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Gentile Prophets


Rabbi Ari Shvat

Adar II 25, 5771
Bless you and bless Israel. I am going to say some difficult things to you but I pray that you will read to the end and also reply so that we can learn together. I recently read an article entitled Bilam’s Predicament, in which Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed was discussing the faults of Balaam in Numbers. I am a Noahide and I have particular interest in this, as Balaam was a gentile. In the article, the good Rabbi regarded Balaam as a prophet with potential equal to Moshe but had certain personal shortcomings that would not allow it. Unless I read it wrong, in which I would ask that you please correct me. Is it the belief in Judaism that a prophet that can only do the will of G-d would be able to direct temptation at Israel? This doesn’t make sense to me and feels a whole lot like an interpolation and perhaps a bit of scriptural neck-breaking. No offense intended, I hope you understand my feelings, considering the prophesies that my previous religion claimed. I had to dig through mountains of apologetics to reach what I consider the truth. Your people are obviously the priests unto the nations, but I have to make a discernment based on the difference between the word of G-d, whom I fear and wish to follow, and the words of men, who taught me a trinity(G-d forgive them). Additionally, the good Rabbi made the claim that, based on Num 22:18 Balaam was obviously more interested in the silver and gold. I fail to see this in scripture and it seems more an answer to the offer made in verse 17. An answer to the emphatic "no". If Abraham was able to come to G-d then other Gentiles should. Notice that Abraham called G-d "El Shaddai" while Zarathustra called Him "Ahura Mazda"(meaning Most Wise God). The distinction is made when G-d gives His Torah to Israel (likely thanks to their ability to stay faithful to Him over subsequent generations) While Zarathustra’s message was eventually poisoned be the very idolatrous priests he had spoken out against. But enough remained that Cyrus the Great was a follower and G-d gave him enough knowledge to know that Israel worshipped the Wise G-d too. I think I can take in one step further and say that a piece of truth was rewarded to Siddhārtha Gautama, who sought the meaning and purpose of suffering. He concluded that suffering was absolutely necessary for paradise. Compare this with the philosophy of Yin and Yang, in which concepts have little meaning without their polar opposite and you’ll realize that paradise will always be squandered without the experience of suffering. If, indeed, G-d is the creator of all of us, would it not be reasonable that a clue or two would have been placed with us? Is Zarathustra the solution to the enigma of the Righteous Gentile? Did Siddhārtha Gautama solve the riddle of suffering? Siddhārtha Gautama was the father of Buddhism but did not make it idolatrous. That came later. My point is that perhaps Torah is the master key to other revelations of G-d through out history. Israel was charged with maintaining it(and a good thing too, considering what Christians did to the Gospels). You have a clear religious identity, while we flail about the best we can. What is our religious identity? What does G-d desire of us? I am a Noahide by default. It’s honestly the best thing I have to go by. But "we’re absolutely right and your absolutely wrong" mentality has created a world in which we may not always be able to recognize the word of G-d. But perhaps that is how it will always be.
Dear Ron, Your interesting question raises several important issues, most of which I agree with you whole-heartedly. True, the nation of Israel is the focal point of the Bible, nevertheless, this G-dly book of prophecy is meant to enlighten and bring truth to all mankind. ìIn the end of days, the Temple Mount shall be established above all mountainsÖ and all the nations shall flow to herÖ and say, ëletís go up toÖ the House of the G-d of Jacob, and he will teach us of his waysÖ for out of Zion shall go forth Torah, and the word of G-d from Jerusalemî (Isaiah 2, 2-3). The logic of gentiles is also from the same G-d who gave prophecy to Israel, and the two not only shouldnít contradict, but they should complement and harmonize. But obviously, the problem with human logic is how to identify what is true and what not. Some of the words of Buddha, ancient Chinese, and others may be true, and others, not. Clarification will inevitably take time, and eventually, intellectual ìevolutionî helps reveal the truth and weed out falsehood. Nevertheless, it took man a long time before agreeing that the world is round. Itís much safer to follow revelation and the oral tradition passed down the generations from father to son, and rabbi to student. Some rabbinic teachings address new issues and ideas previously not dealt with in the Oral Tradition, but based upon those principles handed down for that exact purpose. True they are men, but weríe talking about the wisest of Jews in every generation. All of the Einsteins, Freuds and Jewish Nobel Prize laureates, in previous generations, used to invest all their wisdom into Torah. Add to that the gradual clarification process of classic Jewish questioning and arguing, face-to-face in yeshivot and in writing generation after generation, in addition to ìruíach hakodeshî (Divine supervision), weríe talking about deep and intellectual, not simplistic and fairy tales. As opposed to Christianity, Judaism has encouraged critical questioning for more than 3,300 years. Just like today itís difficult to con a smart Jew (recognized in the Bible as stubborn and ìstiff-neckedî) or really any wise or shrewd person for that matter, into buying a ìlemonî of a used-car, you couldnít fool us to go for a trinity, ìImmaculate Conceptionî or the like. So honestly, you canít compare the two. Regarding the rabbiís explanation of the chapter of Bilaíam, I have not seen his article, but I can answer you in general. Most gentiles are unaware of the fact that ìmidrashî, similar to kabbala and mysticism, is one of the many beautiful and deep aspects of Torah, which takes years to master and identify how to know when itís meant to be taken literally, when figuratively, when philosophically, when mystically, and when several of the above simultaneously! Like any truly complex topic, itís not worth even trying to study auto-didactically over the internet, but rather it must be studied systematically and interactively with a specialist, and not superficially. Regarding your specific question, anyone, including Bilaíam, can try and tempt the individual or masses to sin, but not because he is a prophet who ìdirects temptationî, but simply because he drafted Midianite women to entice and distract the Israelite soldiers. Most important, gentiles not only can but should become close to G-d, with the help of the Book of Books, especially the seven Noahide laws, and thus have a share in the World to Come, just like the Jews. You canít ask for more! Sincerely, Rabbi Ari Shvat
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