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What is Prophecy?
By Miriam Lockhart
Prophecy is that experience in which a person receives a message from G-d. This message can be for him personally, another person, or a glimpse of something on a larger scale, such as the national visions of the Biblical Prophets. How are these received, and what is a person supposed to do with such a message? The answer to this question varies. However, there are some rules for receiving prophecy that are constant. These rules require balance and an observant walk within the Law of G-d.
If there appears among you a prophet or a dream-diviner and he gives you a sign or a portent, saying, "Let us follow and worship another god"-whom you have not experienced-even if the sign or portent that he named to you come true, do not heed the words of the prophet or that dream-diviner.-Deuteronomy 13:2
The prophet -- If a person receives a message that contradicts the words of the Torah, that "prophecy" is a lie. It could be that the person somehow has been deceived, usually by his own imagination. Today the world is full of these people. Many people are searching for spirituality, and the pitfalls are numerous, with the New Age Movement and other avenues to the seekers of "enlightenment". I won't go into all the ideas they bring, but a good rule of thumb is: If it contradicts the Torah-the word of G-d from Sinai - it is not truth - PERIOD.
Another way, a much more sinister way, people can be deceived is through a lying spirit. I Kings 22:20-23 relates the story of a lying spirit. A person who centers himself-grounds himself--in Torah (Bible) is less likely to fall into this sort of trap. However, it is always a good idea to test a message through prayer and Torah study to be sure. A message for another person-even if it's a hard message-will not be given in such a way as to tear him down, but will uplift him and help him live a life closer to G-d. (Some of the New Age ideas seem uplifting, but they do not fall in line with the first criterea.) So a person who receives a message should ask himself:
- Does this contradict Torah in any way?
- Does this serve to bring a person (the person receiving the message, especially) to a closer relationship to G-d, or does it simply inflate the ego?
- Does this edify, or uplift, or does this tear a person down?
He led me back to the entrance of the Temple, and I found that water was issuing from below the platform of the Temple-eastward, since the Temple faced east-but the water was running out at the south of the altar, under the south wall of the Temple. Then he led me out by way of the northern gate and led me around to the outside of the outer gate that faces in the direction of the east; and I found that water was gushing from under the south wall.
As the man went on eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and led me across the water; the water was ankle deep. Then he measured off another thousand and led me across the water; the water was knee deep. He measured off a further thousand and led me across the water; the water was up to the waist. When he measured yet another thousand, it was a stream I could not cross; for the water had swollen into a stream that could not be crossed except by swimming. "Do you see, O mortal?" he said to me; and he led me back to the bank of the stream.
As I came back, I saw trees in great profusion on both banks of the stream. "This water," he told me, "runs out to the eastern region, and flows into the Arabah; and when it comes into the sea, into the sea of foul waters [the Dead Sea], the water will become wholesome. Every living creature that swarms will be able to live wherever this stream goes; the fish will be very abundant once these waters have reached there. It will be wholesome, and everything will live wherever this stream goes. Fishermen shall stand beside it all the way from En-gedi to En-eglam; it shall be a place for drying nets; and the fish will be of various kinds [and] most plentiful, like the fish of the Great Sea [Mediterranean]....All kinds of trees for food will grow up on both banks of the stream. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail; they will yield new fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the Temple. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing."-Ezekiel 47:1-12
The flow -- The Temple in Jerusalem has always been an earthly copy of the Temple in heaven. The Psalmist speaks to the people in Ps. 68:29-30 saying: "Your G-d has ordained strength for you, the strength, O G-d, which You displayed for us from Your temple above Jerusalem." Ezekiel's vision of the Temple is very precise, for this is to be a copy of the heavenly Temple, just as the Temple and the instruments of the Temple were to be exact-for they were copies of those above.
Ezekiel saw a river flowing out of the Temple. This river will, one day, flow out of the physical Temple and replenish and redeem the earth. This river exists now in heaven and is a spiritual flow that each of us can experience. This river brings healing, restoration, and life-spiritual life to all it touches. This river is the experience of the flow of the Presence of G-d, which is inseparable from the prophetic experience. A person enters the river through praise and thanksgiving; he goes deeper with worship of G-d; he floats and swims when he is completely submissive to the will of G-d. Then, in a very close relationship, he will experience spiritual life in a tangible, personal way.
Vs.18-Open my eyes, that I may perceive the wonders of Your teaching.
Vs.103-105-How pleasing is Your word to my palate, sweeter than honey.
I ponder Your precepts; therefore I hate every false way.
Your word is a lamp to my feet, a light for my path.
Vs. 114-You are my protection and my shield; I hope for Your word.
Vs. 130-The words You inscribed give light and grant understanding to the simple.
Vs. 144-Your righteous decrees are eternal; give me understanding, that I might live.
Vs. 165-Those who love Your teaching enjoy well-being.
Words from Torah - Sometimes when a person reads the Torah he finds himself reflecting on the meaning of the words. They seem to be talking straight to him, touching his heart right where he lives. This is because the Torah is living truth. The words are eternal words of G-d for the human soul. They speak directly to that soul and touch in a way that no other words can. This is a type of prophecy. Sometimes a person will receive a message-an answer to a problem, an explanation, or an instruction, perhaps-from the Torah. These words are not meant to be read like literature or studied simply in an intellectual fashion, but are meant to transform the heart and soul of Mankind.
The Prophets - When reading the Prophets of the Tanakh (Torah, Prophets, and Writings of the Bible), a person needs to bear in mind who the writer of the words was and who his audience was. These were Jewish men writing to the people of Israel. Their words, therefore, must first be seen in this context and for that time period. Secondly, it is known that there were literally thousands of prophets in ancient Israel.
Why were some prophecies recorded while others were not? Those of the Prophet Elijah, for instance, were not recorded, yet he was an outstanding prophet of his day whose life teaches us many very important lessons. The difference is that those prophets whose messages were only for their own day were not recorded, while those whose messages were for their own day and for the future were.
When reading the words of these Prophets, even those words that were for their own time, one can know that there was a future significance of those messages-quite probably for our own time. However, as said, one must realize that this is first a message to the Jewish People from their own prophets of old. After realizing all this, a person can still find himself experiencing the quickening in his spirit of a personal message, as explained above. When reading the words of the Prophets, one can sometimes see the meaning and fulfillment for the current . This understanding, too, is an operation of the gift of prophecy.
Seek the favor of the L-rd, and he will grant you the desires of your heart.-Ps. 37:4
Prayer - The perfect prayer is one that is in line with the will of G-d-in fact, an agreement with His very will. To be able to pray in such a way, a person must center himself in knowing Him and seeking to understand His ways. He will thereby "seek the favor of the L-rd". Another rendition of this verse implies that if a person seeks the L-rd with all his heart, the L-rd will place within his heart the thing TO desire and then, of course, grant it to him. This is a part of being in that flow-seeking His will and delighting in His presence through praise and worship.
A person can ask to be shown the things for which he should pray. No one can effectively pray for everything, so this type of request makes sense in a practical way, as well. During this type of diligent, sincere prayer, a person can sometimes experience prophecy through a sudden "knowing"-a flash of understanding of the situation, or perhaps even instruction of what to do.
You are the Holy one, enthroned, the Praise of Israel.-Ps. 22:4
Praise is a another type of prayer and should be included in any prayer. Does G-d need our prayers or praise? Of course not, but the human soul needs them just as the "heart pants for water", in the words of the Psalmist. This verse says that G-d's presence dwells in praise. The soul's thirst is quenched in these times of communion with his Maker. This is a bringing together of heaven and earth, an enflaming and vitalizing of the soul that cannot be accomplished in any other way. During this time a person can experience the closeness of G-d in a tangible way and see, hear, and know things completely through his spirit. This is also prophecy, however, it's usually on the lower, personal level. Yet this level is absolutely essential, no matter how "exalted" the prophet. Also, this level is available to any and all, and it is something that G-d wants of people who claim to know Him, love Him, and follow Him.
When a prophet of the L-rd arises among you, I make Myself known to him in a vision, I speak with him in a dream. Not so with My servant Moses; he is trusted throughout My household. With him I speak mouth to mouth, plainly and not in riddles, and he beholds the likeness of the L-rd.-Numbers 12:6-8
Netzach and Hod - The ten sephirot--channels of Divine energy--of the spiritual body correspond with the parts of the physical body and are associated with the emanations, or attributes, of G-d. (Keter (crown) corresponds with the crown of the head is associated with the divine attribute of G-d's Will. Chochmah and Binah correspond with right and left brain respectively and are associated with wisdom and understanding. Chesed and Gevurah correspond with the right and left arms and are associated with lovingkindness and restraint.
Tiferet is the center, between Chesed and Gevurah, and is associated with harmony and beauty of the Torah. Yesod, located between Netzach and Hod, is translated "Foundation" and is associated with the attributes involved in being a tzaddik. Malchut, located below Yesod, is translated "kingship" and has the idea of a vessel for receiving. (A more detailed explanation of the sephirot may be found on Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh's web site at: http://www.inner.org/sefirot/sefirot.htm.) Netzach and Hod are the sephirot associated with the legs and lower extremities of the body. These two sephirot are the sources of the prophetic experience. Like the other sephirot on either side of the body, the left side is restrained, while the right is unencumbered and free flowing.
Netzach, on the right side of the body, is translated as "dominance" or "victory" and is embodied in Moses; Hod, on the left side of the body, translated as "empathy", "splendor", or "thanksgiving", and is embodied in Aaron. Netzach is the imposing of the message, as Moses imposed the message of G-d-the Torah-on the people. Hod is a softer, more empathetic reception and giving over of the message, as characterized by Aaron. Netzach is straight forward, from the front, while Hod is from the backside, a more subtle understanding from words, impressions, and implications. Other than Moses, the Prophets did not have the clear vision of pure Netzach. Like the legs walking, ideally, the two sephirot work together in a person's spiritual walk. The kidneys, thought of as the center of the conscience, are also connected to this idea. These two sephirot, corresponding to the kidneys, as well, operate in the prophetic as conscience. Netzach and Hod together, a blend of the left and the right and the ideas of the different limbs of the body represented through both, serve as a source of a balanced prophetic message.
I will pour out My spirit on all flesh; your sons and daughters shall prophesize; your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.-Joel 3:1
Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream; and let him who has received My word report My word faithfully!-Jeremiah 23:28
Dreams and visions - A dream is called a night vision; a vision may be experienced while awake. G-d said to Miriam and Aaron that, unlike Moses, who talked directly to Him, He would give His prophets words through dreams and visions. As time went on this prophecy descended further and further from the level of that of Moses. Eventually, genuine prophecy became quite rare. Yet G-d promised that this gift would return in the End of Days. It is for this reason that one must realize the responsibility of prophetic words-to be faithful in repeating them-as Jeremiah warned. Also Ezekiel (chapter 2) says to say the words of G-d whether the recipient listens or not. Ezekiel 3:18 further warns that if a warning is not given, the reckoning for the punishment on the person is required of the prophet. It is a very big responsibility that cannot be taken lightly.
Why did G-d choose to reveal prophecy through dreams and visions? Each prophecy related in the Prophets is in the language of that particular prophet. This is because the symbolic images that appear to him are those familiar to him. If a prophet of Biblical times had seen events of our day, how would he have described them? He would not have had any alternative other than in words and terms within his own realm of experience. This is how dreams and visions work. A person's own experience and knowledge forms the images that represent ideas that his spirit is perceiving in his sleep. In Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's book Inner Space he quotes Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto's (the Ramchal) description of sleep and dreaming:
When a man sleeps, his faculties rest, his senses are quiet, and his mind is relaxed and hushed. The only thing that continues to function is his imagination (dream center), and this conceives and envisions various images. Some of these images arise from the individual's experiences while awake. Others may be the result of substances that rise to the brain, either from the body's own hormones, or from the food that one eats. These images are the dreams that all people experience.
G-d has also decreed that the bond between the body and the divine soul should be somewhat loosened while man sleeps. The portions of the soul from Ruach (Spirit) and above then rise and sever themselves from the body. Only one portion, the Nefesh (Soul), remains with the lower [animal] soul.
The freed portions of the soul can then move about in the spiritual realm wherever they are allowed. They can interact and associate with such spiritual beings as the angels who oversee natural phenomena, the angels associated with prophecy, and Shedim (demons). Whatever they experience will depend on a variety of factors.
When these higher levels of the soul perceive something, they can sometimes transmit it step by step, until it reaches the animal soul. The imagination is then stimulated and forms images in its normal manner. [A person can then see this as a dream.]...
Dreams in general can therefore arise either from the imagination itself or as a result of the stimulation of the Soul (Neshamah) according to what it perceives. In the latter case, the initiating agent is always one of the spiritual Forces which make something known to the Soul (Neshamah). The soul then transmits this to the imagination.
If that spiritual Force is one of G-d's holy servants, then the information that the soul receives will be true. If it comes from the opposing Forces, on the other hand, then it will be false. Our sages thus teach us that a true dream originates through an angel, while a false one originates through a Shed (demon).
Right before the coming of the Mashiach, prophecy is to come back into the common Jewish experience. This is necessary for the ushering in of the time of Redemption, which involves the sons and daughters of People of Israel, as the Prophet Joel writes. Prophecy is a Jewish experience that had been set aside, or even lost to the mainstream. Yet this experience is real and needed for our time. This flow of the Spirit of G-d is for all of Israel, just as the Temple is for all of Israel. Each of us can experience this flow on various levels, beginning with the lowest level--the personal experience of the speaking to one's own heart for his own life.
Judaism was never meant to be a dry, unfulfilling religion, as has been the unfortunate experience of a lot of the Jewish People. Many Jews, especially the young, have gone to other religions searching for a spirituual life, never realizing that the attractive sparks of shining truth in those pagan counterfeits were taken from their own heritage. Judaism is the religion of the Nation that heard the voice of G-d at Sinai, the People created collectively to be the vessel of His message of light and hope to the world. This involves, and requires of each member of this Nation, a personal relationship with the Him in order to perfect this "Light Unto the Nations" that Israel is called by the Prophets. This personal relationship is not only possible, but is the spiritual heritage--the birthright--of, and is available to, every Jew.
from the January 2000 Edition of the Jewish Magazine