The Boy Who Cried “God”: Re’eh 2018

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: How good are you at predicting what will happen in the future? Do you know people who seem especially skilled at predictions? If you do, do you think they’re especially intelligent, exceptionally lucky, or both?

Our portion this week reminds us that just because a prediction comes true makes that person a prophet:

The Pitch: “If there appears among you a prophet or a dream-diviner and he gives you a sign or a portent, saying, “Let us follow and worship another god”—whom you have not experienced—even if the sign or portent that he named to you comes true, do not heed the words of that prophet or that dream-diviner. For the LORD your God is testing you to see whether you really love the LORD your God with all your heart and soul.” – Deuteronomy 13:2-4

Swing #1: “The Kotzker rabbi once was asked, ‘Berachot 56b-57a teaches that “if one sees an elephant in a dream, miracles will be done for him … and if one sees a myrtle in a dream, he will have good luck with his property [like a myrtle, which has numerous leaves].” Well, I saw an elephant in my dreams and I saw a myrtle and no miracle happened for me and business didn’t prosper at all.’ Replied the Kotzker: ‘One who eats like a Jew and drinks like a Jew and sleeps like a Jew and lives like a Jew, dreams like a Jew. But if you gorge yourself like your enemy and you get drunk like your enemy and you sleep with animals like your enemy and you live like your enemy, do you expect the interpretation of your dreams should then be like a Jew?’” – Chasidic Anthologies

Swing #2: “YHWH was intolerant of the gods to the point that he continually warns his votaries against situations in which they might be led away from him. For example, Deuteronomy 13:2-19 warns against following a prophet or diviner, even one who works miracles, if he advocates the service of any deity other than YHWH. Note that nothing in Deuteronomy 13 suggests that the other gods do not exist. The fear is not that Israel will be led into philosophical error, but that another deity will claim her service …” – Jon D. Levenson, Sinai & Zion: An Entry Into the Jewish Bible

Swing #3: “According to my religious teaching, miracles are not the distinguishing marks of Truth and do not provide moral certainty about the divine mission of the prophet. For seducers and false prophets too can perform signs, whether through magic, secret arts, or perhaps a misuse of a gift given to them for a good purpose.” – Moses Mendelssohn

Late-Inning Questions: According to our commentators, how does much should a person’s character determine the degree to which they should be trusted? How should we treat a “boy who cries wolf” when that “boy” actually is correct? How much truth must one person speak before we believe him/her again?

Summer Training: Even though it’s still the first half of August, it feels like summer is rapidly coming to a close. I’ll be reflecting on my health initiative during my sermon on Erev Rosh Hashanah, which I will then post on my blog following the conclusion of Rosh Hashanah.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of those who make predictions – and profit from them – count me among those who are extremely concerned that sports betting will soon be legal nationwide. Maybe the conditions that caused the 1919 Black Sox Scandal have changed, as Major League players make a lot more money than they used to, but even successful players can be lured by gamblers offering even more cash, thus potentially compromising the outcomes of games. Just ask Pete Rose.

Shabbat Shalom!