This week's parsha
The man Moshe was exceedingly humble.
I (G‑d) speak to him . . . in a vision, not in riddles.
As a natural cynic employed to preach faith, I often find myself torn between so-called religious principles and my innate skepticism to reported occurrences of supernatural phenomena.
Take miracles, for instance. I love a good chassidic story of faith, fellowship and relief from suffering. Throw in a witty wordplay and a piece of psychology grounded in Torah, and I’m in clover. However, when the story hinges on miraculous interventions, I get uncomfortable. I start wondering about the veracity of the story. How was the evidence compiled? Who witnessed it and reported it? Even if verified, could this be nothing more than coincidence? If the story sounds implausible or too fantastic, is my uncertainty a sign of lack of faith?The Kotzker Rebbe is quoted to have said that anyone who believes that every miracle story attributed to the Baal Shem Tov actually occurred must be a fool. On the other hand, a scoffer who believes that they couldn’t have happened is a heretic.
If I understand this correctly, prophecy does happen. Miracles do occur. Just that not every poseur who gets up and starts telling a story needs to be trusted implicitly. Unfortunately, in this world of falsehood, people have been known to invent stories, and if you invest money or belief on nothing more that the con man’s say-so -- you’re a fool. However, to extrapolate from there that nothing is true and nothing is sacred is unnecessarily cynical, and leads to apathy and perdition.
And so, I hedge my bets. I believe with a perfect faith that G‑d is true and His Torah is true. I know that nothing on this world happens by chance; every single leaf a-blowing in the wind forms a vital cog in the divine master plan. I accept that G‑d occasionally chooses to reveal His plan for the world via intermediaries, called prophets. And yet I reserve the right to examine every claim through the lens of my natural suspicions, hoping all the while that this is indeed an instance of inspiration and not deception.
There are con men out there. Religion is the natural playing field of hucksters and frauds looking to make a fast buck on the back of some else’s credulity. As we speak, charlatans are peddling Kabbalah waters and red strings, whispering holy nothings and blessing people for a fee. How can you and I possibly differentiate between the holy and the profane, the profound and the ridiculous?
The Torah way is to examine the messenger before the message. If the prophet, man or woman, isn’t a person of character, virtuous and humble, with a personal life lived beyond reproach, then he’s lying or deranged. G‑d doesn’t choose loose men or women to communicate with us, and if a person’s heart and mind aren’t in sync, then he’s no instrument for the divine.
G‑d is constantly sending messages to the world, broadcasting His will and instructions to the faithful. There is nothing wrong with the transmission, just that most of us aren’t tuned in to the right frequency. Only someone who has lived his life on G‑d’s terms, forging himself into a channel for G‑d’s will, can concentrate on the message, undistracted by the static of physicality.
By accentuating Torah and mitzvot, holiness and true spirituality, a real prophet fashions him - or herself into the reed behind whose G‑dly music we all long to march.