Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

7 Tammuz 5768 - July 10, 2008 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Prophecy By the Gentiles? Don't Believe It

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

At the beginning of this parsha, Rashi asks the obvious question: "You may ask, why did Hashem bring His divine Presence to rest upon such a wicked gentile? The answer lies in the Midrash: so as not to give an opening for the nations of the world to argue; `If we had had prophets, we would have improved ourselves.' Hashem, therefore, gave them prophets, who breached the rules of accepted moral conduct in the world. For in the beginning, people guarded themselves against licentiousness, but he [Bilaam] gave them the counsel to go and be immoral."

Our original question still stands, as Rashi presented it. Why, we still ask, did Hashem allow His divine spirit to rest upon this wicked gentile? Why, precisely, was such an evil, degenerate sinner — a man who came to symbolize depraved traits like a base soul, arrogant spirit and evil eye — chosen to become the mouthpiece of a divine message, of prophecy? Could not the nations continue to maintain that had they had decent, upright prophets, they would have improved? Surely there are some moral men among the gentiles. How, then, can one compare Moshe Rabbenu as a prophet, to Bilaam the wicked as a prophet? They have nothing in common! Bilaam was certainly not a good example, a role model for them.

It is difficult for us to understand altogether, how such an exalted state as prophecy could find a resting place on such a degenerate character. Prophecy is a state of spiritual vision and sublime sensation and experience that normal people cannot even conceive. Daniel describes his prophetic experience as follows: "I saw this great vision and no longer had any vigor left in me. For my comely appearance was horribly changed, and I retained no strength" (Doniel 10:8). We see that a body as holy and purified as Doniel's could not bear to absorb this spiritual experience of beholding a divine vision since a corporal vessel simply cannot contain such holiness; it is stripped of all its vigor and endurance. His comely appearance, his handsome countenance, was demolished. The people who were with him at the time did not share his revelation, but they could sense that something awesome was taking place and they simply fled in fear. From where? To where? "Even though they did not see, their mazel saw" (Rosh Hashonoh.) They felt that they were unfit to stand before such gushing, overwhelming spirituality.

When we hear such a description, we are all the more bewildered and incapable of understanding how a defiled and disgusting body such as Bilaam's, that descended to an animal level, could sustain and absorb such a vision of divine revelation. He fell prostrate when the vision came upon him, but it was while he was awake, not in a dream trance. It was a conscious state of aspaklaria me'ira, just like Moshe Rabbenu, as it were. Is this fathomable?

HaRav Elya Lopian zt'l asked these very questions and replied with a single, deep and comprehensive answer.

When the nations of the world speak about prophetic revelation, they are talking about a different phenomenon from what is conceived by the Jewish people. This is not the sort of prophecy which they sought — and it is not what they received. They wanted a different type of revelation, and they received it through the vessel receptacle of Bilaam. They received exactly what they asked for.

In order to understand this, we must postulate that the nations did not argue that had they had prophets they would have converted to Judaism. Certainly they could have converted at any time by going directly to the Jews and benefiting from Jewish prophecy at first hand. But we do not discredit them for not having converted; and they offer no excuses for this, either.

Rather we challenge them why, as gentiles, they sinned, transgressed and became corrupt. And they defend themselves with the argument that had they been granted gentile prophets to guide them, within the parameters of their gentile ways — how to preserve truth, practice justice and be upright, as is expected of them — they would have become exemplary people.

In dealing with gentiles, we must bear in mind the iron rule of Chazal: "If someone tells you that there is wisdom by the gentiles, believe it. Torah by the goyim? Don't believe it." It is axiomatic that gentiles can acquire general wisdom, but gentiles cannot acquire Torah.

Knowledge is cerebral, intellectual, and is separate from the psyche of its pursuers. Those who seek knowledge can absorb it even if their very essence contradicts the content of the knowledge they seek. Torah, on the other hand, includes the practical application of wisdom; it is horo'oh, instruction, living by what one knows to be right. One cannot presuppose that because a person has acquired secular knowledge, he has become a moral person. Do not believe that Torah, a moral code of living, exists outside the Torah. Torah cannot repose in a stifled heart and a base spirit. Torah is the adaptation of wisdom to all of the kochos haneffesh while subjugating them to it.

R' Elya continues, elaborating: the very act of prophecy is different when exhibited by a Jewish prophet or a gentile one. Jewish prophets, prophets of truth and justice, absorb the prophecy in their very essence; it becomes part of their very mind and heart. `With all your heart and all your soul.' This is why it is so difficult to withstand the revelationary experience. It is a total spiritual penetration into all the nooks and crannies of a physically-bound soul. Tremendous mental-emotional powers are required to contain and absorb it, to withstand its tremendous impact.

Prophecy is not absorbed by a gentile, however. It skims over him without leaving any vestiges. He experiences it superficially without actually grasping it, like theoretical knowledge, removed from him. In such an abstract form, even a goy like Bilaam can experience prophecy and not become affected. He is elevated, for a brief moment, to the ecstasy of prophecy, and sees divine visions, but he remains the same as before, unimpacted. And when he descends back to this world, nothing remains of his exalted experience; he is the same lowly creature as before.

If this is the case, there is no point in the gentiles asking why prophecy was spent on such a creature as Bilaam. This is how prophecy looks when it does not have the suitable receptacle to contain it. It passes through him and makes absolutely no impact on the receiver. Knowledge, in his case, only compounded the wickedness and evil. And, we know that knowledge does exist by the nations. But knowledge, know-how, never prevented gentiles from doing evil. Technology did not refine mankind, make them less animal-like. The sophisticated, highly educated Nazi fiend was no less a beast than his unlearned gentile counterparts. Worse, in fact.

Bilaam was not a one-time phenomenon. He represents a symptom, a test case, an experiment, if you will. This is what knowledge, science, technology — and prophecy — look like by gentiles.

All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.