושע טו:יז)

Rav Moshe, in answering a questions about not adding to the Torah (בל תוסיף), that one can innovate through dialectics but not through prophecy. This really nails the coffin shut on the transmission of Torah through prophecy. For if a prophet cannot innovate, they cannot adapt Torah to the needs of the generation. Rather, this burden is given to those engaged in dialectics.

שו"ת אגרות משה אורח חיים חלק א סימן יד
Responsa of Iggrot Moshe, Orech Chayyim, Part 1, Section 14
Moshe Feinstein, 20th Century New York
About the reason for “do not add”: but its meaning is that we are not obligated to listen to the words of a prophet on that which he innovates about the words of Torah via prophecy, but rather through dialectics like every wise man that the Torah testified about this and wrote, “These are the commandments.” For after Moshe, the words of Torah were no longer given to prophets…
מטעם בל תוסיף אלא פירושו שאין מחוייבין לשמוע לדברי הנביא במה שיחדש בדברי התורה ע"פ נבואה אלא בפלפולא ככל חכם שהתורה העידה בזה שכתבה אלה המצות שאחרי משה לא ימסרו עוד דברי תורה לנביאים  
And only when they know it from dialectics, in the paradigm of Otniel son of K’naz, will they be obligated to uphold it. But if they say it via prophecy it is false and one should not listen to them.
ורק כשידעו מפלפולא כגון עתניאל בן קנז יהיו מחוייבין לקיים אבל אם יאמרו מנבואה הוא שקר ואין לשמוע להם.

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