Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – B’haalot’cha

Having faith requires a belief in prophecy. Yes, this is a bold statement. I did not say that faith required a belief in specific Prophets or Biblical inerrancy or even any definition of God. No, having faith requires that one believes in prophecy.

Prophecy has nothing to do with predicting the future; it serves as the most essential tool in forging it. Prophecy is the message that changes hearts and minds. Often prophecy hurts; it forces us to improve our course and our behaviors. It points fingers at our deepest and most secretive challenging behaviors. Prophecies are the words uttered, the ideas shared, and/or the example given that helps people see past their current visual and ideological horizon to some broader more holistic understanding of some piece of the world. Prophecy is spiritual education. We can learn the nuts and bolts of traditional subjects all day, but if we never learn what to do with or learn from the “facts” or the experiences, the teaching does not matter. We have to have eyes, ears, and hearts open to seeing past what we thought we knew yesterday. We need, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr taught, be able to take the next steps even when we can’t fully see the staircase. Faith helps us know that it’s there. Prophecy helps us understand that there is a reason to have faith that it is there.

Houses of worship spend a lot of time teaching about prophets. My entire Jewish tradition begins with the Torah and its first line of commentary; the books of the Prophets. We learn that the different religions dogmatically “cut-off” prophecy at different stages of development as if the ability to prophesy rested in only certain people. The differing religious traditions define those “somebodies” differently.

Within the scripture, though, we get a slightly different message. We chose to include the teachings of specific voices in a variety of texts, but we also know that prophecy is not exclusive to those people. Experience and faith help us understand that prophecy never ended. In this week’s Torah portion, Moses confirms that prophecy should rest on all people. Around him are religious zealots who disapprove.

This week, Eldad and Medad (2 elders) prophesy in the camp. Tradition tells us that these are humble men and that (according to the Rabbinic tradition) their prophecy spoke to the people entering the land and the coming of the Messianic Age for all people. Moses’ son Gershom and Joshua brought this news to Moses. They wanted to imprison or kill these charlatans and frauds. Only Moses could prophesy! Moses responded, “Are you zealous for my sake? If only all God’s people were prophets, that God would bestow the divine spirit upon them!”

Far from upset, Moses was thrilled that there were at least two people paying attention. Indeed, their prophecy risked lowering Moses’ esteem in the community, but that was what was and is supposed to happen. God doesn’t speak to one person or the other. God speaks, but only some of us listen. What we know for sure is that those who claim God speaks only to them are delusional.

Further, it would be inconceivable for the God who creates in us the capacity to love, and who maintains the grandeur of nature, to speak in ways that excluded some of God’s children. If we all believe that one God created everything, then each of us, not some of us, are in this together. If one excludes others, he excludes himself.

The Prophet Joel spoke on behalf of God, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old will dream dreams, your youth will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth.” Our job is simply to pay attention.

We exist in a world of distractions; the distraction that feeds or demean our ego. Where we pay attention, we grow the ability to discern the silver from the dross and the wheat from the chaff. It has been my custom to bless every Confirmation Class (10th grade) with these words from Joel and the affirmation from Moses. If we instill the awe of prophecy within our future leaders, we can change the world and bring healing to all who are in need. To paraphrase the late great poet and humanitarian Achad Ha’am, the world will become whole through prophets and not diplomats. Our job is simply to pay attention. Shabbat Shalom.