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Feats of Amazement

Re'eh (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17 )

by Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt

A man turns up in London claiming to be a prophet. He does some groovy stuff: levitates, revives the dead, heals the sick, turns lead into gold. Then he tells you that at noon tomorrow, it will begin to rain. At 11:00 there isn't a cloud in the sky. 11:30, 11:45, 11:55 and it's still a beautiful day. Shame, he seemed pretty good. Suddenly at 11:59, a cloud materializes out of nowhere. By 12:00, it's filled the whole sky. At 12:01, a most torrential downpour begins.

What do you say? "Oh, that's England for you." Apart from that, though, I think you would give him a little leeway. He didn't do all that badly.

But what does Jewish law say: Is he a prophet and should you listen to him?

Well, Jewish law has a very simple formula for such a guy. You put him out of commission. He is clearly a false prophet, for if God had said it would rain at 12:00, it would not begin to rain at 12:01. God doesn't make mistakes. To be sure, this "prophet" is a very clever man, possibly even in touch with spiritual forces we are not aware of. But in touch with God, he ain't.

Judaism has rules for establishing the credibility of a prophet - and they are not in any way based on the miracles he is able to perform. We Jews are not impressed by miracles. We don't judge a person on the cleverness of his tricks.

Of course, when someone comes with such an impressive repertoire, it is very hard not to be moved. When someone can really heal people, it is difficult not to want to believe. But there are many healers and miracle workers out there. All have different agendas. Be it those who are selling themselves or those who are selling a way of life. Judaism doesn't doubt for a minute that people are able to perform wondrous deeds. What Judaism says is that this is not any proof He is a messenger of God. There are many people out there who appear "successful," but that does not mean that they have God's approval.

The path to a relationship with God in this world is a difficult one. There are no shortcuts. It is a matter of using our freewill to overcome the myriad challenges that we constantly meet. It is human tendency to look for simple solutions to difficult problems. The preponderance of cults, faith healers and so-called 'kabbalistic' groups is very understandable. They may offer simple answers. They may even perform what appear to be miracles. But in the long run, the answers will not satisfy. They are merely escapes from life's real challenges.

Judaism says: Use your mind. Don't judge by "miracles." Judge by evidence. In the primitive world, miracles impressed. Surely in the 21st century we should know better.

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