What are the differences between the "typical" navi's prophecy, Moshe Rabbeinu's prophecy, and Bil'am HaRasha's prophecy? (Answers with sources [and preferably links to sources] only please!)

  • Why do you assume that there was a difference?
    – mevaqesh
    May 22, 2017 at 2:23

3 Answers 3


Typical navi:

  • sees prophetic visions only in a dream state (Rambam, Hil. Yesodei Hatorah 7:2)
  • becomes terrified and physically weak from the experience (ibid.)
  • sees a metaphorical vision, from which he or she then deduces the actual meaning (ibid. 7:3). This is because their prophecy comes to them via an angel (ibid. 7:6) - or as the Gemara puts it (Yevamos 49b), "in an unclear mirror."
  • has to prepare himself (or herself) for prophecy (ibid. 7:4), and therefore may lead a normal family life (ibid. 7:6).

Moshe Rabbeinu (ibid. 7:6):

  • receives prophecy while in full control of his senses
  • is able to converse with G-d without being overwhelmed, like someone talking with another person
  • is told the actual content of the message directly by G-d - he "sees" Him as though "in a clear mirror"
  • can receive prophecy at any time, and therefore must be permanently separated from his wife.

Bil'am Harasha:

  • was not really a navi at all, but a sorcerer (Josh. 13:22 thus calls him הקוסם). However, to honor the Jewish People, Hashem first appeared to him at night, then later via an angel, and finally during the daytime. All of this was only temporary, though, and afterwards he reverted to his former status. (Ramban to Num. 22:31; see also Sanhedrin 106a)
  • even when he did receive prophecy, Hashem was (so to speak) "embarrassed" to do so, and therefore allowed it to happen only at night (Rashi to Num. 22:8). Further on, Hashem's appearances to him are depicted with the word ויקר, which suggests an "accidental," shameful, unclean experience. (Rashi to Num. 23:4)
  • would fall to the ground from the intensity of the experience, because he was uncircumcised. (Rashi to Num. 24:4) (Rashi here may be disputing Rambam's statement, above, that this is true of all Jewish prophets too, except Moshe.)
  • Great topic!!!! Jun 25, 2010 at 21:12
  • If it is such a great topic, YS, then do me a favor and give an up vote for my question! :-)
    – Yahu
    Jun 25, 2010 at 23:41
  • Noted, i did it Jun 27, 2010 at 13:21
  • Alex, btw, I really like your answer. I was just hoping someone would come up with a source from the GR"A on this. Someone quoted to me from the GR"A on this topic and it was a very surprising view on Moshe Rabbeinu and on Bil'am. I was hoping someone would be familiar with such a source.
    – Yahu
    Jun 27, 2010 at 16:54
  • Ans YS, thanks! If everyone knew where their votes came from I have a feeling that people might just vote to reciprocate, but when you wrote "Great topic!!!!" you voted, just forgot to pull the lever (or poke the chad). ;-)
    – Yahu
    Jun 27, 2010 at 21:46

HaShem has His prophets among other nations too. Here Bil'am is presented as an example. In Israel, the tipical prophet, if there is one among them, the Lord will make Himself known to him or her in a vision, and will speak to him or her in a dream. (Numb. 12:6) The only thing special about Moses in verse 7 and 8, is not that HaShem would speak to him mouth-to-mouth or face-to-face. The expression here is metaphorical for promoting Moses as the greatest of all the prophets. "Mouth-to-mouth" or "face-to-face" are not expressions to be said of G-d, Who is Incorporeal.

  • 2
    Ben, are you reading the responses already given to the questions? I don't want to toot my own horn here, but there's really little or nothing in your answer that's not in the summary I provided of the Rambam's formulation.
    – Alex
    Nov 23, 2010 at 20:53
  • 1
    Yahu, the Gemara (Bava Basra 15b, top) lists "seven prophets who prophesied to the nations of the world." Of these, the Gemara goes on to identify one (Elihu) as a Jew, and is uncertain about another (Iyov); but the other five are identified as non-Jews (see also Avodah Zarah 3a, where three of them will appear as witnesses at Hashem's judgment of the nations to testify to our fidelity to the Torah).
    – Alex
    Nov 24, 2010 at 17:37
  • Alex, you mean this Gemara: hebrewbooks.org/… . I stand corrected.
    – Yahu
    Nov 25, 2010 at 11:40
  • 1
    Ben, check who's writing; that was me. And yes, while it is perfectly true that Hashem knows and sees all, we speak of Him anthropomorphically as judging the world with all of the trappings that this entails. (Since you like to have Biblical sources for these things, try Gen. 11:5 and 18:21, and I Kings 22:19ff, for examples.)
    – Alex
    Nov 25, 2010 at 18:35
  • 1
    So yes, speaking in those terms, Hashem calls on various prominent non-Jews to declare - not so much for G-d's benefit, but for that of the audience, both Jews and non-Jews - that we have been loyal to the Torah, both its written and oral components, as it's been transmitted to us throughout the generations, and that we have not tried to replace or alter it. You tell me, then: do you want to be able to have the same said about you at that time?
    – Alex
    Nov 25, 2010 at 18:38

There is a fascinating difference that we can define between Bilam and a typical navi.

It writes in Bereishis 17:17:

וַיִּפֹּ֧ל אַבְרָהָ֛ם עַל־פָּנָ֖יו וַיִּצְחָ֑ק וַיֹּ֣אמֶר בְּלִבּ֗וֹ הַלְּבֶ֤ן מֵאָֽה־שָׁנָה֙ יִוָּלֵ֔ד וְאִ֨ם־שָׂרָ֔ה הֲבַת־תִּשְׁעִ֥ים שָׁנָ֖ה תֵּלֵֽד׃

Avraham threw himself on his face and laughed, as he said to himself, “Can a child be born to a man a hundred years old, or can Sarah bear a child at ninety?”

Rabbeinu Bachaye there makes the following observation:

ויפול אברהם על פניו. כבר הזכיר זה למעלה ויפול אברם על פניו, אבל אותו היה לכוון דעתו לנבואה, וזה היה להתפלל על ישמעאל. ומה שהזכיר בו הכתוב לשון נפילה בכל פעם ופעם, ללמדך שקודם המילה לא היה מתנבא אלא נופל, לפי שהערלה מאוסה אצל הש"י, וכן מצינו בבלעם שכתוב בו (במדבר כ״ד:ד׳) נופל וגלוי עינים, אבל אחר שנמול היה מתנבא מעומד, והוא שכתוב (בראשית י״ח:כ״ב) ואברהם עודנו עומד לפני ה

ויפול אברהם על פניו, “Avraham prostrated himself, etc.” This had already been mentioned in verse three. At that time Avraham prostrated himself in order to be able to receive G-d’s communication. In this verse he did so in order to pray for the continued wellbeing of Yishmael. The reason the Torah mentions the word נפילה, “falling down” each time is to teach that until Avraham had circumcised himself he was not able to receive communications from G-d unless he first prostrated himself. This was because the foreskin is something G-d detests. We find something similar when Bilam, an uncircumcised Gentile prophet, received communications from G-d. He himself describes himself as נופל וגלוי עינים - “someone who has to fall down in order to receive revelations with his eyes.” Once Avraham had undergone circumcision we find that he was able to receive such communications while remaining upright. This is the meaning of 18:22 - “And Avraham still remained standing in the presence of the Lord.” (Sefaria translation)

So, it would seem that perhaps there is an entry level prophecy which is accompanied by prostration which Bilam had mastered.

When Avraham had received milah he was now a more fitting receptacle for prophecy and thus able to 'tune' in whilst upright.

As far as Moshe, the standout quality of his nevuah was the clarity of the vision. @Alex has already highlighted the Gemara in Yevamos 49b:

וָאֶרְאֶה אֶת ה׳ כִּדְתַנְיָא כׇּל הַנְּבִיאִים נִסְתַּכְּלוּ בְּאַסְפַּקְלַרְיָא שֶׁאֵינָהּ מְאִירָה מֹשֶׁה רַבֵּינוּ נִסְתַּכֵּל בְּאַסְפַּקְלַרְיָא הַמְּאִירָה

The Gemara resolves the first contradiction: “I saw the Lord” is to be understood as it is taught in a baraita: All of the prophets observed their prophecies through an obscure looking glass [aspaklaria], i.e., their prophecies were given as metaphoric visions but were not a direct perception of the matter. However, Moses our master observed his prophecies through a clear looking glass, i.e., he gained a direct and accurate perception of the matter. (Sefaria translation & notation)

Rav Dessler zt"l in his Michtav M'Eliyahu, cheilek 5 p.452 provides a clearer definition of this chazal and further delineates Moshe's clarity of vision. He notes that (like we saw with Avraham in the Rabbeinu Bachaye) his ability to prophesise developed. Initially, his prophecies were no different to the standard navi as he also had visions that were "אַסְפַּקְלַרְיָא שֶׁאֵינָהּ מְאִירָה", but it was through his growing sense of anavah (humility) that his nevuos became all the more clearer. Rav Dessler writes:

אבל ע"י ענוה זו נתעלה משה רע"ה למדרגת דביקות וראייה באספקלריא המאירה - בחינת פנים בפנים, שהלב והשכל מקבלים יחד צורת הענינים בלי עיכוב ועיוות מצד המדות

But through this humility Moshe Rabbeinu a"h was raised to a level of seeing through a clear looking glass - with the level of 'face-to-face', since the heart and the intellect take together the form of things without delay and distortion due to his character attributes.

In other words, his middos became so refined and distant from any arrogance that he was elevated to a heightened sense of awareness that made his types of prophecies unparalleled.

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