There are plenty of other candidates:

Adam: the closest to the source and the father of mankind.

Abraham: discovered god on his own and was ready to sacrifice his son for him.

R Akiva: one of the greatest sages.


Whereas by Moses, God appeared to him by the bush with instructions. He seems, to me, to be more of a messenger than an actual doer.

So why then is Moses singled out to be the "holiest/greatest/best"?

  • 5
    Who says he is "holiest" and what is the putative holiness ranking of the candidates you listed? This seems heavily speculative. You are mixing "greatness" (title), "doering", prophecy, and "holiness".
    – WAF
    Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 13:32
  • It says "ish elokim" in the Chumash.
    – Ani Yodea
    Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 13:35
  • 2
    I believe Elisha was also called an ish elokim. Your premise is that Moses is singled out as either "greatest" or "holiest" but is that contention supported? True, textually, we read that there was no other navi like Moshe (Dev 34:10) but is that what you are asking?
    – rosends
    Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 13:43
  • 2
    "Greatest man" isn't the same as "greatest prophet". I've heard him called the latter (and that seems clearly supported by the text) but not the former. Where did you hear that? Knowing the context of the claim would help. Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 15:11
  • 1
    @ramin if in the shiur, the rabbi says "greatest navi" then that is textually provable. Without the accurate word it is different to asses what was meant.
    – rosends
    Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 15:20

4 Answers 4


"Holiest" is a very vague word.

Look, we have a tradition that a few people in the Bible, like Benjamin or Kilav, who was one of King David's sons who didn't inherit the throne and just sat around the palace, never sinned at all. But they didn't do all that much interesting either. No great heights, no great falls. What do you call that? "Holy"? Depends how you use the term.

The Talmud even tells the story of Moses time-traveling to the classroom of Rabbi Akiva and not understanding everything going on there! Moses' #1 job was transmitting the message, not necessarily analyzing it.

The Torah concludes with the observation that he was the greatest prophet. And that's one of Maimonides' 13 Principles of Faith.

The point is that he was the one to take G-d's dictation in recording our law. This law includes how to deal with all future prophets. If a later prophet could have greater prophecy than Moses, he could say "Moses' prophecy is now obsolete, and here are new laws." And it's a fundamental premise of our faith that that can't happen.

We can talk about how Moses achieved this level of prophecy, or why G-d chose him, or the like; but the point is he's the supreme prophet.


In the rambam's 13 principles of faith, the 7th principle lists Moses as the 'father' of prophets, whether they came before or after him.

My understanding is that Moses was unique in his level of prophecy, which may be hinted at specifically in Numbers 12:8, and in more detail in Exodus 33:17 to the end of the chapter.

Essentially, Moses went as far as it is possible to go, prophecy-wise. His perception of Gd was metaphorically the quivalent of recognizing someone except for their 'face' which Gd says, again figuratively that no one can see and live. He also was able to speak 'mouth to mouth' in conscious discourse with Gd, whereas other prophets would find themselves in a dreamlike state when they were affected.

He was not perfect. We know he did at least one thing wrong, which prevented him from leading the people in to the land. See Numbers 20:9.


the Drashas HaRan brings down that Moshe Rabeinu was lifted up to a higher level of perfection than is humanly possible and that this was in order to show beyond a doubt that the giving of the torah must have been through God. (forgot the exact place there)

Likewise, the plagues in egypt which he brought was in order to dispel such doubt


Greatness in Judaism is not measured in absolutes but only in relation to one's God given aptitude and position. Moses was great in an absolute sense, but he was also placed in an exemplary situation in the right place at the right time. A retard, in contrast, is given very little. Both are capable of reaching the same maximal level of greatness by reaching their potentials.

The reason why Moses is considered the greatest man who ever lived (by some) is because he is considered to have utilized his ability and opportunity to a high level. Granted, he did make mistakes, but he was not created to be infallible.

some side things: Moses had experienced the greatest level of prophecy, but that was not just a function of his own merits, but also a function of the task he was given. Having great prophecy does not mean one is great.

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