Tuesday, August 30, 2011

How is the failed negative prophecy exclusion encoded in Shofetim? part i

Summary: Rav Chaim Kanievsky addresses it, with a remez based on beShem Hashem. And I analyze some of the pesukim in parashat Shofetim and sefer Yirmeyah myself.

Post: In parashat Shofetim,

22. If the prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, and the thing does not occur and does not come about, that is the thing the Lord did not speak. The prophet has spoken it wantonly; you shall not be afraid of him.כב. אֲשֶׁר יְדַבֵּר הַנָּבִיא בְּשֵׁם ה וְלֹא יִהְיֶה הַדָּבָר וְלֹא יָבוֹא הוּא הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר לֹא דִבְּרוֹ ה בְּזָדוֹן דִּבְּרוֹ הַנָּבִיא לֹא תָגוּר מִמֶּנּוּ:
Yet, based on Yirmeyahu's conflict with the false prophet Chanania ben Azur, and other Biblical evidence as well, the Rambam speaks of an exclusion for negative prophecy. In Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah, 10:4, the Rambam writes:

ח  [ד] דִּבְרֵי הַפֻּרְעָנוּת שֶׁהַנָּבִיא אוֹמֵר, כְּגוֹן שֶׁיֹּאמַר פְּלוֹנִי יָמוּת אוֹ שָׁנָה פְּלוֹנִית שְׁנַת רָעָב אוֹ מִלְחָמָה וְכַיּוֹצֶא בִּדְבָרִים אֵלּוּ--אִם לֹא עָמְדוּ דְּבָרָיו, אֵין בְּזֶה הַכְחָשָׁה לִנְבוּאָתוֹ; וְאֵין אוֹמְרִין הִנֵּה דָּבָר דִּבַּרְתָּ וְלֹא בָא:  שֶׁהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא "אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם וְרַב-חֶסֶד, וְנִחָם עַל-הָרָעָה" (יואל ב,יגיונה ד,ב); וְאִפְשָׁר שֶׁעָשׂוּ תְּשׁוּבָה וְנִסְלָח לָהֶם כְּאַנְשֵׁי נִינְוֵה, אוֹ שֶׁתָּלָה לָהֶם כְּחִזְקִיָּה.

ט  אֲבָל אִם הִבְטִיחַ עַל טוֹבָה וְאָמַר שֶׁיִּהְיֶה כָּךְ וְכָּךְ, וְלֹא בָאָה הַטּוֹבָה שֶׁאָמַר--בַּיָּדוּעַ שְׁהוּא נְבִיא שֶׁקֶר:  שֶׁכָּל דְּבַר טוֹבָה שֶׁיִּגְזֹר הָאֵל, אַפִלּוּ עַל תְּנָאי--אֵינוּ חוֹזֵר.  הַא לָמַדְתָּ, שֶׁבְּדִבְרֵי הַטּוֹבָה בִּלְבָד יִבָּחֵן הַנָּבִיא.

י  הוּא שֶׁיִּרְמְיָהוּ אוֹמֵר בִּתְשׁוּבָתוֹ לַחֲנַנְיָה בֶּן עַזּוּר, כְּשֶׁהָיָה יִרְמְיָה מִתְנַבֵּא לְרָעָה וַחֲנַנְיָה לְטוֹבָה.  אָמַר לוֹ חֲנַנְיָה, אִם לֹא יַעַמְדוּ דְּבָרַי, אֵין בְּזֶה רְאָיָה שֶׁאֲנִי נְבִיא שֶׁקֶר; אֲבָל אִם לֹא יַעַמְדוּ דְּבָרֶיךָ, יִוָּדַע שֶׁאַתָּה נְבִיא שֶׁקֶר:  שֶׁנֶּאֱמָר "אַךְ-שְׁמַע-נָא אֶת הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה" (ראה ירמיהו כח,ז).ע
My translation: "Words or punishment which the prophet speaks of, such as saying person X will die or year Y will be a year of famine or war, or things similar to these -- if his words do not stand, this is not a disproof to his prophecy, and we do not say 'behold he said something and it did not come to pass'. For Hashem is 'long suffering, and abundant in mercy, and repents of the woe'. (See Yoel 2:13 and Yonah 4:2.) And it is possible that they repented and were forgiven, like the residents of Ninveh, or that it was suspended for them, like Chizkiyah

But, if he promises good things, and says that it will be such and such, and the good that he speaks of does not come, then it is known that he is a false prophet. For any positive thing which God decrees, even on condition, He does not retract. Learn this from here, that only by positive words can a prophet be judged.

This is what Yirmeyahu said in his response to Chanania ben Azur, when Yirmeyah prophesied woe and Chanania prophesied weal. He said to him: 'Chanania, if my words do not stand, there is not in this proof that I am a false prophet. But if your words do not stand, it is known that you are a false prophet, as is stated {in the relevant perek in Yirmeyahu}, 'Nevertheless hear thou now this word...' "

As a matter of peshat, there might be other ways of understanding the pesukim in Yirmeyah. But we would still need to grapple with the difficulty posed by the retraction of the negative prophecy against Ninveh.

Separate from this is how we can read this into the pesukim in parashat Shofetim, which make no overt distinction between prophecy of weal and prophecy of woe.

Rav Chaim Kanievsky, in Taama D'Kra, cites the pasuk and summarizes the Rambam, that a failed negative prophecy is no proof that a prophet is false. Then he writes:

"And it is difficult, how this is hinted to in the pasuk here. Behold it is stated simply, with no caveats, that if it is not fulfilled, then he is a false prophet and is executed. And one could say that this is hinted at in the phrase beShem Hashem, for Chazal say (in Tanchuma Tazria siman 9, and it is brought in brief in Tosafot Taanit 3a, d"h ve'ilu) 'Hakadosh Baruch Hu does not associate his name with the evil, but rather on the good. And therefore, if the prophet mentions beShem Hashem, perforce it is for good. (But certainly it is so that even by evil, he needs to say that he says this in prophecy; just that he does mention the name of Hashem.)"

I am not sure that I understand this. Firstly, one need not appeal to the prophet himself mentioning the name of YKVK. One could simply say that since YKVK is middas haChessed, the pasuk in Shoftim refers to a positive prophecy, while Elokim would have referred to a negative prophecy.

And we see prophets mentioning the shem YKVK even in negative prophecies. Sefer Yeshaya begins:

ב  שִׁמְעוּ שָׁמַיִם וְהַאֲזִינִי אֶרֶץ, כִּי ה דִּבֵּר:  בָּנִים גִּדַּלְתִּי וְרוֹמַמְתִּי, וְהֵם פָּשְׁעוּ בִי.2 Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, for the LORD hath spoken: Children I have reared, and brought up, and they have rebelled against Me.

And indeed, Yirmeyahu's negative prophecy, which countered the false prophet Chananya ben Azur's positive prophecy, was stated in the name of YKVK. In Yirmeyahu 28:

יג  הָלוֹךְ וְאָמַרְתָּ אֶל-חֲנַנְיָה לֵאמֹר, כֹּה אָמַר ה, מוֹטֹת עֵץ, שָׁבָרְתָּ; וְעָשִׂיתָ תַחְתֵּיהֶן, מֹטוֹת בַּרְזֶל.13 'Go, and tell Hananiah, saying: Thus saith the LORD: Thou hast broken the bars of wood; but thou shalt make in their stead bars of iron.
יד  כִּי כֹה-אָמַר ה צְבָאוֹת אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, עֹל בַּרְזֶל נָתַתִּי עַל-צַוַּאר כָּל-הַגּוֹיִם הָאֵלֶּה לַעֲבֹד אֶת-נְבֻכַדְנֶאצַּר מֶלֶךְ-בָּבֶל--וַעֲבָדֻהוּ; וְגַם אֶת-חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה, נָתַתִּי לוֹ.14 For thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: I have put a yoke of iron upon the neck of all these nations, that they may serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; and they shall serve him; and I have given him the beasts of the field also.'

Writing as a pashtan, I would like to resolve the difficulty of
  1. the plain meaning of the psukim in Shofetim
  2. how to understand retracted negative prophecy such as that of Yonah
  3. how the psukim in Shofetim relate to the psukim in Yirmeyah
Here is what I would say, as a matter of peshat. Please note that there may be other interpretations which operate on the level of derash, which are of no concern to me here. Thus, my reinterpretation need not be a rejection / refutation of the Rambam.

(1) In terms of the pesukim in Shofetim, I would suggest that the pesukim are not referring to prophecies of weal or prophecies of woe. Rather, they refer to a prophet who sets a sign. People wonder whether he is for real, or they might wonder, and so this prophet, purely for the sake of establishing himself as a prophet, either (a) predicts some normal future event that a regular person would not be able to predict; or (b) creates some sort of wonder.

The first is an ot, a sign. Such as, before astronomy was something exceptionally known, predicting a comet. For instance, Shmuel telling that people would tell Shaul that his father's donkeys had been found. Some future event, not caused by the prophet, but known by the prophet. The second is a miracle created by the prophet. For instance, Moshe turning a staff into a snake. One is a demonstration of supernatural knowledge, and the other is a demonstration of supernatural power.

The context, after all, is hearkening to the prophet in his instructions, to lead them, like Moshe. To him they are obligated to listen. But there is a chance that he will lead them falsely, or lead them to idolatry.

We have to read this perek (18) in light of perek 13 of Devarim:

2. If there will arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of a dream, and he gives you a sign or a wonder,ב. כִּי יָקוּם בְּקִרְבְּךָ נָבִיא אוֹ חֹלֵם חֲלוֹם וְנָתַן אֵלֶיךָ אוֹת אוֹ מוֹפֵת:
3. and the sign or the wonder of which he spoke to you happens, [and he] says, "Let us go after other gods which you have not known, and let us worship them,"ג. וּבָא הָאוֹת וְהַמּוֹפֵת אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר אֵלֶיךָ לֵאמֹר נֵלְכָה אַחֲרֵי אֱ־לֹהִים אֲחֵרִים אֲשֶׁר לֹא יְדַעְתָּם וְנָעָבְדֵם:
4. you shall not heed the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of a dream; for the Lord, your God, is testing you, to know whether you really love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul.ד. לֹא תִשְׁמַע אֶל דִּבְרֵי הַנָּבִיא הַהוּא אוֹ אֶל חוֹלֵם הַחֲלוֹם הַהוּא כִּי מְנַסֶּה ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם אֶתְכֶם לָדַעַת הֲיִשְׁכֶם אֹהֲבִים אֶת ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם בְּכָל לְבַבְכֶם וּבְכָל נַפְשְׁכֶם:

What it means by "happens" even here is the sign or the wonder. It is possible to miss this correct interpretation because of the ambiguity of the word הַדָּבָר, and how it is used in the surrounding pesukim in perek 18. (At this point, one can read perek 18 and construct a counterargument. I encourage you to engage in this exercise. Still, one can then counter that counterargument. Below, I will suggest a different reading of these pesukim.)

(2) If so, this does not contradict negative prophecy being withdrawn, as in Yonah. His prophecy of doom for Nineveh was not a sign or a wonder. This was the actual substance of the prophecy. It was the message! And if they believe that Hashem "repents evil", then it is not problematic for Hashem to change His mind. But Hashem would not change His mind about a neutral thing whose sole purpose is to establish a prophet as true.

Now, one can extend from the neutral sign and wonder to the actual stuff of prophetic messages. But one need not do this. And if one does extend it, under the theory that prophesied weal or woe which fails to materialize is just as much a failure, then this might well be subject to intricate theological rules. For instance, shema yigrom hachet, or nicham al haraah. It need not be the seeming comprehensive statement of parashat Shofetim.

(3) As for the exchange between Yirmeyahu and Chananiah, this is perhaps the easiest. First, we can say like the Rambam, but only according to the parameters of the extension. Second, we can take an alternate path. Who says that Yirmeyahu was speaking from an halachic perspective, and making a diyuk into the general rule set out in Sefer Devarim? Here is how I would explain these pesukim in Yirmeyahu.

Chanania gave a prophecy of weal. Yirmeyahu responds as follows:

ו  וַיֹּאמֶר, יִרְמְיָה הַנָּבִיא, אָמֵן, כֵּן יַעֲשֶׂה ה; יָקֵם ה, אֶת-דְּבָרֶיךָ, אֲשֶׁר נִבֵּאתָ לְהָשִׁיב כְּלֵי בֵית-ה וְכָל-הַגּוֹלָה, מִבָּבֶל אֶל-הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה.6 even the prophet Jeremiah said: 'Amen! the LORD do so! the LORD perform thy words which thou hast prophesied, to bring back the vessels of the LORD'S house, and all them that are carried away captive, from Babylon unto this place!
ז  אַךְ-שְׁמַע-נָא הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי דֹּבֵר בְּאָזְנֶיךָ, וּבְאָזְנֵי, כָּל-הָעָם.7 Nevertheless hear thou now this word that I speak in thine ears, and in the ears of all the people:

He knows that Chanania is a false prophet, for Hashem has told Yirmeyahu a contrary message. Yet, on hearing a good idea, he says 'Amen'. Yet, now he is going to present a contrary position, both to Chanania and to all the people who might heed Chanania.

ח  הַנְּבִיאִים, אֲשֶׁר הָיוּ לְפָנַי וּלְפָנֶיךָ--מִן-הָעוֹלָם:  וַיִּנָּבְאוּ אֶל-אֲרָצוֹת רַבּוֹת, וְעַל-מַמְלָכוֹת גְּדֹלוֹת, לְמִלְחָמָה, וּלְרָעָה וּלְדָבֶר.8 The prophets that have been before me and before thee of old prophesied against many countries, and against great kingdoms, of war, and of evil, and of pestilence.

The mention of those prophets before him can be read as saying that this has been Hashem's constant message. We accept those prophets and Yirmeyahu's prophecy is in line with what they have said. Or, this is the typical prophetic message, and so there is nothing in it to raise suspicion that the prophet is false.


ט  הַנָּבִיא, אֲשֶׁר יִנָּבֵא לְשָׁלוֹם--בְּבֹא, דְּבַר הַנָּבִיא, יִוָּדַע הַנָּבִיא, אֲשֶׁר-שְׁלָחוֹ ה בֶּאֱמֶת.9 The prophet that prophesieth of peace, when the word of the prophet shall come to pass, then shall the prophet be known, that the LORD hath truly sent him.'

This might be because the message is so darn atypical of an Israelite prophet. Therefore, we should adopt a wait-and-see approach. Or, though we not need to read it into the pasuk, he could appoint some ot or mofet.

Note that the people did not execute Chanania for his false prophecy, via chenek. This was at the hands of Hashem, a misa biydei Shamayim, as we read at the end of that perek in sefer Yirmeyah.


That was one way of resolving these three points. Another way is as follows:

(1) Fulfilled prophecy vs. failed prophecy is NOT about the sign or wonder. It was about the actual substance of the prophecy. And either the negative vs. positive aspect is somehow unspoken throughout the Torah, or else it actually covers everything, including prophecy of woe.

(2) Yonah's prophecy to Nineveh had an implicit condition to it. If a prophet prophesied the destruction of a city to the people of the city itself, and it is a prophecy from Hashem, the idea is that those in the city are great sinners. Change the situation, and it makes sense that Hashem might decide to spare the city. Indeed, that might have been the very purpose of Hashem sending the prophet. It is not to taunt them of their impending doom!

The people of the city took Yonah's message to heart, and changed their ways. They repented, fasted, and donned sackcloth. In such a scenario, the doomsday not coming to pass would be readily understood by the populace as Hashem being swayed by the people's repentance. This is not the same as saying that doom X would come and, with no change in the world prompting a change in Hashem's plan, doom X does not come.

(3) In terms of Chanania's prophecy vs. Yirmeyahu's prophecy, we might say that the failed prophecy as evidence of false prophecy applies across the board, even to Yirmeyahu, but that it is not relevant, for the reasons details in the analysis of this section, above.

Rabbi Yosef Ibn Caspi, the Biblical exegete, discusses at length how to resolve the Rambam with the plain meaning of the pasuk. Perhaps I will consider this in a follow-up post.

No comments:


Blog Widget by LinkWithin