Based on a series of lectures by Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg, of blessed memory.
We believe that [Moshe Rabbeinu] is the father of all the prophets before and after him, all of whom were beneath him in stature. He was chosen above all mankind, achieving a greater knowledge of the Almighty than anyone before or since. Moshe Rabbeinu reached a level that surpasses human attainment and approximates the angelic. There was no barrier that he did not penetrate, no physical limitation that hindered him, and no imperfection large or small [to impede him]. In achieving this [level], he lost his sensual and imaginative faculties; his drives and desires ceased, leaving only his pure intellect. Concerning this it is said that Moshe communicated with God without any angelic intermediary.
-- Maimonides' 13 Principles of Faith
THE UNCHANGING TORAH
In essence, this principle establishes the fact that the Torah cannot be altered. In order for man to be able to serve God, it is necessary to know His Will in absolute, unchanging terms and to recognize it as such. Any room for change will create the opportunity for man to inject his own values. When the possibility of change exists, man's priorities and convenience dominate, making him a servant of himself rather than his Creator.
Fortunately, the authority of the Torah itself prevents man from tampering with it. The unparalleled circumstances and content of the prophecy of Moshe Rabbeinu, Moses, our teacher, together with the historically unique revelation of the Torah on Sinai, provide the basis for that authority. One of the laws revealed there through Moshe states that nothing can ever be added or subtracted from the Torah that God gave, word for word, to Moshe Rabbeinu (Deuteronomy 13:1). Even a prophet cannot claim the right to innovate anything in the Torah. He can never carry an authentic message from God proposing revision of any detail in the Torah.
FATHER OF PROPHETS
To begin to understand the limitations of the other prophets, we must appreciate the difference between their revelations and those of Moshe Rabbeinu. The Rambam begins this Principle by stating, "Moshe Rabbeinu is the father of all the prophets before and after him." What does he mean? How can Moshe be the father of Abraham, who lived hundreds of years before him?
Moses is the source of the authority for all prophecy.
Although the Rambam elaborates upon the various differences between the prophecies of Moshe Rabbeinu and the other prophets, these differences are not the essence of the Principle. The essence that which must be realized by each Jew is that Moshe Rabbeinu is the "father of all the prophets," which means that he is the source of the authority for all prophecy.
The Rambam can only be understood through appreciating the uniqueness of the Siniatic experience, that which differentiates the Jewish faith from all others. All the religions in the world, except for Judaism, have one thing in common. They all require one to surrender his mind, to take a leap of faith in order to adhere to their beliefs. As long as one is thinking critically, he might well come to reject these religions. For every religion that mankind has invented is dependent upon the testimony of no more than a few individuals. In terms of the pursuit of truth, such evidence is far from satisfactory. The literature of these religions frequently describes a leap of faith, a nice way of saying that one may only progress through ignoring his critical, intellectual facilities.
The difference between the revelations and major prophets of other religions and those of Judaism may be illustrated by a story the Jews have told for hundreds of years:
A great Rebbe died, survived by his two sons. However, he left no instructions as to which son was to inherit the mantle of leadership in the community. The congregation itself was equally divided between the two. Some insisted that one son was more qualified while others were sure that the other son would be the better Rebbe. After weeks, the conflict finally came to a standstill, since the elders of the community could not decide who should be their new Rebbe.
Then, one day, one of the sons approached the Council of Elders and told them an amazing story. He insisted that his father, the Rebbe, had come to him in a dream the night before, and had told him to convey to the elders his command that this son become their new Rebbe.
Upon hearing this story, a hush fell over the Council. Would this new development settle at last the dispute that had occupied the minds and mouths of the whole community for so long? Was this what they had been waiting for?
As the suspense grew, a little old man who was sitting in the corner, amused at what he'd heard, softly decided the matter: "Young man, if your father, the Rebbe, had wanted you to be the new leader of our community, he should have come to us in our dreams, not to you in yours."
If God wanted to appoint a prophet to communicate His Will to a people, He would reveal directly to the people His desire that this individual be His prophet.
In the same way, logically, if God wanted to appoint a prophet to communicate His Will to a people, He would not reveal Himself to the prophet alone, instructing him to tell the people that he had been chosen by God as their prophet. Instead, He would reveal directly to the people His desire that this individual be His prophet.
Of all the religions that have been started throughout history, there exists only one where this situation occurred. Only in giving the Torah on Mount Sinai did God appear to an entire nation. The revelation at Sinai was experienced neither by an individual nor by a chosen group of individuals, but by an entire nation -- men, women and children. The Almighty, so to speak, begs man:
"Ask, now: of the earliest days that were before you, since the day that God created man upon the earth, and from one end of the heaven to the other end, has there ever been such a great thing as this or was there ever heard anything like it? Has a nation heard the voice of God...?" (Deuteronomy 4:32)
In looking at the pages of history, one sees that the story of Sinai was original and has never been repeated. Not only has it never happened again, but no one has even tried to create and tell such a story. The attempt has never been made because it is impossible to make up a story of this nature. In examining great world literature, we find that every plot has its parallels in the various cultures. Certainly, such a story, one that has captured the minds and imaginations of so many people, that serves as the basis of three major religions, would have been copied if this were at all possible. But just as the Rebbe's son did not dare tell the Council of Elders that his father appeared to them in a dream, humanity has never dared to tell of God appearing to any nation other than the Jews. If the invention of such a story would be possible, it would have been imitated many, many times; one just can't invent such a story and get away with it.
NO NEED TO MAKE A LEAP OF FAITH
The Jewish Nation did not only believe in God -- it also knew and experienced Him. For this reason, basing itself on objective evidence -- the testimony of three million eyewitnesses -- Judaism does not need to demand a leap of faith. Just as the Almighty gave our hearts and our emotions to use in order to serve Him, He also gave us our minds. In contrast, a leap of faith demands that an individual not use his intellect in serving God; rather, he should "just have faith."
In the same way, Moshe Rabbeinu is the prophet in history whose authenticity was attested to, publicly, by God Himself. He is the only prophet appointed in the presence of an entire nation. He is the only prophet who was made known as such to his followers, rather than being accepted on "blind faith." Subsequently, any other prophet merits credibility only through the authority of Moshe Rabbeinu. The validity of their prophecies is based upon the definition which Moshe told the Jewish people God provided as to when an individual should be accepted by a nation as a prophet.
Since a prophet's credibility is based upon the criteria revealed through Moshe Rabbeinu, the Rambam refers to Moshe as "the father of all prophets." Thus, the world knows that Abraham was a prophet only because Moshe Rabbeinu spoke to the father of the Jewish People. The world knows that Isaiah was a prophet only because he fulfilled all of the requirements that Moshe Rabbeinu communicated to the nation, in the name of God, concerning the status of a prophet.
Therefore, all prophets are prophets only through the testimony of Moshe Rabbeinu, the father of all prophets. It would be absurd even to consider the words of anyone who claims to be a prophet while proceeding to contradict anything in the Torah, for he is clearly undermining the very source of his supposed credibility.
In summation, the essence of this Principle is that awareness of the uniqueness of the revelation of Moshe Rabbeinu translates into the realization and law that Torah cannot and will not under any circumstances be changed.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF PROPHECY
The sixth Principle states that Torah is, word for word, the words of the Almighty. All other prophecy, on the other hand, is given to a prophet through a mental image, a precise interpretation of which he is empowered and allowed to transmit. The Torah explicitly states that there are specific differences between the type of prophecy of Moshe Rabbeinu and that of all other prophets. It is these differences which distinguish Torah from the Prophets.
In order to further understand the difference between them, it is helpful to elaborate upon this idea that the Torah not only contains different material from a different period, it also represents a significant difference in the very method of communication.
To begin with, it is important to note that the Torah includes not only the prophecy of Moshe Rabbeinu but the entire Jewish Nation's prophecy at Mount Sinai. At the moment the Revelation began, the Jewish nation achieved a level of prophecy similar to that of Moshe Rabbeinu.
The people themselves heard the word:
"I, God, am to be your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slaves." (Exodus 20:3)
Every single member of the People of Israel heard these words and experienced the beginning of the prophecy that would prove to be unique to Moshe Rabbeinu. None of the other prophets experienced prophecy of this nature. No other prophet, other than Moshe Rabbeinu, heard the prophecy he transmitted, word for word, directly from the Almighty. Every single word, from "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1) until "in all the great awesomeness which Moshe had achieved before the eyes of all Israel," (Deuteronomy 34:12) is the word of God. Moshe Rabbeinu was a mere transcriber, the instrument through which these words reached us.
The Sages tell us, "No two prophets have the same style" (Sanhedrin 89a). One can refer to the "style" of the prophets because they themselves worded the thoughts that were communicated to them through the visions they saw. Although an interpretation was included with their vision, the words were the words of the prophets. Nonetheless, the Almighty assured the Jews that they were receiving an accurate interpretation of these visions.
There must exist a different mode of prophecy for communicating word for word in comparison to the transmission of concepts and thoughts. It is this difference that the Torah itself postulates when it testifies to Moshe's uniqueness as a prophet:
"And no prophet arose since, in Israel, like Moshe, whom the Almighty knew face to face." (Deuteronomy 34:10)
ASPECTS OF THE DIFFERENCE
The Rambam elaborates upon several major aspects of the uniqueness of Moshe Rabbeinu's prophecy in this Principle:
(1) Every prophet [other than Moshe] experienced prophecy only while sleeping, as it is said in various places: "in a nighttime dream" (Genesis 31:24), "in a nighttime dream-vision" (Job 33:15), and in many other [quotes] such as these. Alternatively, [the experience of prophecy was] during the day, after [the prophet] had fallen into a deep trance, so that all his senses were nullified and his thoughts remained free, as in a dream. This [occurrence] is called a "vision" or "revelation," as is said "in the revelations of God" (Ezekiel 8:3).
[However, concerning] Moshe, the word of the Almighty came to him during the day, as he was standing between the two cherubim, as God attested:
"I will meet with you there and I will speak to you from above the curtain, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony" (Exodus 25:22),
and as He said:
"if he were one of your prophets I, God, would revealed Myself to him in a vision, in a dream would I speak to him. Not so My servant Moshe: in the whole of My house he is trustworthy. Mouth to mouth I speak to him..." (Numbers 12:6-8)
(2) When a prophet receives prophecy, even though it is through a vision and an intermediary, his strength fails him, his body becomes shattered, and an awesome fear falls upon him, so that his soul almost departs from him ... [but concerning] Moshe, it is not so. The word came to him and he was not overwhelmed with confusion or fear in any manner...
(3) With all the prophets, the presence of prophecy rested upon them not whenever they chose but according to the Will of the Almighty. The prophet could [therefore] wait many days and years and not receive prophecy. He could ask the Almighty to communicate a specific matter to him through prophecy, and wait many days or months until he received it, or he could never receive it. There were many groups of them [prophets] who prepared themselves and purified their thoughts, as Elisha did, as it says, "And now bring me a minstrel" (II Kings 3:15), and then the prophecy came to him. [But, they] would not necessarily receive prophecy every time [they] prepared themselves. But whenever Moshe Rabbeinu desired [to communicate with God], he said [to the People of Israel]:
"Wait, and I will hear what God will command you." (Numbers 9:8)
Here, the Rambam has indicated significant qualitative differences between the prophecies of Moshe Rabbeinu and all other prophets. His prophetic superiority has two implications:
First of all, the man himself was truly greater than all other prophets -- they are secondary to him. Moshe was in control of himself physically and emotionally during his prophecies, while all other prophets lost control in the presence of God. Their physical functioning was suspended while in their prophetic trance. It seems that they had to "leave their bodies" in order for their minds and souls to receive God's message. Moshe Rabbeinu, however, was able to function normally and lucidly while in the presence of the Almighty. He was able to hear words directly from God, whereas all other prophets could only receive His messages in a metaphor or riddle. True, they also received the interpretation of the metaphor, but not in the actual words of God. Moshe's prophetic superiority is, in itself, reason that his words cannot be contradicted by any other prophet.
Learning Torah is the closest a human can come to acquiring an intimate knowledge of God.
Second, the prophecy of Moshe Rabbeinu -- which was validated through a unique moment in history, the revelation to the entire Nation of Israel -- that prophecy is Torah. "Torah" presents the absolute truths of the Almighty directly communicated to man. Thus, learning Torah is the closest a human can come to acquiring an intimate knowledge of God.
In contrast, the prophecy of all other prophets is not Torah. Indeed, their prophecy is validated only through the criteria established by Torah. However, since the revelation at Sinai will never be repeated (see the ninth Principle), prophecy of this type, for all of humanity other than the generation that witnessed Sinai, represents the ultimate religious experience.
Prophecy is the culmination of a lifetime of trying to come close to God. In the vast majority of situations, it was a gift from the Almighty, bestowed upon a righteous scholar who had diligently toiled to become worthy of it. In certain cases, prophecy was granted in order to deliver a message to a community or the Nation. These messages served as a source of insight or inspiration regarding the teachings of the Torah, or else they shed light upon current events, or warned of future happenings. However, these communications never innovated any Torah commandment.
A prophet has no right to innovate or change any law of the Torah. For this reason, the easiest way to spot a false prophet is to examine whether the content of his communication contradicts Torah. How could one accept any other prophecy over Torah? As discussed, the prophecy of "the father of all prophets" was unique, requiring no leap of faith or trust in an individual.
The difference between Moshe's prophecy, the Torah, and other prophecy is based upon this seventh Principle, that the Torah cannot be changed. As stated, if it were possible to amend the Torah, there would be "prophets" constantly seeking to replace the previous revelations with their own. Consequently, there would be no way to maintain the Torah. It would not be absolute.
One can appreciate the importance of this Principle by speculating: what would be the first commandment to be affected if a later prophecy could change the Torah? Would it be Shabbat or Kashrut? The Sages, with their profound understanding of the nature of man, suggested that those commandments which are most obviously necessary to maintain society would be the first to be revised. Neither Shabbat nor Kashrut, but rather, murder, stealing, and adultery would perhaps be the first laws to be altered. How do the Sages know that these fundamentals would be the most vulnerable?
The Sages (Sifri on Deuteronomy 33:2) tell us that before the Torah was given to the Jewish People, it was offered to all the other nations of the world. Upon receiving the offer, each nation wanted to know exactly what was in this Torah. When they heard the answer, however, when they were given an example of what they might expect, they refused to accept it. Actually the very act of asking what was written in the Torah was, in itself, a rejection of God's offer. For when these nations questioned the contents of the Torah, they were already stating that they would accept it only if it suited them. They had no love for God, no desire to fulfill His Will. Theirs was only a self-centered, self-serving mentality. At any rate, the Torah was incompatible with them, for it diametrically opposed their lifestyle.
Still, we are prompted to ask: which commandments did God reveal to them? What scared them off? He did not reveal the laws of Shabbat or Kashrut. Rather, He forbade murder, stealing and adultery. These nations rejected commandments that are fundamentally and essential to humanity. It is upon these commandments that man's attention would be focused if he were able to amend the Torah. Since these commandments are the basis of society and touch man's life in many sensitive and crucial ways, they are the hardest to deal with as absolute.
Yet, aren't these very laws found in all civilized countries? What nation did not or does not outlaw murder, theft, and adultery? Why did the nations of the world reject God's offer if these laws are part of their own societies in any case?
GOD-GIVEN VERSUS MAN-GIVEN
The answer lies in the fact that there is a world of difference between a God-given law and a law that man accepts upon himself. A God-given law is absolute; man does not have the right or the authority to interpret it according to his convenience. In contrast, a man-made law serves the needs of society. Individuals in that society are willing to refrain from certain behavior in order to receive the protection that the law offers. For example, although an individual may be tempted to steal, he is willing to control his temptations in exchange for the security of knowing that others cannot steal from him. Man-made laws give men the freedom to decide when any given statute does and doesn't apply. These laws also imply a potentially unlimited freedom: if one becomes so strong and powerful that he no longer fears others, he can cast off the burden of any restriction. Whether or not man will ever achieve this feeling of security, the mere awareness of such freedom serves his self-interest.
An absolute Law, however, cannot be molded to serve one's needs. Man can't claim that, for example, this Law doesn't apply to Jews or blacks. Since man did not create the Law, he is not in control. It applies in all situations, in all societies, and at all times. This absoluteness of the Torah, when offered to the nations, precipitated their rejection. They understood that the Torah demanded subordinating themselves to their Creator, and, although, they knew that life guided by God's Torah offered them the best possible way of life, these nations could not give up the freedom and convenience of relative ethics.
A Torah that is changeable would provide relative rather than absolute ethics.
A Torah that is changeable would provide relative rather than absolute ethics. With relative ethics, man retains the right to make his own judgments. For example, one day the killing of an unborn infant is deemed the most horrible thing a physician could do. His colleagues would look upon him with disapproval and repulsion. He would be ostracized by society. Even if the abortion were necessary for the health of the mother, it would be looked upon with disdain. However, within one year, this same operation can become as casual as drinking a glass of water.
Such shifts in attitude can occur amazingly quickly in a society based on relative ethics, or on a Torah that could be altered. This Torah would have neither permanence nor meaning. In fact, it would not be a Torah in the first place. It would be a mere ritual or a game, but not a way of life. On the other hand, absolute ethics are by definition unchangeable.
A COVENANT WITH THE NATIONS
There is another question that can be asked about the offering of the Torah to the nations of the world and their refusal. The commandments they were given as examples of the Torah, the laws pertaining to murder, stealing, and adultery, are part of the seven Noachide laws. If these nations were already obligated to keep these mitzvot, why should they now reject them?
The nations were offered the opportunity to accept a Torah that would involve a bris, a covenant, in order to establish a stronger relationship with the Almighty. A covenant by definition entails the opportunity to either accept or reject it. The nations rejected it. If they could have, they would have rejected the seven Noachide laws as well. However, since these laws are not part of any covenant, there was never any possibility of rejecting them. The Almighty demands that these laws be kept by all humanity, and because He is the Creator and we are His creations, we have no choice but to accept them. Through the fulfillment of these seven laws, all mankind can come close to God and earn a share in the World to Come.
However, even these laws are only known to humanity as the Will of God because they were part of the revelation at Sinai, as will soon be discussed. The ramification of this reality is clearly stated by the Rambam:
"Everyone [every gentile] who accepts the seven Mitzvos and is careful to fulfill them is counted among the Righteous Gentiles of the world. He only has a portion in the World to Come. [But] this is so [only] when he accepts them and fulfills them because God commanded them in His Torah and made it known to us through Moshe Rabbeinu that the children of Noah were previously commanded to do them." (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings 9:1)
In other words, if gentiles observe these seven Mitzvos only because they appreciate their value, understanding how necessary they are, these individuals have no share in the World to Come. They earn this ultimate good only if they fulfill their Mitzvos as laws given by the Almighty through Moshe Rabbeinu. Consequently, when they rejected the Torah they also opted out of these laws.