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What are the requirements of a 'true prophet'?

by Rabbi Zalman Abraham


Library » Philosophy » Prophecy | Subscribe | What is RSS?


In four chapters of the Fundamentals of Torah, Maimonides gives a thorough and clear definition of what is required of a true prophet (the following is a free translation):

Chapter 7

1) One of the bases of religion is to know that G-d visits people in prophetic visions, which come only to exceedingly wise people of outstanding characteristics, whose inclinations never lead them to earthly matters but who always conquer their inclinations, and who are of correct temperaments. A person who fulfils these criteria, and is of perfect health, will, when studying esoterical philosophy and is attracted by those elevated issues and is of an appropriate temperament to understand and comprehend them , and sanctifies himself by moving away from anybody who concerns himself with ephemeral matters, and encourages himself not to have any thoughts about useless matters and its contrivances, have his thoughts permanently attuned to above, from under G-d's Throne, to understand the pure and holy forms, and looks upon the wisdom of G-d [in Creation] in its entirety, from the first form [i.e the Holy Chayot] till the centre of the Earth, and sees in them G-d's greatness, and then prophecy will immediately come to him. At the time when prophecy comes to him, his soul will be on the same level as that of the Ishim angels, and he will become a different man, and he will realize that he is not [any more] as he was, but will rise above the level of other wise men, as it is written, "...and you shall prophesy with him, and shall be turned into another man".

2) There are [many] levels of prophecy - in the same way that one person can be wiser than another, so can he be more prophetic. Prophetic insights come only in nocturnal visions in dreams, or by day after falling asleep, as it is written, "I the L-rd make Myself known to him in a vision, and speak to him in a dream". Whenever one is receiving a prophecy, one's limbs shake, the strength of one's body weakens, and one's thoughts become disturbed, leaving one's mind free to understand what one will see, as it is written in connection with Abraham, "...and, lo, a horror of great darkness fell upon him", and as it is written in connection with Daniel, "...for my comely appearance was horribly changed, and I retained no strength".

3) What is made known to a prophet during prophecy is done so by way of parable, and he will immediately realize what the parable means. For instance, when Jacob the Patriarch saw the ladder with angels ascending and descending it, it was a parable representing monarchy and its subjection. Similarly, the animals which Ezekiel saw, the boiling pot and almond tree which Jeremiah saw, and all the other objects seen by the other Prophets were also parables. Of the Prophets, some, like those mentioned above, related what they saw in their prophecy and their interpretation of it, whereas some related just their interpretation. Sometimes they related just the parables [of the prophecy], like Ezekiel and Zachariah sometimes did. All of the Prophets prophesized by way of parables and riddles.

4) None of the Prophets receive prophecies whenever they wanted, but they would attune their thoughts, be happy and of a good heart, and seek solitude, for prophecy does not come to those who are sad or lazy, but only to those who are happy. Therefore, the sons of prophets would have before them harps, drums and flutes, and would seek prophecy, as it is written, "...and they shall prophesy", that is to say that they will follow the ways of prophecy until they prophesize, progressing as they go.

5) Those who seek prophecy are called the sons of prophets. Even though they attune their thoughts, the Divine Presence may, or may not, inspire them.

6) All the Prophets, from the first to the last, prophesized in these ways, with the exception of Moses our Teacher, chief of the Prophets. In what ways did Moses differ from the other Prophets? Firstly, whereas the other Prophets received their prophecies in a dream or vision, Moses received his while awake and standing, as it is written, "And when Moses was in the Tent of Meeting to speak with Him, he heard the voice speaking to him, et cetera". Secondly, the other Prophets received their prophecies via an angel. Therefore, what they saw was by way of parable and riddle. Moses, on the other hand, did not receive his prophecies via an angel, as it is written, "With him I speak mouth to mouth", "And the L-rd spoke to Moses face to face", "...and the outward appearance of the L-rd does he behold", that is to say that what Moses saw what not by way of parable, but he saw each prophecy absolutely clearly without any parables or riddles. The Torah said about him, "...manifestly, and not in dark speeches", showing that when Moses received a prophecy he did not do so by way of riddles, but did so with clarity, and saw everything absolutely clearly. Thirdly, the other Prophets were scared [of their prophetic visions] and would shy away, but Moses wasn't and didn't. Scripture says, " a man speaks with a friend" - just as a man is not scared to listen to his friend, so Moses had the capabilities to understand his prophecies and to stand unafraid. Fourthly, none of the Prophets prophesized whenever they wanted to, but whenever G-d wanted to He would visit Moses and bestow upon him prophecy. Moses did not have to attune his thoughts or otherwise prepare himself, for the reason that he was always prepared and stood like a ministering angel. Therefore, he would receive prophecies at any time, as it is written, "Stand still and I will hear what the L-rd will command concerning you". In this G-d trusted him, as it is written, "Go say to them, `Return to your tents'. But as for you, stand here by Me, and I will speak to you, et cetera". From here we see that whenever any of the other Prophets had finished prophesizing they would return to their houses [and families] and other bodily needs, like everybody else, so they therefore did not separate themselves from their wives. Moses, on the other hand, did not return to his home, and separated himself from his wife, and all that resembled her, for ever. His mind was [always] connected to G-d, and G-d's glory never left him at all; light emanated from his face, and he was holy like an angel.


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(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Moses son of Maimon, born in Spain in 1135, died in Egypt in 1204. Noted philosopher and authority on Jewish law. Also was an accomplished physician and was the personal doctor for members of the Egyptian royalty. Interred in Tiberius, Israel.
1. Assumed the leadership of the Jewish people after Moses died in 1267 BCE. He split the Jordan River and led the Jewish people in their conquest of the Promised Land. 2. One of the 24 books of the Bible, which chronicles Joshua's leadership.
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
First Jew, and first of our three Patriarchs. Born into a pagan society in Mesepotamia in 1812 BCE, he discovered monethieism on his own. He was told by G-d to journey to the Land of Canaan where he and his wife Sarah would give birth to the Jewish People.
Third of the three Patriarchs and father of the Twelve Tribes. Lived most his life in Canaan and died in Egypt in 1505 BCE. Also known by the name of "Israel."
Established by King David to be the eternal capital of Israel. Both Temples were built there, and the third Temple will be situated there when the Messiah comes.
1. A prophet and judge who appointed Saul as the first king of Israel in the 9th century BCE. 2. One of the 24 books of the Bible, named after the abovementioned Samuel, one of the main characters of the book.
First king of Israel, anointed by the prophet Samuel in 878 BCE. Was dethroned because he failed to carry out G-d's command, and the royal crown was transferred to King David and his descendents.
A legendary prophet who lived in the 8th century BCE, and saved the Jewish religion from being corrupted by the pagan worship of Baal. He never died, he was taken to heaven alive. According to Jewish tradition, he visits every circumcision and every Passover Seder table.
1. Jewish prophet who lived in the 5th century BCE. 2. One of the 24 books of the Bible, containing the prophecies of Jeremiah. The book is replete with prophecies concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple.
1. Major Jewish prophet who lived in the 5th century BCE. 2. One of the 24 books of the Bible, containing the prophecies which Ezekiel transmitted.
1. A Jerusalemite exiled in Babylon after the destruction of the 1st Temple. He interprets dreams, gives accounts of apocalyptic visions, and is divinely delivered from a den of lions. 2. One of the 24 Books of the Bible, which describes the events of Daniel's life.
Acronym for Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, widely known as Maimonides. Born in Spain in 1135, died in Egypt in 1204. Noted philosopher and authority on Jewish law. Also was an accomplished physician and was the personal doctor for members of the Egyptian royalty. Interred in Tiberius, Israel.
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.