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Thought for the Day: Prophets and Prophecy -- What They Are, What They Aren't

I once visited the Grand Canyon; which I found to be a truly awe inspiring experience.  An experience so overwhelming, in fact, that I found even saying the bracha of "עושה מעשה בראשית" (Who does the work of creation) was too much for me while looking directly at this wonder of nature.   I tried saying the brach -- with the siddur open in front of me -- and could only barely stammer out some words.  I found that I had to look directly at each word and concentrate fully on just saying it correctly; that got me through.  Apparently I wasn't the only one who found the experience so awe inspiring, a young man dressed and looking like any other tourist (as opposed to me, in my standard white shirt and black pants) walked over to me to ask what was the appropriate bracha!

When first looking at the canyon, I couldn't really wrap my mind around the fact that it was real.  I had seen canyons before, of course, but this didn't fit even my wildest extrapolation from earlier experiences.  The most accurate description I have been able to muster is: that Grand Canyon is an upside down mountain range.  I don't know if that works for everyone, but it does as good a job as possible for me of capturing the experience.

I mention all this (besides to encourage you to see the Grand Canyon before you leave this world) to give some idea of what the prophetic experience is.  First, it is important to realize that (as Chazal tell us) there were 1,200,000 prophets (600,000 men and 600,000 women).  There were schools of prophecy; basically post-graduate work after yeshiva.  A prophet is not someone who has been designated to deliver a message from HaShem to the world  A prophet is, rather, someone who has refined himself to the point that he is able to see into (some of) the spiritual reality that this physical world masks.  The experience is overwhelming, and while the prophet is experiencing that experience, he is unable to move or even stand.  Since the experience is beyond anything physical, he can only relate what he saw by analogy.  He knows, of course, precisely what he is trying to describe, but picture is fully meaningful only to him.  That is why a prophet might see something as mundane as a boiling cauldron that means "war is brewing", but he might also see a winged lion referring to the rise of the Persian empire.

So why are prophets associated with messages from HaShem?  Simply because only one who has reached the level of prophecy can receive a communication from HaShem.  It is not the fact that HaShem give him a message that makes him a prophet, it is rather the fact that he is a prophet that HaShem gave him a message to deliver.  Why do we believe a prophet?  Because he has the credentials that the Torah lists as requirements,  Why should I believe the Torah?  Wasn't that also delivered to us by a prophet; ie, Moshe Rabeinu?  In fact, and this is an emphatic in fact, the only reason we believe the Torah is because the entire nation was raised to the level of prophets and received the Torah straight from HaShem with no intermediary.

This is of critical importance and separates us from the religions of the world.  We believe the Torah because it was given to us -- each and every one of us -- directly by the Creator.

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