Imagine the following scenario:
You are sitting in your living room watching the evening news, when suddenly a weird looking fellow appears on the screen. He is wearing a turban, has a spider tattooed on his forehead, and has rings coming out of his nose. He starts speaking and says, “I am the prophet Jeepers and I have come to save the world with my new religion. My religion will bring you happiness and pleasure in this world and in the next. First, I will prove to you that I am the messenger of the true G-d and that I am a true prophet. The coffee table that is in your living room is now going to do a summersault.” Before you can even say, “Yeah, right!” the coffee table lifts itself up, does a complete flip in the air, and gently sets itself down on the floor. You are amazed, but still very skeptical. “This has to be a trick,” you think to yourself. He then says, “That didn’t convince you, did it? Well how about this. I am going to read your mind. Think of a number, any number, and I will tell you what that number is. You figure, “What the heck, I’ll think of a crazy number. He’ll never get it.” So, you conjure up the most obscure number you can think of, say, 323986. “Three hundred twenty-three thousand nine hundred and eighty-six,” you hear coming from the TV set. Now you are really in trouble! This guy looks legitimate! You stand up to turn the TV set off, and he barks at you, “Don’t turn it off! I haven’t told you what to do yet!”
You get the picture. You are convinced that he is legit and that he clearly has supernatural powers. He can read your mind and can perform amazing miracles. Why wouldn’t you follow his new “religion?”
In this week’s portion, Re’eh, (Deuteronomy 13:2-6) the Torah says,
(ב) כִּי יָקוּם בְּקִרְבְּךָ נָבִיא אוֹ חֹלֵם חֲלוֹם וְנָתַן אֵלֶיךָ אוֹת אוֹ מוֹפֵת:
(ג) וּבָא הָאוֹת וְהַמּוֹפֵת אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר אֵלֶיךָ לֵאמֹר נֵלְכָה אַחֲרֵי אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים אֲשֶׁר לֹא יְדַעְתָּם וְנָעָבְדֵם:
(ד) לֹא תִשְׁמַע אֶל דִּבְרֵי הַנָּבִיא הַהוּא אוֹ אֶל חוֹלֵם הַחֲלוֹם הַהוּא כִּי מְנַסֶּה יְדֹוָד אֱלֹהֵיכֶם אֶתְכֶם לָדַעַת הֲיִשְׁכֶם אֹהֲבִים אֶת יְדֹוָד אֱלֹהֵיכֶם בְּכָל לְבַבְכֶם וּבְכָל נַפְשְׁכֶם:
(ו) וְהַנָּבִיא הַהוּא אוֹ חֹלֵם הַחֲלוֹם הַהוּא יוּמָת כִּי דִבֶּר סָרָה עַל יְדֹוָד אֱלֹהֵיכֶם:
(2) Should there arise in your midst a prophet or a dreamer of a dream, and he will produce to you a sign or a wonder. (3) And the sign or the wonder comes about, of which he spoke to you, saying, “Let us follow gods of others that you did not know and we shall worship them!” (4) Do not hearken to the words of that prophet or to that dreamer of a dream, for Hashem, your God, is testing you to know whether you love Hashem your God with all your heart and with all your soul. (6) And that prophet and that dreamer of a dream shall be put to death, for he had spoken perversion against Hashem your God…
Even though the prophet can produce a miracle, we are forbidden to follow him. But, how is he able to produce a miracle? Doesn’t that mean he is real? Hashem tells us, “I have given him the power to do a miracle to test you; to see if you will remain loyal to Me, or if you will be fickle and follow the new religion being offered to you.”
Why would anyone follow such advice and jump ship to join a new religion?
The Torah presents us with a very interesting phenomenon: Whenever referring to other religions, the Torah is always careful to add, “that you do not know,” as in verse 3 above. What is the relevance of those words to foreign gods? Our Sages teach us that this is the secret to the new religion’s allure. The only thing that it has over your current religion is that It is new. You don’t know this one, and something new and current always looks better than the something old and used. Perhaps it holds more promise than the one you have been keeping until now. Additionally, if one is just a little bit unhappy with his current situation, or even a little bored with it, he is the perfect candidate for a new religion.
” Do not hearken to the words of that prophet or to that dreamer of a dream,” Hashem tells us. You have nothing to gain from any of these new religions. They are all false, and they will only take you away from the truth. Not only that, you must kill the false prophet, for he has attempted to take you away from Hashem your G-d. This is worse than murder, for he has attempted to kill you spiritually.
In these few verses, the Torah has pulled the rug out from under the two major religions of our day. They claim to have a messiah or prophet that G-d sent to start their new religion, making them G-d’s chosen people instead of the Jewish nation. Small problem, Hashem told us not to listen to a prophet who attempts to change even one law of the Torah, never mind the whole religion. It is impossible that this person is Hashem’s true messenger. He may even be able to do some very impressive miracles, like walk on water, or turn water into wine, but miracles don’t impress us. Hashem may give a complete imposter the ability to do miracles, just to test us.
Maimonides writes (Chapter 8, Foundations of the Torah, Law #1):
רמב”ם יד החזקה הלכות יסודי התורה פרק ח
(א) משה רבינו לא האמינו בו ישראל מפני האותות שעשה שהמאמין על פי האותות יש בלבו דופי שאפשר שיעשה האות בלט וכשוף, אלא כל האותות שעשה משה במדבר לפי הצורך עשאם לא להביא ראיה על הנבואה
(1) The Jewish people did not believe in Moshe because of the miracles that he performed for them. Because one who believes because of a miracle, always has doubts in his heart. Maybe he was able to do the miracles through necromancy or magic. Moshe did the miracles out of necessity, not to prove the voracity of his prophecy.
What then proved that Moshe was Hashem’s true prophet? Maimonides continues:
ובמה האמינו בו במעמד הר סיני שעינינו ראו ולא זר ואזנינו שמעו ולא אחר האש והקולות והלפידים ומשה נגש אל הערפל והקול מדבר אליו ואנו שומעים משה משה לך אמור להם שובו לכם לאהליכם ואתה פה עמוד עמדי ואדברה אליך את כל המצוה והחקים והמשפטים אשר תלמדם וגו’
What did make them believe in him (Moshe)? Mount Sinai, where their own eyes saw and their own ears heard the fire, the voices, and the torches, and he went into the black cloud while the voice of Hashem was talking to him. And we, the people, heard Hashem tell Moshe: Moshe, Moshe, go tell the Jewish people “return to your tents, but you, Moshe, stay here with me and I will tell you the commandments, the edicts and the laws that you should teach them.”
Since we heard Hashem tell Moshe that he was to be the one to give the Torah to the Jewish people, we have no doubt about him as the agent to give us the Torah. However, identifying Moshe as Hashem’s only true prophet, authorized to give the Torah to the Jewish people, is just the first step in knowing that the Torah we have is exactly as it came from Hashem. Maybe, subsequent prophets added or subtracted mitzvot?
In the Mormon religion, anyone can claim to be a prophet and receive a prophecy from G-d. Because they believe that their god talks to man and charges him with various missions, problems arise when different people have conflicting prophecies. Whose prophecy trumps whose? What would make one prophecy more authentic than another?
The book Under the Banner of Heaven written by John Krakauer deals with the story of a modern double murder committed in the name of God by brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty, who subscribed to a fundamentalist version of Mormonism. The Laffertys were formerly members of a very small splinter group called the School of Prophets, led by Robert C. Crossfield (also known by his prophet name Onias).
Hashem preempted this problem by elevating Moshe’s prophecy above the prophecy of all other prophets. This way, Moshe’s prophecy remains uncontradictable. Not only that, it is the measure by which we can determine who is a false prophet. Any prophet who claims to have had a prophecy that changes any law written by Moshe in the Torah is by definition a false prophet, and is liable for the death penalty.
Interestingly, an established prophet who claims that Hashem told him to violate a Torah law on a one-time basis is permitted to follow his prophecy and is not considered a false prophet. The most famous example of this is Eliyahu the Prophet whom Hashem told that he could, in a public confrontation with the Baal, bring a sacrifice outside of the Holy Temple. The rule is, that when the Holy Temple or Tabernacle is in its permanent place, one may not bring private sacrifices. He must bring them exclusively to the Holy Temple and sacrifice them there.
The Jewish people were following the false prophets of the Baal, and Eliyahu came up with a plan to return the Jewish people to their belief in him as Hashem’s true prophet. He challenged them to a “duel” on Mount Carmel. They would bring a sacrifice and he would bring one. The prophet whose animal Hashem consumed by sending down a bolt of fire from heaven would be proven the true prophet. Hashem didn’t respond to the false prophets but did to Eliyahu. This restored the Jewish people to Hashem.
Unfortunately, little has changed. People lose respect for, and feel bored with, their current religion and are therefore eager to try new religions or new versions of their religion. This makes sense for all the other religions, which people made up. Since the creators of the religion cannot know the future, they craft their new religion based on current values and needs. Because the new religion is “current,” it resonates with the general populous who look to it to address some of their needs and concerns. However, as times change, and the pendulum of values swings back and forth, religions lose their relevance and need to be adjusted to accommodate the new times.
The Torah is the exception to the rule. As the Torah states, the Torah was written for all time and cannot be changed. This is because the Torah was written by Hashem who knows the future and has given laws in the Torah which are in tune with the systems of the world that do not change. Every law of the Torah is as relevant today as it always was.
In the modern world, there is so much technology built into our every appliance and gadget. Nevertheless, we still keep Shabbat with the very same rules and regulations given to Moshe on Sinai. Granted, they must be evaluated and be applied to the new technologies, but Hashem, Who foresaw every technological breakthrough and actually created His world with the potential for those breakthroughs 5780 years ago, in His brilliance gave us a Torah that contained the solutions to all contemporary issues. It is a marvel to follow a Sage’s thought process as he answers a question about a new phenomenon. By bringing to bear all the relevant information from the ancient texts, he brings out a clear halachic resolution to the modern question.
This same concept applies to being a religious Jew in the current time. The predominant climate in the world is that in today’s day and age, religion is unnecessary. One can live a full, happy life without it. Life actually looks easier and happier without the restrictions and rigors of the Jewish religion. Yet nothing could be farther from the truth. The Torah provides its adherents with the antidote to every malady of our current society. For example, in a world where “everything goes,” structure and boundaries are essential and enhance life. The religious way of life provides a Jew with the tools that he needs to navigate today’s world’s pitfalls and hurdles. He lives the most fulfilling and rewarding life in this world, and, of course, in the world to come.
A very strong historical irony brings this point out very powerfully.
In the late 1800’s, the Jews of Germany were quite impressed with German society’s aristocratic and polite ways. The Germans seemed so elevated in their behavior, being so polite to one another, so refined. Jewish behavior, on the other hand, seemed so plain and unsophisticated. The Jews began coveting the ways of the Germans and imitating them eventually gaining acceptance from them (often by conversion), a huge step forward for the German Jews.
A few years later, those same aristocrats, with all their politeness, sadistically and coldly murdered 17,000,000 people, 6,000,000 of whom were our very own brothers and sisters. What happened to all the politeness and aristocracy? The answer is that it was just skin deep. It was all a show. The Jewish religion, on the other hand, permeates every cell of a Jew’s body and makes him a holy person. Of course, he looks so plain. Yet he is truly good, through and through. A proper Jew is humble and is not out to impress anyone.
This is the lesson that Moshe is teaching the Jewish people in this section. The new “prophet” may be able to do miracles and the new path that he presents to you may look like a miracle cure for all that ails you. But don’t be impressed. Hashem is testing you to see if you truly value and appreciate what you have or if you are going to follow a dubious system about which you have no clue but that looks “modern” and “current.” How many “isms” have come, created a storm, and then faded into nothing when their flaws became too overwhelming. The Torah is here, alive and well, true, tried and tested by millions of happy adherents for over 3, 330 years. Only because of this is the Jewish nation here, alive and well, practicing its Torah just as it was given on Sinai.
How privileged we are to be part of that great nation. How privileged we are to have the Torah, to follow its holy ways for a full and contented life in this world and the next.