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Thursday, 7 January 2016

Are you a prophet?

Daf Yomi Gittin 25

Yosef’s brothers were away shepherding the flocks, when one day their father, Yaakov, asks Yosef to pay them a visit.   He dutifully sets out to find them, but as he approaches, they decide to put an end to their father’s favourite child. 
“Behold the dreamer comes.  Let us kill him and then we shall see what shall become of his dreams!”

Reuven is torn.  On the one hand, he doesn’t want to rock the boat.  It’s much easier to go with the flow and run with the crowd.  Does he really think he can stand up to all his brothers?  On the other hand, there’s a little voice inside that’s telling him this is a terrible idea.  And that even if he is quiet, he will be responsible.

He finally musters up the courage.  ‘We can’t murder our own flesh and blood!  How about we throw him into this deep pit, containing snakes and scorpions?  We’ll let G-d deal with him!’  The brothers reluctantly agree but they continue their death chants.   Reuven still doesn’t want to be the odd man out, but again his inner voice tells him that he must leave the company of his brothers.  He figures he’ll return once they’ve calmed down and then he’ll release Yosef from the captivity of the pit.

But alas, when he returns, Yosef is nowhere to be found.  As we all know, the brothers had sold him as a slave while Reuven was absent.  The rest, as they say, is history. . .

Rav Hoshaya asked Rav Yehuda: If a man instructed a scribe, ‘Write a bill of divorce for whichever of my wives leaves the house first,’ is it a valid gett?
He replied: You have learned this case in our Mishnah, which stated: If a man instructed a scribe, ‘Write a bill of divorce that says I can divorce whichever wife I choose,’ it is an invalid gett.
Abaye questions: Rav Hoshaya asked about a situation where he is dependent upon the will of others (i.e. which wife decides to leave the house first).  And Rav Yehuda responded with a situation where he depends upon his own will (i.e. which wife he chooses to divorce).  How are these cases analogous?

In order to take a person who does something wrong to trial at a beth din (court of law), we normally require two conditions: testimony and notice.  The fact that people witnessed his misdemeanor is not sufficient; they need to have given him prior warning of the crime he was about to commit, as well.  

Incidentally, that’s why many Jews are against contemporary capital punishment.  Due to the lengths to which we must go to find someone guilty, execution was an extremely rare phenomenon in Jewish history.  In fact, our Sages tell us that a beth din that executed two people within a seventy-year time span was considered cruel! 

Nowadays, of course, Jewish courts of law, for the most part, are not dealing with criminal matters.  Their jurisdiction is generally limited to Jewish status issues (such as divorce and conversion) and civil law disputes (when both parties agree to the beth din’s arbitration).   Nonetheless, the Torah’s principle of offering a warning before committing a wrongdoing is still very much alive.  Only now, the warning comes from the Almighty Himself!

How so?  You know that little voice inside your head that speaks to you whenever you’re about to head down the wrong path?  In Pirkei Avos, we learn, “Every single day a Heavenly echo emanates from Mt. Horeb (Sinai) and declares: Woe to the creatures for their affront of the Torah!”  That little voice you hear inside is the Heavenly echo.  That was the voice that Reuven heard.  And that voice keeps each and every one of us in line, serving as today’s warning against transgression. 

‘What do you mean you didn’t know you were heading down the wrong path?’ the angel in the Heavenly beth din will ask us, after 120. ‘You heard the warning, right?!’  And of course, he’s right.  We’ve all heard it – you’re about to look at something you shouldn’t be looking at, eat something you shouldn’t be eating, or say something you shouldn’t be saying, and the echo tells you to stop right there.  Do you pay attention or do you ignore the warning?

The problem is that you’re often faced with competing voices.  There’s the voice inside that’s telling you ‘Don’t go there!’ and then there are the voices all around that are tripping you up in your service of Hashem.  Reuven heard the inner voice, but he also heard his brothers’ voices.  And so, when that happens, our Gemara asks, ‘Are you dependent upon the will of others or do you trust your own inner voice?

Let’s say your friends are going to eat out somewhere not quite so kosher.  Or maybe they’re sitting around talking lashon hara (gossip).  Or perhaps they’ve invited you to come watch a movie that’s not so kosher.  The little voice inside is telling you it’s not a good idea to hang around.  But, honestly, you don’t want to look like a farchnyokter (overly religious) party-pooper, do you? 
‘Since when did you become so frummie?’ they’ll probably be thinking, you tell yourself.  At that point, you need to choose whether you are dependent upon the will of others, or you are able to make your own independent decisions

If you are hearing the voice, Hashem is talking to you.  And when Hashem talks, you listen!  Don’t be a slave to the voices around; you need to do what you know is right!  Even when nobody else seems to be hearing the voice.  If you can hear it, it means you have merited a level of prophecy that your friends are not worthy of receiving.  If you ignore the prophetic message, after a while, G-d will stop speaking to you.  Is that what you want?

You are a prophet.  If Hashem is calling you, heed the call.  The truth is, Hashem is calling every individual, but sadly most people don’t hear the echo.  May you forever heed the call and never feel enslaved to any other voice!

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