April 30, 2009


Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (1707-1747) authored the classic of Jewish mystical philosophy Derekh Hashem (“The Way of God”) from which these excerpts on prophecy have been taken. The translation is by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, “Meditation and the Bible” (Simon Weiser or Jason Aronson), pp. 65-68. Footnotes have been omitted from this online version. The complete edition of “The Way of God” is available through Feldheim Publications.

Prophecy . . . requires a course of apprenticeship, just as other disciplines and crafts, where one must advance step by step until the subject is mastered thoroughly. This explains what the Bible means when it speaks of the "sons of the prophets." These were the ones who apprenticed themselves to recognized prophets in order to learn the necessary techniques of prophecy.

Those who train themselves for prophecy must do so through a number of specific disciplines. The purpose of these is to bring the Highest Influence to bear on them, nullifying the effects of their physical nature which restricts it. In this manner, they attach themselves to God and bring upon themselves a revelation of His Light.

These disciplines can include various meditations, reciting certain Divine Names, and praising God with prayers containing such Names, combined in a specific manner.

The main initiation into prophecy, however, depends on the neophyte's devotion to God. To the degree that they make themselves worthy through their deeds and continually purify themselves through the above-mentioned disciplines, they bring themselves closer and closer to God. The prophetic influence begins to come on them, and they have one experience after another, until they finally attain true prophecy.

All this, however, requires the guidance of a master prophet. He must have an adequate knowledge of the prophetic methods, and be able to teach his disciples what each one must do to attain the desired result, according to each one's particular level of readiness.

When the neophyte prophets begin to experience revelations, the master prophet continues to guide them. On the basis of what is revealed to them, he instructs them and informs them [as to ] what is still lacking in their quest. Until they attain full prophecy, they will require a master for all this. Even though some influence and revelation may have started to come to them, this in itself is not enough to immediately bring them to the ultimate goal. Before they can reach this, they need much guidance and training, each one according to his degree of readiness.

It is necessary to realize that the only individual who deserves the actual title of Prophet is one who has attained true prophecy. This is an individual who is certain that his prophecy is from God, as discussed elsewhere. When he reaches such a level, there is neither ambiguity nor error in his prophecy.

In a more general sense, however, the title of Prophet is also given to one who has had the beginnings of a prophetic experience and has attained some degree of revelation in a manner beyond the realm of normal human experience. Such an individual, however, may not perceive the concept unambiguously, and may therefore be misled. . . .

Those who are fully aware of the prophetic methods, however, are also completely aware of these stumbling blocks. They recognize their signs and know how one must protect himself from them until he attains true prophecy. These master prophets teach these things to their disciples, as discussed earlier. One of the important tasks of these master prophets is to bring their disciples to the truth and prevent them from being misled.

Errors such as these stem from the Corrupting Forces. These Forces are allowed to exist and function according to their ordained nature and according to the power that they were given. One of these powers is the ability to deceive people and influence people in a manner resembling genuine prophecy.

What they reveal, however, is not necessarily true. These Forces can reveal false concepts, and even produce miracles to verify them. The Torah therefore openly states with regard to a false prophet, “He will predict a sign or wonder, and that sign or wonder will actually happen” (Deuteronomy 13:2, 3).

This can sometimes happen to a person against his will, and it can also be brought about intentionally. A person, without having sought the Corrupting Forces, can experience a false vision. Even though he may have been seeking true prophecy from God, he may be exposed to this evil because of his lack of preparation and proper effort.

In many cases, however, an individual may actually desire to commune with these Corrupting Forces, striving to attain such false prophecy. He pursues these Forces, knowingly working to attach himself to them, Through this, he hopes to gain a corrupt revelation, so that people should take him to be a prophet. He would then have the power to willfully mislead them, or to gain status in their eyes.

Included in this second category were the prophets of Baal and Astarte. They exerted themselves in such a manner and attained some supernatural knowledge, through which they were able to mislead those who believed in them. They were also able to produce miracles to verify their prophecy, as mentioned earlier.

The false prophets, however, knew that all of this came from the side of Evil, which they themselves had chosen. They did not consider themselves true prophets, but engaged in this because of the wickedness in their hearts.

Such evil, however, can also come to a person who is not seeking it. It is therefore crucial for those who strive for true prophecy to do so under the guidance of a master prophet. Only such guidance can prevent errors such as these.

This is true only before one attains full prophecy. Once a person actually attains the level of prophecy, he is able to clearly recognize true prophecy, and distinguish between the genuine and the spurious. It is impossible for a true prophet to have any doubts whatsoever.

(Derekh Hashem III, 4:2, 4, 9, 10)