Thursday, June 21, 2007

MOSHE’S PROPHECY - Yevamos 49 - Daf Yomi

Gemora Bava Basra 14b states that Moshe wrote his sefer and the parsha of Bil'am? What is the connection?

"In the nation of Israel, there never arose another prophet of Moshe's stature" (Devarim 34:10) -- In the nation of Israel there did not arise, but among the other nations there did arise. Who was that? Bil'am!" (Sifri, end of Sefer Devarim, see also Bamidbar Raba 14:34)

How is it possible to suggest that Bil'am, the embodiment of evil character traits (Avot 5:19), prophesied on the same level as Moshe, the greatest of prophets? (Famous question - text from Parsha page Balak 5758)

Rabbi Mordechai Kornfeld cites the commentators who say that there is a basic distinction between the prophecy of Moshe and other nevi'im. Hashem spoke through the throat of Moshe - "mitoch g'rono shel Moshe." Maharil Diskin explains (end of teshuvos):

The Gemora (Yevamos 49b) tells us that all the prophets saw their visions through "a clouded glass," while Moshe's prophecy was through "a clear glass." In what way is a prophet's vision clouded? Is the Divine Word not clearly revealed to him? Rav Diskin explains as follows: When Hashem delivers a prophetic message to a prophet, it must first "materialize" into a worldly vision, one that is within the grasp of the prophet. The prophet must then apply himself to the task of understanding the meaning of the vision. Ultimately, the accuracy of his interpretation will depend on how closely he grasps the ways of the Creator, or how much he has subordinated himself to the Divine Will. The barrier of physicality that stands between the prophet and heaven "clouds" the prophet's vision.

Does that mean that sometimes a prophet can "miss the point?" If he can "misread" his vision, at times, how are we ever to know whether his prophecy can be relied upon? Rav Diskin answers that even if a prophet does not grasp all the fine points, and interprets part of it other than ideally, his interpretation will certainly come true. Once he is appointed to be a prophet of Hashem, he is entrusted with "prophetic license" to interpret the Divine communications that reach him as he sees fit, and Hashem will follow through based on the prophet's interpretation. The concept of a Divine message being subject to human explication is, after all, not a new one. With regard to meaningful dreams (which our Sages term "a minor prophecy," Berachot 57b), we are told that "Dreams are fulfilled according to the interpretation that one suggests for them." (Berachot 55b -- This concept in fact has parallels in the license afforded to Talmudic scholars to interpret the Written Law based on the 13 principles of the Oral Law).

Moshe, though, was different from all other prophets. He obtained the loftiest spiritual level that a man of flesh and blood can attain -- he totally subordinated his will to that of the Creator (Bamidbar 12:3). His grasp of the Divine Will was therefore total; his visions were through a "clear glass."

Hashem chose to grant the gift of prophecy to a gentile, and Bil'am was chosen for the position (Rashi 22:5). It was to be expected that he would prophesy through an "unclear glass," like most prophets. But this could have had grave consequences. Bil'am, with his terribly unrefined character (Avot 5:19), would certainly have "seen" in his vision a perverted view of Hashem's message. What would have happened had he interpreted it as a sign of calamity for Israel, instead of a sign of their redemption! Since prophecy is fulfilled according to the interpretation of the prophet, this could have had dire results!

In order to avoid this, Hashem changed the ordinary manner of prophecy in this one case. Bil'am was shown crystal-clear, pure visions -- he was treated to the unadulterated word of Hashem. ("What Hashem puts in my mouth, I shall speak" -- 22:38.) There was nothing for him to misinterpret and mis-foretell.

We can now answer our original question. The Sifri does not mean to propose the preposterous suggestion that Bil'am reached as lofty a level as Moshe. It means that there was one particular aspect of prophecy that no prophet shared with Moshe but Bil'am. That is, as far as clarity of prophecy is concerned, Bil'am's visions were as clear and unfiltered as Moshe's own visions.


Unknown said...

hesber of Maharil Diskin is outstanding! Thanks for bringing us the pshat.

Avromi said...

My pleasure; don't be a stranger!