May 14, 2009


The following is Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s translation of a section of the commentary of Rabbi Isaac ben Yehudah Abarbanel (1437-1508) on I Samuel 10:5, published in Meditation and the Bible (Samuel Weiser or Jason Aronson editions), Chapter 7, pp. 89-90. Don Isaac Abarbanel (sometimes rendered “Abravanel”) was a royal advisor to King Ferdinand of Spain at the time of the infamous banishment of the Jews instigated by the Catholic clergy, and chose to join his co-religionists in exile rather than take advantage of the protected status offered to him.

Abarbanel On Prophecy

It is written [that Samuel told Saul], “When you come to the city, you shall meet a band of prophets, coming from the high place, with harp, drum, flute and lyre, and they will be prophesying themselves (mit-navim). The spirit of God shall then succeed in you and you shall prophesy yourself with them, and you shall be transformed into a different man” (I Samuel 10:5, 6)…

These individuals were the “sons of the prophets,” the disciples of Samuel. He taught and directed them, preparing them to receive the prophetic influx. They would go to this hill to meditate (hitboded) and seek prophecy because of the influence of the Ark of God, which was kept there.

While seeking prophecy, they made use of musical instruments, preparing themselves through the elation produced by the music.

When the Scripture says that they were “prophesying themselves” (mit-navim), it does not mean that they were singing praise, as stated by a number of commentaries. Rather it means that they were inducing prophecy in themselves through meditation (hitbodedut). The word mit-nave is the reflexive form of the verb nava, meaning “to prophesy.”

The verse then says, “The spirit of God shall succeed in you.” In my opinion, this means that Ruach HaKodesh would “succeed” in him, this referring to the will and desire for prophecy. Immediately then, “you will prophesy yourself (mit-nave) with them,” meaning that he would engage himself in the methods of prophecy. The scripture then states that he would attain his desired goal: “You will be transformed into a different man.” He would attain the prophetic influx, and through this, he would become a different person.

This indicates that the first step in prophecy is a strong desire. This is followed by meditation (hitbodedut), which is its means. The goal is then the influx that comes to him.