Hissed Oracle: Shoftim 2021

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: What enables you to trust a stranger? Do you have a litmus test of sorts? Or do you evaluate each person differently?

Cognizant that the Israelites might be susceptible to false prophets, God provides criteria to tell the truth-tellers from the hucksters:

The Pitch: “Any prophet who presumes to speak in My name and oracle that I did not command him to utter, or who speaks in the name of other gods – that prophet shall die. And should you ask yourselves, ‘How can we know that the oracle was not spoken by the Lord?’ – If the prophet speaks in the name of the Lord and the oracle does not come true, that oracle was not spoken by the Lord; the prophet has uttered it presumptuously: do not stand in dread of him.” – Deuteronomy 18:20-22

Swing #1: “Certainly a prophet could also establish his credibility through prognostications that were not pronouncements of doom, with the result that when he made pronouncements of doom they would be taken seriously. … All of this suggests that the guideline offered is that of suspending judgment until a prophet has established a track record, though admittedly this would not always be practical.” – John H. Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible

Swing #2: “The Deuteronomists invent a very easy way to distinguish the true from the false prophets … This post hoc criterion tends to legitimate the prophets of doom who had announced the collapse of Israel and Judah.” – Thomas Römer, The So-Called Deuteronomistic History: A Sociological, Historical, and Literary Introduction

Swing #3: “Even if he prophesied about the fulfillment of the commandments – since there is falsehood in his mouth, we do not [receive] a punishment for his death; but rather it is a commandment upon us [to kill him].” – Sefer HaChinukh

Late-Inning Questions: What do our commentators think of God’s conditions for rejecting someone who claims to speak prophecy? Can you think of other ways to determine this? Are there foolproof ways to know you’re not being fooled?

On-Deck at TBT: We hope you’ll be able to join us for High Holiday services in-person, but if it’s impossible for you to do so, we hope you’ll drive up to the shul and pick up a mahzor Sunday, August 22nd, between 10:00-11:30 a.m. You’ll receive a goody bag for your efforts, and hopefully you’ll drop off some non-perishable food for those in need.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of not being fooled, I was prepared to look cynically at last night’s Field of Dreams game in Dyersville, Iowa; how could MLB turn my favorite movie into a money grab? But the field was gorgeous and the game was dramatic. OK, I’m hooked; let’s do this again next year.

Shabbat Shalom!