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Parashat Re’eh 5778 — 08/11/2018

Parashat Re’eh 5778 — 08/11/2018

Devarim 11:26-16:17

If there should arise in your midst a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder comes about, [and he] says, “Let us follow the other gods that you have not known and let us worship them!” – do not hearken to the words of that prophet or to that dreamer of dreams, for Hashem, your Gd, is testing you to know whether you love Hashem, your Gd, with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall follow Hashem, your Gd, and fear Him; you shall observe His commandments and heed His voice. You shall serve Him and to Him shall you cleave. And that prophet or dreamer of dreams shall be put to death… (13:2-6).

First of all, let me clarify that “having a dream” to make some positive change in the world, or in ourselves, is not what is meant here – Torah is discussing a lower level of prophecy where the message is less clear than a message a true prophet might receive in waking state of consciousness. The Talmud tells us that “dreams are 1/60th part of prophecy” (Berachot 57b), but the other 59/60 is just random thoughts and images. Our dreamer of dreams is getting real messages from some deep level of his consciousness; the question is, are they true messages or are they corrupt? And how can we, the hearer, tell the two apart?

First, let us consider what prophecy actually is. Abarbanel gives the usual definition as Gd speaking to the prophet (this is as opposed to the person’s having a vision in a dream, which is a lower form of communication from Gd). But if Gd were speaking to the prophet, how can there be a prophet of falsehood? Even Bil’am, whom the Sages identify as a prophet at Moshe Rabbeinu’s level, at least potentially, could not speak falsely and curse Israel when Gd gave him a blessing to say instead!
So there are several possibilities for the false prophet. First, he could be faking it altogether, and making the whole prophecy up from the whole cloth. This is not as easy as it looks. Have you ever tried to write a denunciation like Isaiah? I have, and the results were laughable. I’m no poet, but Isaiah was coming from a totally different place. Perhaps in an age when prophecy was more common and there were more examples around it was easier, but I would guess that in such a time people would be a lot more able to spot a phony as well.

Second, as the verse indicates, Gd could really appear to someone and give him a false message, in order to test the people. This would imply a degree of maliciousness on Gd’s part that is very hard for me to fathom. Idolatry is punishable by death, and so is being a false prophet. Especially for the poor guy who is given this “prophecy,” if it truly came from Gd, how is he supposed to overcome the overpowering urge to prophecy?! “The Lord Gd has spoken – who can but prophecy!” (Amos 3:8). The problem is compounded when we consider that our misled prophet predicts the future and his predictions come true! According to Abarbanel these signs and wonders are not miracles where the laws of nature are suspended, but simply predictions of future, natural, events. Why would Gd create a test that many are not prepared to pass? And if one says that it’s easy to spot such a false prophet, because he’s telling us to worship such-and-such an idol, then what kind of test is it? It must be that the false prophet’s message is only subtly off the mark, and therefore poses a real test, but then we’re back to the original question, whether Gd is acting maliciously to entrap people.

I think a more fruitful approach is to assume that the prophet is sincere, but deluded. But how can a prophet be deluded? Let us review some previous discussions about the nature of prophecy. The heart of prophecy is that it is the experience of the transcendental basis of all creation. This is an experience that is obviously beyond words, since words are part of creation. In order to communicate this experience, it must normally be translated into images, which can then be described. In the case of Moshe Rabbeinu’s prophecy, we saw a few weeks ago that he was able to hear “Gd speaking to Himself.” In other words, Moshe was able to cognize the fundamental impulses of the transcendent directly as Hebrew expressions, and write them down as Torah.

Your average prophet, even the great literary prophets, were not on Moshe’s level. Their perception was not as clear as his, and the physiological correlate of this somewhat clouded perception must be some kind of blockages in the nervous system, which is the mechanism of perception. These blockages can distort the perception or its translation into images and speech, or both. So, for example, someone might have some partial clarity of vision, but get significant parts of the vision quite wrong. So for example, a prophet might see that King Achav (Ahab – one of the most wicked Kings of the Northern Kingdom) would be successful in battle, but miss the point completely that his success is in spite of his worship of Baal, and not because of it. In fact, in the very next chapter it states that after Achav had arranged for the death of Naboth (I Kings 21) and stolen his vineyard, Gd wishes to punish Achav by having him die in battle. The spirit of Naboth volunteers to go down and confound the words of Ahab’s prophets, so that he will be lulled into a false sense of security about an upcoming battle. I think we can read this as follows: Achav’s murder sent out a particularly pernicious spiritual influence that affected his entire court, even his entire country, and blocked the prophets’ ability to see reality clearly.

The Talmud (Chagigah 11b ff) puts very strict limits on who may study and who may teach the more esoteric parts of our tradition. It was greatly feared that those whose perception was partially opened could cause great damage to themselves and others. This understanding of a possible mechanism of false prophecy shows us the wisdom of the Rabbis’ approach. It is much better for one to experience the transcendent in a simple way, as we discussed only last week, and thereby purify himself, than to go delving into matters that are beyond his current ability to grasp. As a wise teacher once said, “First deserve, then desire.”


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parsashat Re’eh

“Re’eh” means “See!” or “Behold!”.

This is not ordinary seeing. This means “see deeply”, see into the level of life in which God’s commandments exist as One with Gd, not just the level at which we might hear them spoken or read them in a text.

This “See!” resonates with the last part of the parshah, in which Moses says that three times a year (at Passover, Shavout, and Succoth, our ancestors should appear before the Lord – be seen by the Lord – in the place which he has chosen – appear in the Temple, so we may bring offerings and be seen there.

And what is to be seen? The blessing if we hearken to the commandments of the Lrd and the curse if we disobey them. When we hearken, we see deeply, we are naturally in tune with Gd, Gd’s Torah, Gd’s commandments and we naturally act in the Glow, Joy and Love of the Blessing.

Imagine Moses speaking with the Voice of Gd to our ancestors: how much the Blessing must have filled them and how unappetizing must have been the curse.

This was a good preparation for Moses to give our ancestors as they were about to enter into Canaan, the Promised Land. It is a good level of Being that we should innocently seek to experience before beginning our day, any day, every day.

Temple where Gd chooses to put his Name [big mystery]

Maimonides writes: “The location of the Altar [in the Holy Temple] is very exactly defined… It is a commonly held tradition that the place where David and Solomon built the Altar on the threshing floor of Arona, is the very place where Abraham built an altar and bound Isaac upon it; this is where Noah built [an altar] when he came out from the Ark; this is where Cain and Abel brought their offerings; this is where Adam the First Man offered a korban when he was created – and it is from [the earth of] this place that he was created….” from

But why Adam was created from earth on this spot?

There is a tradition that Torah is Gd’s name, the primordial vibration of Gd, Omnipresent, All-Pervading.: All places are Holy.
Why did Gd choose to especially emphasize the power of His Name in a particular place, and why Jerusalem? I’ve looked for answers on the Internet and could not find any.

Perhaps it is a “chok”, a decree of Gd’s that passes understanding. But even so, we can have the fun of attempting to understand and getting closer to Gd through our attempt.

There is Gd’s statement, “Man is made in Gd’s Image” and from this standpoint perhaps our planet is also made in Gd’s image, whatever that may mean, and Jerusalem might correspond to the heart or the brain or the navel of the physiology of our planet.

Perhaps “His Name” means the Name by which we may call on Him to thank Him, to pray to Him, to ask for forgiveness from Him.

Just as the Mishkan, the Ark in the Wilderness, and the Temples were places where it was easier for people to perceive His Presence, even though His Presence is everywhere, so also the physical location of the Temple was a place where people could most easily call on Him, not only perceive Him, but communicate with Him: to speak and also to listen!

Not only to speak but to hear and to listen!

As always, I invite all readers to share with me any thoughts or facts they have.

But also, just as “Man (humanity) is made in Gd’s image”, so also we are made in Jerusalem’s image and we can find Jerusalem within ourself: our mind, our feelings, our physiology, our soul. And thus we can perceive Gd’s Name, Presence, Totality and restore the reality that all there is, is Primordial Oneness, within which the duality of Gd and us is experienced as the Play of One. This is healing! Holiness! Fulfillment!

Re’eh also warns to beware of false prophets or any others who entice idolatry—this would certainly bring the curse!

On the blessing side, Tithing, Charity, the Sabbatical Year in which all loans are forgiven, all slaves freed, indicate that even on the ordinary level of life, no matter what place on Earth we are, by being good human beings, we can attune ourselves to Gd and inherit the Blessing.

Similarly, Mose told our ancestors, at the time of the Three Pilgrimage Festivals: Passover, Shavuout, Sukkoth: Go to Temple to appear with offerings before the Lrd.

This would certainly be good but we can also find Jerusalem in our heart and make special offerings with our open heart at these special times of year.

Re’eh begins with See! and concludes with: Appear so that you may be seen.

In every generation, especially ours today, we need to live our lives so that every moment we Behold! and every moment we Appear! with offerings, offerings to give back the blessings we receive and restore ourselves to Full Awareness: One and Only One!

Baruch HaShem!