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In Shemuel I (3:1) the Pasuk tells us that prophecy was a very rare phenomenon. How, then, did 'Eli realize that Shemuel was receiving prophecy and not merely dreaming?

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Assuming that Eli also received prophecy, maybe it was simply from experience. (Not posted as an answer b\c I have no source and am not sure if Eli was a prophet. צ"ע) –  Shmuel Dec 6 '11 at 23:56

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Radak (to v. 8) explains simply: one or two times it might indeed have been Shmuel's imagination (thinking in his sleep that someone was calling him), but three times means that Shmuel really had heard something. Since no one else was there except Eli and Shmuel, Eli understood that it must be a Divine voice.

He also quotes Ibn Ezra, who says that it's because Eli himself hadn't heard anything. If it was a human voice, then once Eli had established (as above) that Shmuel wasn't just imagining things, he should have been able to hear it too. The only way, then, that Shmuel could hear a voice and Eli not, would be if it was a prophecy addressed directly to Shmuel.

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Radak's commentary is well known (although I admit I'd forgotten it was his). The problem is, who says Shemuel couldn't have dreamt that someone was calling him 3 times, 4 times, or 10 times? Maybe he was even sleepwalking and sleeptalking when he went over to 'Eli. –  Seth J Dec 6 '11 at 21:03
    
@Seth: to be able to sleepwalk and sleeptalk like that - "I'm at your service!" - is probably even rarer than prophecy was in those days. :) –  Alex Dec 6 '11 at 21:07
    
So maybe it was just a dream. Who says it could only be a dream the first 2 times, but after that it must be the voice of G-d??? –  Seth J Dec 7 '11 at 14:38
    
@Seth: on the contrary, the fact that there was a third time means that in retrospect, it wasn't a dream the first two times either. –  Alex Dec 7 '11 at 15:01
    
Of course. But why? Why does the third time indicate that he must not be dreaming? That's the crux of my question. –  Seth J Dec 7 '11 at 15:12

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