Monday, August 28, 2006

Authority of the Navi

“What makes prophecy so dangerous is its divine origin. The prophet does not inherit his role, nor is he appointed by the king or ordained by the rabbis; he is called by God – like Moses at the burning bush. There is no official mediation or control. Prophets often report their own calling and describe its circumstance, for this is the crucial source of their authority . . .
It is a disturbing feature of these discussions, especially for modern readers, that they focus so narrowly on the standing of the prophets, their legitimacy, as it were, and not on the specific content of their messages. When the kind’s counselors, known by their worldly wisdom rather than their divine calling, give advice about this or that policy matter, they no doubt raise similar questions about trustworthiness . . . , but what they explicitly invite is a debate about the advice itself. The prophets, by contrast, do not invite a debate of that sort. Indeed, if they have actually been sent by God, there is no room for any debate at all. The only way to challenge them is to call their credentials into question, not the content of their prophecies.”
(The Jewish Political Tradition: Volume I. Authority. Ed. Walzer et al. pp. 202-205)

This quote highlights what makes many of us uncomfortable with a system built on revelation note reason. We prefer to do things because they make sense to us, not because we were commanded to do so. This latter position, the position of the Modern, is probably best typified by Immanuel Kant, who writes that even if one experiences prophecy, if the directive does not fit with what he calls “the categorical imperative” (his equivalent of the Golden Rule), then to act on that prophecy is counter to man’s duty. In other words, even for the prophet – who presumably would be the most confident in the divine nature of the communication – prophecy does not automatically create authority. Any imperative, even if divine in origin, must be held up the light of reason.

What is the advantage – from Hashem’s perspective – of creating a system of communication based on revelation and not reason?
Why do you think Hashem chose to use revelation to a select few as the vehicle to commune with man? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to speak to the entire nation (as he did at the time of Matan Torah)?
Do you think it is possible to hear the word of God, recognize it as such, yet still ignore it?
Is it moral to “judge” God’s commands by an external human sense of right?