In Celebration of Prophecy – Shavuos Metaphors

As is evident from the verses that describe the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, the take away lesson of the event is that Hashem speaks with people.  He does not only manifest His absolute majesty over the universe, as the People saw in Egypt and at the Sea, He has a will for mankind and He makes that will known to man directly – Hashem speaks to man.

The content of the prophecy is, in this sense, secondary for Shavuos.  First and foremost is the celebration of the very fact that Hashem speaks to man.  In Shmos (20:19) we find Moshe summarizing the event of Revelation announcing to the People that “you have seen that from Heavens I [Hashem] have spoken with you.”  And again in Devarim (5:21) the People summarize the event by saying that “Hashem has shown us His glory and greatness, and His voice we heard; today we have seen that Hashem speaks with Man who can go on living.”  And further (ibid. 23) “For who among all the living who has heard the voice of the living Hashem as we have and are still alive.”  Hashem, as it were, is pleased with the take away lesson that the People have derived.  They got the message, and the message is prophecy.  Shavuos, the marking of the revelation on Mount Sinai then, is a celebration of prophecy.  We may not be on the level to receive prophecy but that is very different from saying that man cannot hear Hashem’s voice, orthat Hashem has no way to reveal His will to man.  He does, and He has, and the Torah that we have in our possession is the fruit of that revelation.  There are ‘moderns’ for whom the concept of prophecy does not quite work and there are quacks who insist that they are still receiving prophecy, but neither of those fringes can alter the fundamental factthat the revelation on Mount Sinai was meant to drive home – Hashem reveals His will to man.

I would like to suggest two metaphors that might help us take the message of prophecy home beyond the belief in the simple fact that prophecy exists.  So, in the spirit of Shavuos, I would like to speak of the Spy and the Psychotic.

The Spy

A spy has taken up residence in a foreign country.  He has established his identity in that place and he is living a normal life.  While he goes on with his life, anticipates that some day the boss who commissioned him to his job may send him a message indicating that he is needed in one way or another.  And one day, he receives a visitor at his store who, by use of the pre-arranged password, indicates that he has a message from the boss.  At once, the spy closes his store, lowers the shutters and begins to listen, very carefully, to the message from the boss.  Not a word of the instructions will fall to the floor forgotten nor will he hesitate to ask if some aspect of the instruction is unclear to him.  He is keenly aware of the significance of the instructions and he hears the words as though the boss were speaking with him directly.  This is meant to be our attitude towards hearing words of Torah.  We were witness to the event of Mount Sinai and we are aware that Hashem reveals His will to man.  Now a teacher, who can trace his teaching back to that event at Mount Sinai, is revealing some aspect of the content of the message from the boss.  Our attention is meant to emulate that of the spy in our story.  Now is not the time or place to concern ourselves with customers, calls, or bills.  For now is the time that the boss is disclosing a part of His message.  Shavuos is a time for reaffirming our relationship with the study of Torah in line with the metaphor of the Spy.

The Psychotic

One symptom of schizophrenia is auditory hallucinations, or command voices.  The person hears an internal voice and often those voices are very sinister and self destructive.  A person who hears command voices cannot ignore them, and if those voices command the person to some act that is a danger to themselves or to others then the person will need protective supervision.  The power of the command voice makes us certain that the person will act in accordance with the command voice and hence its power and potential danger.  As regards the message of Shavuos, we are meant to internalize the message of that which we learned through prophecy to the degree that we feel absolutely compelled to carry out the content of the message, no matter what the obstacles that may stand in our way.  Others who look upon a person who deeply lives the message of the Torah as an internal command voice will be impressed with the power and certainty with which the person dedicates himself to the instructions of the Torah.  They are command voices for him and he will go to the ends of the earth to carry them out.  Auditory hallucinations are scary because the person did not choose them and they exert great power.  The Torah has power because the person has chosen to internalize the message of prophecy and he can drink in some of the spirit of Shavuos to move the message from voluntary (I’ll do it when the spirit moves me and leave it when it does not) to compelling – to a command voice.

It might go without saying that there can be nothing more dangerous than a person who claims to have heard a message from Hashem but he has not, or is not transmitting the message with the precision that is needed for such a calling, but the Torah does not leave it go without saying it.  Such a person incurs the most dire consequences.  We rely (or, perhaps, have relied) on prophecy and let no one dare invoke the name of Hashem in promotion of some spiritual agenda of this nature or another.  As we commonly say, if Hashem wanted me to listen to you He would have told me, not you.  We are witness to prophecyand we can hold up with pride many examples of people who have related to the Torah with the seriousness of the Spy and the commitment of the Psychotic.  Shavuos is a time for each of us to take a small but meaningful step in the direction of prophecy and in the take-home lessons of prophecy.

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