Skip to main content

Intelligence is a Foundation of Prophecy - Parashat Shemos 5780, January 17, 2019

This week, we read the first parasha of Sefer Shemot. The parasha describes the increasingly difficult circumstances that b’nei yisrael were suffering under the rule of Paroh in Egypt. The parasha also introduces us to Moshe and describes his development into the leader of the Jewish People.

In his first prophetic experience, Moshe is shown an angel of Hashem within a burning bush. Moshe saw that the bush was burning but not being consumed. Moshe then says, “I will now turn and I will see this great vision – why is the bush not burning?” The Torah conveys that Hashem saw that Moshe had turned to see (the vision) and He called to Moshe from the midst of the bush, “Moshe, Moshe” to which Moshe responded, “I am here.” After this exchange, Hashem reveals to Moshe the content of the prophecy – that Hashem would redeem the Jewish People from Egypt through the agency of Moshe.

Looking more carefully at the details of this – Moshe’s first prophetic experience – we notice a seemingly innocuous detail – Moshe asked why the bush was not burning.

A similar detail is recorded within the Haftarah that Sephardim read this week – the well-known first prophecies of the prophet Jeremiah. Hashem says to Jeremiah, “What do you see, Jeremiah? And I (Jeremiah) said, ‘I see a stick of almond wood’.” Hashem then proceeds to share with Jeremiah the meaning of the vision.

Each of these prophecies share a common detail – the revelation of the prophecy is preceded by an observation of a physical phenomenon by the prophet. By including this detail in the description of each of these prophecies, the Torah seems to be conveying that the prophet’s observation was essential. Why is this detail important?

In his Laws of The Fundamentals of the Torah, Maimonides explains that, among many qualities, a prophet must be intelligent. Perhaps this requirement explains the inclusion of the observations made initially by Moshe and Jeremiah. Like a scientist exploring the world around him or her, Moshe and Jeremiah (with some prodding from Hashem), made an initial observation about the physical world. When confronted by a new situation, the first instinct of the researcher is, “What do I see?” or “How does it work?” Once Moshe and Jeremiah showed themselves to have this approach to understanding the world, they were prepared for prophecy.

One of the primary jobs of an educator is to harness and direct the innate creativity of his or her students to intelligently approach Torah and the world around us. From Moshe and Jeremiah we learn that, towards this end, the first instinct that we should cultivate is the What? or How? question. We can promote this instinct by teaching our children to look carefully at the text of the Torah and report the observations that they learn – what happened in the first plague? We can model looking at the world around us and noticing phenomena and learning how they work – what is steam and how does evaporation work? While partially innate, intelligence can be developed and refined. Today, we do not have access to prophecy, however, G-d has given us the gift of intelligence. Moshe and Jeremiah teach us the building blocks of this gift.


Popular posts from this blog

Dwelling Securely - Parashat Behar 5779, May 24, 2019

Our seventh and eighth grade students returned this past week from the ten-day Junior High Israel Experience program. Mrs. Anat Kampf, Chazzan Ricky Kampf and I were honored to chaperone this inaugural program, and, on behalf of the students, we are very thankful to the parents, to the community and Lemsky Fund for their support of this endeavor.
Our students soaked up the land, the people and the Torah of Eretz Yisrael. At school, we learn Torah. In Israel, we experienced the Torah. At school we learn about the impact and significance of the State of Israel. In Israel, we experienced the geography, history and people of the State of Israel. In school, we learn Ivrit. In Israel, we spoke Ivrit.
Our students experienced the breadth and depth of the land. They had both an urban experience – sleeping in Yerushalayim for six days – and a more pastoral experience – sleeping in Kibbutz Lavi. They visited sites of destruction and death that now have renewed vitality and significance – the Ko…

Blessings, Blessings, Blessings - Parashat Lech-Lecha 5780, November 8, 2019

In this week’s parasha, Lech Lecha, the Torah recounts the Avram’s return from an improbable victory in a war against the four kings. On the way, he encounters MalkiTzedek, the King of Shalem.

The Torah describes the meeting: “MalkiTzedek, king of Shalem, brought out bread and wine; he was a priest of G-d, the Most High. He (MalkiTzedek) blessed him saying, “Blessed is Avram of G-d, the Most High, Maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be G-d, the Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”

The Malbim, Rabbi Meir Leibush, asks why MalkiTzedek blessed Avram before blessing G-d. Although the Midrash, in fact, criticizes MalkiTzedek for prioritizing the blessings in this way, Malbim explains that MalkiTzedek’s decision to bless Avram before G-d is to MalkiTzedek’s credit.

To understand what justifies MalkiTzedek’s prioritization, we first need to ask another question – how can a human being bless G-d? To say that a human being is blessed is understandable – MalkiTzedek saw…

Greater Than the Sum of its Parts - Parashat Vayera 5780, November 15, 2019

In this week’s parasha, VaYera, Avraham Avinu is told of Hashem’s plan to destroy Sedom and its four sister cities. The Torah describes these cities as places of decrepit morals populated by denizens of corrupt values.

The Torah recounts that Avraham asked Hashem to preserve the cities on account of the tzaddikim – the righteous people – who lived in the cities. Avraham inquires whether Hashem would destroy the cities if there were 50 righteous people. Hashem responds that He would not. Avraham then inquires whether Hashem would destroy the cities if there were 45 righteous people. Hashem responds that He would not. Avraham then inquires about 40, 30, 20 or even 10 righteous people. Hashem responds that in any of these cases, He would not cause destruction.

Our chachamim address a number of issues related to this interaction between Avraham and Hashem. One question that they address is why Avraham chose to inquire about 50, 45, 40, 30, 20 then 10 righteous people. What was Avraham’s l…