The “Burden” of Prophecy

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Halakhic Positions of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik

by R. Aharon Ziegler

Chazal note in the Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 44:6) that there are ten words that are used to describe prophecy. One of these words, used regarding the prophecy of the Navi Malachi (1:1) is Masah, which can be translated as “a burden”. Why is such an inappropriate word used with prophecy?

In his Moreh Nevuchim (II: 37), the Rambam explains that prophecy truly is a burden. In experiencing his vision, the prophet encounters an exalted truth that others have not. He is compelled to share this message other others and to impart the information. G-d’s revelation is a burden weighing on his consciousness. Often, sharing his vision puts him in grave danger, as people try to avoid hearing the message at all costs. Yet the burden of prophecy gives him no rest. He must repeat what he hears from HaShem, whatever the consequences.

Rav Soloveitchik compared the obligation a father experiences when trying to convey the message of Mesorah to his children to the burden of a Navi. For a father’s Torah to be internalized by his children, he must similarly consider the message of Mesorah as a great Masah. If he has experienced Shabbat, understands Chumash and studies Gemara, how can he avoid revealing this knowledge to his children? If he feels the Masah, he is compelled to convey the information. For Torah to be effectively communicated from one generation to the next, the parent must feel the Masah. One must feel the weight of the word of HaShem.

It is not surprising therefore, that many men, including Moshe Rabbeinu, Yirmiyahu and Jonah tried to talk their way out of their assigned mission and avoid the responsibility of becoming the Navi of HaShem. But, in spite of their objections they eventually resigned themselves to the task, of accepting their responsibilities, and so does every Jewish father. Interestingly, once they are involved in their holy mission the burden seems to lighten and with Siyata Dishmaya they become successful. That is true for the Navi and is true for every Jewish father.

About Aharon Ziegler

Rabbi Aharon Ziegler is the Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Agudath Achim of Boro Park and the Dean and Rosh Kollel of Kollel Agudath Achim. He is the author of six volumes of Halakhic Positions of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik.

One comment

  1. So, the key to the concept of the prophetic “burden” is its obligation nature.

    While anyone attempting to convince disbelievers of a truth faces the same uphill battle, often facing ridicule, isolation and rejection, the non-prophet can simply walk away from the battle. The prophet, on the other hand, must endure once the mission is undertaken no matter how fruitless or dangerous the effort may be.

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