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September 27, 2016 / 24 Elul, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘false’

The False Accusation

Friday, June 10th, 2016

After the demise of Czar Paul, Alexander I ascended to the throne of Russia. The enemies of the Jews who had been held in check by the previous king looked hopefully to the new king for a change in policy toward the Jews. It was not long before tragedy struck.


Philanthropist Arrested

A leader of the community of Bovitbask, Benjamin Bainash, was a very wealthy man, a philanthropist and a talmid chacham. He owned many forests, hotels and bars. As a pillar of his community, he supported all the indigent families of the surrounding neighborhoods and his door was always open to the hungry people of the town.

One Shabbos morning while he was davening in shul, the chief of police, accompanied by many policemen, entered, approached Benjamin Bainash, tore his tallis off him and placed him under arrest.

The community was thrown into an uproar. They approached the mayor and begged him to at least tell them what the charges were. But the mayor was equally confused. “An order came through this morning from St. Petersburg, from the czar himself, to arrest this man. No reason was given.”

The following day a platoon of soldiers arrived to take Benjamin Bainash to St. Petersburg. In the meantime, all of his possessions were confiscated and held in escrow by the government.

Word was sent to Rav Nathan Nata who undertook to travel to St. Petersburg to secure his release. It was wintertime and a terrible storm raged as the rav set out on his long journey. He traveled through many towns until he reached the city of Vilna. There he visited the grave of the Vilna Gaon, and he cried bitterly, asking the Gaon to help his descendant, Benjamin Bainash.

When he returned to his hotel, he was told that the great Rav Chaim of Volozhin, the talmid of the late Vilna Gaon, was in Vilna. Although he was very tired from his long journey, he visited Rav Chaim and asked him to pray for his success.

“Fear not,” said Rav Chaim, “the ways of G-d are mysterious and His help will come momentarily. I am sure that you will succeed in your mission.”

The Party

Rav Nathan Nata thanked Rav Chaim and started back to his lodging. On the way, he passed a huge mansion all lit up, with the sounds of music from its windows. A royal party appeared to be in progress as the surrounding streets were all lined with coaches of barons and princesses.

At the entrance of the mansion stood a little hut, occupied by a soldier guarding the entrance. Approaching the guard, Rav Nathan offered him a few kopeks and asked him what was happening at the mansion.

“This is the castle of the governor and he is entertaining some important government officials and barons,” answered the guard.

Rav Nathan immediately thought that this would be a wonderful opportunity to meet some political figures who might be able to help him free the Benjamin Bainash.

“Look here,” he said to the guard, “I will make it worth your while if you will allow me to enter the house and meet some of the people.”

The guard became frightened. “They will have my head removed if I do that,” he answered. “But I have another plan for you. Why don’t you stay with me in this hut until all the officials leave? When the most important official comes out, I can point out his carriage to you and you can meet him.”

Having no other choice, Rav Nathan waited for many hours in the hut, saying Tehillim to himself. Toward morning, the party ended and all the guests began leaving. Suddenly the guard pointed to a large coach, which was preceded by two soldiers. He said, “There is the important official’s coach.”

Rav Nathan saw a man bedecked with many medals and dressed in royal clothes enter the coach.

Rushing over to him, Rav Nathan said, “If it pleases my master…”

The official turned and exclaimed, “What do you want at this hour of the morning?”

“A terrible tragedy has befallen one of your subjects and he needs your help!” answered Rav Nathan.

“Then see me in the morning at the hotel where I am staying. It is too late to discuss anything now,” answered the official.

Rav Nathan was about to depart, when the young woman who was accompanying the official called out, “Wait, don’t leave!” Turning to the official, who appeared to be her husband, she said, “This man says it is a matter of life and death. Maybe tomorrow will be too late. Why not take him along to our hotel and he can tell us all about it before we go to sleep.”

The official agreed, and motioned to Rav Nathan to enter his coach. At the hotel, Rav Nathan waited in the anteroom while the official and his wife removed their formal clothes. When they reappeared, Rabbi Nathan bowed before them and began to relate the reason for his mission.


Acquainted With The Case

“I am very well acquainted with this case,” answered the official. “I was shown that this Jew was forging official government documents and stealing from the czar’s personal warehouse. The king ordered me to arrest him.”

With tears streaming down his face, Rav Nathan cried out, “I swear on all that is holy that this is untrue. The prisoner is one of the most honorable people in the country. Even your governor will testify to that fact.”

Rav Nathan’s sincerity impressed the official and he called in the governor who had accompanied them to the hotel.

“Yes, it is true,” said the governor. “Both the rabbi and the man accused are honorable people.”

The official appeared convinced. “I agree with you that he may be innocent,” he said, “but unfortunately it is now in the hands of the king and only he can free him.”

“Very well,” answered Rav Nathan, as tears continued streaming down his face, “introduce me to the king and I will convince him, too.”

The official looked at Rav Nathan with piercing eyes, whispered something to the governor and then said to Rav Nathan, “Never mind, you can go in peace, rabbi. I will take care of the matter personally with the king. Your friend will be free in the morning.”


Before The Czar

Only then did Rav Nathan realize that he was standing before the czar of all Russia, Alexander I, and he began to tremble. “Will my master allow me to offer a blessing which our sages have prepared for such an occasion?”

“You may,” was the answer.

Rav Nathan then arose, and with awe, uttered the blessing of one who meets the king, “Blessed is He who gives some of His glory to mortals!”

The following morning the order came through – signed personally by the czar – to free Benjamin Bainash and to return all of his possessions to him.

Rabbi Sholom Klass

Testing And Prophecy

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

How did our ancestors distinguish a true prophet from a false one?

Unlike kings or priests, prophets did not derive authority from formal office. Their authority lay in their personality, their ability to give voice to the word of God, their self-evident inspiration. But precisely because a prophet has privileged access to the word others cannot hear, the visions others cannot see, the real possibility existed of false prophets – like those of Baal in the days of King Ahab.

What was there to prevent a fraudulent, or even a sincere but mistaken, figure, able to perform signs and wonders and move the people by the power of his words, from taking the nation in a wrong direction, misleading others and perhaps even himself?

Moses addresses this concern in our sedra:

“You may say to yourselves, ‘How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?’ If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.”

On the face of it, the test is simple: if what the prophet predicts comes to pass, he is a true prophet; if not, not. Clearly, though, it was not that simple.

The classic case is the Book of Jonah. Jonah is commanded by God to warn the people of Nineveh that their wickedness is about to bring disaster on them. Jonah attempts to flee, but fails – the famous story of the sea, the storm, and the “great fish.” Eventually he goes to Nineveh and utters the words God has commanded him to say – “Forty more days and Nineveh will be destroyed” – the people repent and the city is spared. Jonah, however, is deeply dissatisfied:

But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live” (Jonah 4:1-3).

Jonah’s complaint can be understood in two ways. First, he was distressed that God had forgiven the people. They were, after all, wicked. They deserved to be punished. Why then did a mere change of heart release them from the punishment that was their due?

Second, he had been made to look a fool. He had told them that in 40 days the city would be destroyed. It was not. God’s mercy made nonsense of his prediction.

Jonah is wrong to be displeased: that much is clear. God says, in the rhetorical question with which the book concludes: “Should I not be concerned about that great city?” Should I not be merciful? Should I not forgive?

But what then becomes of the criterion Moses lays down for distinguishing between a true and false prophet: “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken”? Jonah had proclaimed that the city would be destroyed in 40 days. It wasn’t; yet the proclamation was true. He really did speak the word of God. How can this be so?

The answer is given in the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah had been prophesying national disaster. The people had drifted from their religious vocation, and the result would be defeat and exile. It was a difficult and demoralizing message for people to hear. A false prophet arose, Hananiah son of Azzur, preaching the opposite. Babylon, Israel’s enemy, would soon be defeated. Within two years the crisis would be over. Jeremiah knew that it was not so, and that Hananiah was telling the people what they wanted to hear, not what they needed to hear. He addressed the assembled people:

He said, “Amen! May the Lord do so! May the Lord fulfill the words you have prophesied by bringing the articles of the Lord’s house and all the exiles back to this place from Babylon. Nevertheless, listen to what I have to say in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people: From early times the prophets who preceded you and me have prophesied war, disaster, and plague against many countries and great kingdoms. But the prophet who prophesies peace will be recognized as one truly sent by the Lord only if his prediction comes true.”

Jeremiah makes a fundamental distinction between good news and bad. It is easy to prophesy disaster. If the prophecy comes true, then you have spoken the truth. If it does not, then you can say: God relented and forgave. A negative prophecy cannot be refuted – but a positive one can. If the good foreseen comes to pass, then the prophecy is true. If it does not, then you cannot say, “God changed His mind” because God does not retract from a promise He has made of good, or peace, or return.

It is therefore only when the prophet offers a positive vision that he can be tested. That is why Jonah was wrong to believe he had failed when his negative prophecy – the destruction of Nineveh – failed to come true. This is how Maimonides puts it:

“As to calamities predicted by a prophet, if, for example, he foretells the death of a certain individual or declares that in particular year there will be famine or war and so forth, the non-fulfillment of his forecast does not disprove his prophetic character. We are not to say, ‘See, he spoke and his prediction has not come to pass.’ For God is long-suffering and abounding in kindness and repents of evil. It may also be that those who were threatened repented and were therefore forgiven, as happened to the men of Nineveh. Possibly too, the execution of the sentence is only deferred, as in the case of Hezekiah.

“But if the prophet, in the name of God, assures good fortune, declaring that a particular event would come to pass, and the benefit promised has not been realized, he is unquestionably a false prophet, for no blessing decreed by the Almighty, even if promised conditionally, is ever revoked … Hence we learn that only when he predicts good fortune can the prophet be tested (Yesodei ha-Torah 10:4).

Fundamental conclusions follow from this. A prophet is not an oracle: a prophecy is not a prediction. Precisely because Judaism believes in free will, the human future can never be unfailingly predicted. People are capable of change. God forgives. As we say in our prayers on the High Holy Days: “Prayer, penitence, and charity avert the evil decree.”

There is no decree that cannot be revoked. A prophet does not foretell. He warns. A prophet does not speak to predict future catastrophe but rather to avert it. If a prediction comes true it has succeeded. If a prophecy comes true it has failed.

The second consequence is no less far-reaching. The real test of prophecy is not bad news but good. Calamity, catastrophe, disaster prove nothing. Anyone can foretell these things without risking his reputation or authority. It is only by the realization of a positive vision that prophecy is put to the test.

So it was with Israel’s prophets. They were realists, not optimists. They warned of the dangers that lay ahead. But they were also, without exception, agents of hope. They could see beyond the catastrophe to the consolation. That is the test of a true prophet.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/jewish-columns/rabbi-lord-jonathan-sacks/testing-and-prophecy/2013/08/07/

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