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Monday, 6 February 2017

Are you foolish enough to become a prophet?

Daf Yomi Bava Basra 12


After many barren years, Chana finally gives birth to Shmuel.  In gratitude to Heaven for her miracle, she decides to dedicate her child to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.  And so, as soon as he is weaned, she brings him to live with Eli the Kohen Gadol (High Priest).

One evening, the young lad is lying in bed when all of a sudden he hears, “Shmuel, Shmuel.” 
He jumps out of bed and runs to Eli’s chamber.  “Yes, master?
Eli wakes up startled.  “I didn’t call you!” he responds, “Go back to bed.”

A few minutes later, the same thing happens.  “Shmuel, Shmuel,” the voice emanates.  Once again, the lad runs into his teacher’s chamber, only to be told he was never called.  When it happens yet a third time, Eli understands what is going on.  “When you hear the voice,” he tells Shmuel, “Respond: Speak Hashem, for Your servant is listening.”

Rabbi Yochanan taught: From the day the Temple was destroyed, prophecy was taken away from prophets and given to fools and children.  How given to fools? The case of Mar bar Rav Ashi will illustrate.
He was one day standing in the Mahuza market when he heard a delusional person exclaim, “The man who is to be elected head of the Academy in Matha Mehasia signs his name Tabiumi.”
He said to himself, “Who among the Rabbis signs his name Tabiumi? I do. This seems to show that my lucky time has come.” So he quickly went to Matha Mehasia. When he arrived, he found that the Rabbis had voted to appoint Rabbi Aha of Difti as their head.

When they heard of his arrival, they sent a couple of Rabbis to him to consult him. He detained them with him, and they sent another couple of Rabbis. He detained these also.  And so it went on, until the number reached ten. When ten were assembled, he began to discourse and expound the Oral Law and the Scriptures, because a public discourse should not be commenced if the audience is less than ten. Rabbi Aha applied to himself the saying: If a man is in disfavour with Heaven he does not readily come into favour, and if a man is in favour he does not readily fall into disfavour.

How has prophecy been given to children? A case in point is that of the daughter of Rav Chisda. She was sitting on her father's lap, and in front of him were sitting Rava and Rami bar Hama.
He said to her, “Which of them would you like?”
She replied, “Both.”
Whereupon Rava said, “And let me be the second.”

What does Rabbi Yochanan mean when he says that the gift of prophecy was given over to fools and children?  Do you know any kids who are prophets?  Maybe only fools are making stock market predictions?

Here’s the meaning of prophecy today.  The Mishnah states, “Each day a Heavenly voice emanates from Mt. Chorev and says: Woe unto the people for their insult of Torah.”  Now you might be reading this and thinking, “Funny, I don’t remember hearing any Heavenly voices lately!”  But the truth is, you have heard them.  The key question is: Have you been listening?

Just think of the last time you were in the supermarket and needed garlic salt.  You find fresh garlic and table salt.  Just as you’re nearing the check-out, you notice they actually have what you came for: ‘garlic salt.’  Now what do you do?  Honestly, you’re in a rush to get home.  So maybe you could just leave the fresh garlic and the table salt on the shelf right here?  Maybe you could hide it behind the garlic salt, so that nobody notices?

And then a little voice tells you, “Not so fast!  The right thing to do is to put those other products back where they belong.”  And you think, “Seriously?  Come on now, they’ll figure it out.  That’s what they get paid to do!”  And you’re back and forth inside your head and heart until you finally make the ethical decision to return the items back to their proper shelves.

That’s the prophecy we experience today.  Who told you to put back the items?  It was Hashem.  It was the Heavenly voice from Mt. Chorev.  When Rabbi Yochanan talks about the gift of prophecy being in the hands of children, he is referring to the voice of Hashem that each and every one of us hears. 

Now, obviously the supermarket story is pretty insignificant next to the big, important issues your Chorev voice deals with.  Like when your alarm goes off in the morning and the voice says, ‘It’s time to get up for minyan!’  Or when the voice tells you that Monday night shiur is probably a better use of your time than Monday night football.  Or when you’re doing business and an ethical question arises.  You know nobody will catch your shortcut, but the voice says, ‘Do the right thing!’ 

Sometimes we listen, sometimes we don’t.  But oftentimes, we will even work to drive the Heavenly voice out of our heads!  That’s what happened with Eli.  Shmuel keeps running into his bedroom, but only by the third time, does he begin to remember what it was like to hear the Heavenly voice.  When we fail to respond, we slowly drown it out with all the other voices in our heads.  But when we tune in to the message, it slowly but surely gets louder and clearer.

Aside from Moshe, prophecy was unclear even to the greatest of our prophets.  It takes listening, but it also takes decoding.  And that’s what Rabbi Yochanan means by the gift of prophecy being in the hands of fools and children.  Even when we do listen to the message, many people will process it haphazardly and hear what they want to hear.  Nobody ever said it would be easy to decipher the Chorev voice and so the two examples of the Gemara cleverly switch the notions of fools and children.

On the one hand, when Mar bar Rav Ashi heard the voice, it was the ‘voice of the child’ that he was hearing.  The innocent little voice told him he was destined for greatness.  The Almighty put into his heart the knowledge that he would lead Klal Yisrael and he heeded the word of Hashem.  He could have dismissed it as foolhardy blabber, but he didn’t.  Instead, he transformed it into the childlike innocence that inspires us to become the best thing Hakadosh Boruch Hu (G-d) created us to be.

On the other hand, when Rav Chisda was chatting with his little daughter sitting on his lap, he jokingly asked her which rabbi she would like to marry when she grew up.  And she replied ‘Both!’  Sometimes Chorev presents us with nonsensical prophecies that require decoding.  Unfortunately her prophecy was not sufficiently processed and analyzed, and later resulted in tragic consequences.  Maharsha explains that, yes, she married both – because after she married the first, he died, so that she could marry the second.  The Chorev prophecy often arrives in a raw, unprocessed state – Hashem expects us to refine it and utilize our sechel (mind) to correctly interpret the meaning of the voice.


You are a prophet of the Divine word.  The more you tune in to your inner voice and appropriately decipher the message, the more Hashem will reveal His will to you.  May you heed the voice of Chorev and take Hashem’s hand as He guides you on the path of life!