5756 - #22


The False Prophet

The definition of the navi sheker, the false prophet, usually focuses on two distinct cases: 1) one who presents himself as a prophet in the name of avodah zarah, idolatry; and 2) one who presents himself as a prophet in the name of Hashem but who declares that any mitzvah is no longer binding.[1] The existence of the first category is clear and specifically mentioned in Devarim 18:20. There is also scriptural indication, in Devarim 13:3, of the existence of a category of navi sheker when one, even as a prophet in the name of Hashem, calls for the practice of avodah zarah.[2] The scriptural source for the second general category of navi sheker, though, is unclear. In fact, T.B. Sanhedrin 90a presents a disagreement between Rav Chisda and Rav Hamnuna on this very issue.

Rav Chisda argues that the source for this category is also Devarim 18:20, specifically the section of the verse that refers to the false prophet that states fraudulently that he speaks in the name of G-d.[3] Since the Torah's laws are eternal, one who declares that he was told by Hashem, through prophecy, that a mitzvah is no longer binding must be falsely presenting himself as one who has been addressed by G-d. It is thus not surprising, in that Rambam paskens like Rav Chisda, that he begins his chapter on navi sheker with a declaration on the eternal nature of the mitzvot. [4] Rav Hamnuna, though, argues that the source for this category of navi sheker is the reference to the path of G-d in Devarim 13:6. The context of this verse is the one who, presenting himself as a navi, states that we should practice idolatry. On the surface, this verse would seem to be stating that, in advocating avodah zarah, this individual is veering us away from the path of Hashem. Rav Huna, in presenting his view, would seem to further limit this understanding of the verse to a context fully within that of idolatry: this individual, in advocating the practice of avodah zarah, leads us away from, specifically, the anti-idolatrous paths of G-d. Rav Hamnuna, though, would seem to understand this verse within an even more broad context: informing us that one who declares that a mitzvah is no longer binding is also included within the context of this section. As such, Rav Hamnuna would seem to be presenting a most interesting causal relationship between idolatry and the binding nature and observance of mitzvot. A simple reading of the verse seems to indicate that the advocating of idolatry must lead to the non-observance of mitzvot. Rav Hamnuna would seem to now provide the corollary: that the advocating of the non-binding nature of even one mitzvah, must be connected to and result in idolatry. Monotheism and the mitzvot are not just connected but inherently fully bound. The mitzvot do not just indicate our requirements in the service of G-d; they reflect His Essence.

Chinuch, mitzvah 434 states that there is a command to develop relationships with Torah scholars. It is through our connection with such individuals that we develop a connectionwith G-d.[5] T.B. Sotah 14a states that the way we attach ourselves to G-d is through emulating Him in the performance of good acts. Both directives, based upon the analysis of Devarim 13:5 which demands of us to attach ourselves to G-d, point to the same conclusion: the mitzvot reflect G-d's Essence. It is through the study and performance of Torah that we understand the One G-d. As such, the incorrect presentation of the mitzvot is a form of avodah zarah for this presentation not only misleads us in regard to the proper conduct demanded in the service of Hashem -- it misleads us as to the true nature of Him.

Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 2:2[6] states that the only way to love and fear G-d is through the study of His creation for only through this study are we able to know G-d. Our understanding of Hashem can only be achieved by the intellectual investigation of the genius and balance of His creation. Every detail, every remarkable insight and fact is necessary in our attempt to know and connect with G-d. This understanding especially applies in the realm of Halacha. The attempt to change Torah is not only an attempt to circumvent our obligations - it is, bluntly, avodah zarah. Halacha in fact all facets of Torah, with all their complexities and all their nuances and all their fine sensitivities to detail, are the reflection of G-d's Essence -- and it is only through the study of Torah with all its difficulties that we are able to connect with G-d. The so-called navi that wishes to simply remove one mitzvah, even one part of a mitzvah, from Torah is a navi for avodah zarah.

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht e-mail



[1] The category of navi sheker is actually much broader than just these two cases. See Chinuch, mitzvah 517.

[2] This case is actually halachically distinct from the case when one, presenting himself as a prophet, calls for the non-observance of other mitzvot. See Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 9:5. The distinctive nature of the navi sheker category when it involves avodah zarah is further indicated by the special enumeration of this specific prohibition in Chinuch, mitzvah 518.

[3] See Rashi, Sanhedrin 90a, d.h. aval oker haguf d'sha'ar mitzvot and, in support, T.B. Sanhedrin 89a.

[4] See Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah, chap. 9. See also Lechem Mishna, Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 9:1.

[5] See also Or HaChaim 13:5.

[6] See also Hilchot Teshuvah 10:6.

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