You Don’t Have To Be A Prophet

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Rambam (Moreh Nevukhim 2:42) argues that angels only appear to people in visions. Therefore, the story of Avraham and his three guests was a vision. Ramban (Gen. 18:1) strongly disagrees. Elsewhere, we discussed the arguments. However, one particular argument of the Ramban’s raises an interesting question.

The Ramban says that any vision of an angel as an angel, rather than as a person, must take place in a vision. However, that vision does not have to constitute prophecy. For example, Hagar saw an angel (Gen. 16:7-12) and she was not a prophet. Daniel saw an angel (Dan. 9:21, 10:4) and he was not a prophet. As support, Ramban quotes the Gemara (Megillah 3a) that compares Daniel with Chaggai, Zechariah and Malachi–they were prophets but he was not.

Rambam (Moreh Nevukhim 2:45) similarly writes that Daniel was not a prophet. He had ru’ach ha-kodesh, divine spirit. Rambam adds that the book is included among Kesuvim (Writings), not Nevi’im (Prophets). Ramban echoes this point. According to the Rambam, a vision within a dream is not prophecy. A prophetic vision seems real, not like a dream (see R. Jonathan Blass, Mi-Nofes Tzuf, vol. 2 pp. 410-411).

However, Rashi (Megillah 3a sv. de-inhu) says that Daniel was a prophet. When the Genara declares the Daniel was not a prophet, according to Rashi it means that Daniel was not a prophet sent to the nation. In other words, he was a prophet but one who prophesied for his own benefit, not as a divine emissary.

Similarly, Abarbanel (Ma’ayanei Ha-Yeshu’ah 3:1-2) argues against the Rambam’s view that Daniel was a prophet. Daniel saw a vision of the future, a prophecy of the rise and fall of future nations. He was privy to divine secrets. The prophecies in the book of Daniel are extremely important in rabbinic theology. How could he be anything other than a prophet?

This debate gives me pause. If even Daniel, who foretold the redemption, lacked prophecy, what connection can we hope for? Surely no one in our generation can claim ru’ach ha-kodesh comparable to that of Daniel. This reminds me of the clever statement of the Or Ha-Chaim (Gen. 6:3) that nowadays, not only do we lack ru’ach ha-kodesh, the divine spirit, but we do not even have rei’ach ha-kodesh, a scent of the divine.

However, like Daniel, you do not have to be a prophet to be important. He was one of the great Jews of history who merited his own book in the Bible, which remains important thousands of years later. Greatness belongs to those who rise to the occasion, who reach the height of their abilities. Daniel may not have been able to become a prophet, but he achieved all that he could and will forever be remembered for his contributions to Judaism. You don’t have to be a prophet to be a great Jew, to influence the community meaningfully.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student currently is serving his third term on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and also serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazineand the Board of OU Press. He has published four English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

5 comments

  1. I think it’s R’ Sacks who points out that unlike the popular perception (what Tanakh calls a “ro’eh”), which is that a prophet predicts the future, a classic Jewish prophet hopes that his prophecy won’t come true. Daniel falls more into the former category- it’s not so much that he’s prophesying for his “own benefit” but rather that he’s not giving mussar so much as making blanket predictions.

    (Of course, there are issues of the time frame of Daniel which are also connected to the question of why he is in Ketuvim- i.e., the book was written after the Neviim section of Tanakh was closed- but those aren’t directly connected to this discussion.)

  2. There are two ways to understand the line between nevi’im and kesuvim. The Rambam apparently holds that nevi’im are those books written by a navi (other than Moshe, whose experience is only called nevu’ah as a homonym).

    Whereas it is possible to define the line as being that nevi’im are the books that contain nevu’ah; that’s it is possible for a navi to write a book that happens not to contain any of his nevu’ah and for it to be included in kesuvim. I don’t know how else to explain the opinion in the gemara that Moshe wrote Iyov. Would that shitah in the gemara take the book out of kesuvim and put it into nevi’im (at minimum)?

    Also, there are two definitions of navi I think are being conflated. There are those capable of prophecy of whom there were whole schools in Eliyahu’s and Elisha’s days, the gemara says there were 1.2 mm such (twice 60 ribo), and the 55 who gave nevu’ah ledoros. (3 avos, Sarah imeinu, 45 Jewish men, 6 Jewish women, and Bil’am.)

    All in all, nothing of the above would necessarily have forced the Rambam to rule out Daniel being one of the 1.2mm who received nevu’ah, but none of his prophecy was for the generations. Which would explain why he was subject of a book that contained no nevu’ah — regardless of whether or not he received prophecy.

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