According to some views, prophecy is not a gift that is arbitrarily conferred upon people; rather, it is the culmination of a person's spiritual and ethical development. When a person reaches a sufficient level of spiritual and ethical achievement, the Shechinah (Divine Spirit) comes to rest upon him or her. Likewise, the gift of prophecy leaves the person if that person lapses from his or her spiritual and ethical perfection.


So a prophet must be a good guy.

Cain just killed his brother. So that means he's not. But God spoke to him. So that means he's a prophet. How do we resolve this?

Actually, what's the definition of a prophet anyway? Is anyone that God spoke to a prophet?

  • 2
    God spoke to Laban (Bereishit 31).
    – Double AA
    Commented Mar 20, 2014 at 6:52
  • 2
    A prophet is someone who transmits G-d's word to others, when commanded to do so by G-d. Having G-d speak to you does not make you a prophet.
    – Menachem
    Commented Mar 20, 2014 at 15:19
  • Bilaam was a prophet and he was definitely not a good guy. That indicates that to be a prophet one does not have to be an upstanding fellow. Commented Mar 20, 2014 at 19:12
  • And Laban still don't believe in God that spoke to him?
    – user4951
    Commented May 28, 2015 at 5:51
  • @Menachem The source for this is: sefaria.org/Megillah.3a.12?lang=bi&with=Rashi&lang2=en
    – Binyomin
    Commented Oct 19, 2023 at 5:16

4 Answers 4


Rav Dessler in Michtav M'Eliyahu vol. 1 pg. 164 addresses exactly this question - How could G-d continue speaking to Cain after he sinned (Bereishis 4:9)?. I can't find the text online to link, but his basic idea is the following:

We generally have a broad intellectual awareness of Hashem and His greatness, which should lead us to righteousness, but does not because there is a block between our minds and our hearts, between our knowledge and the roots of our actions, and the knowledge is not firmly entrenched. This is what is called טמטום הלב. When the yetzer hara wants to entice us, it just has to get us to "ignore" our awareness of Hashem and convince ourselves that it isn't really bad, or isn't so bad. The earlier generations did not have such a disconnect. Their vast awareness directly impacted their way of life. When the yetzer hara enticed them, its only option was to give them an incredible desire for the sin. Like when we want something even when we know it is wrong, it looks good and you have a desire for it even with the knowledge that it is bad, the earlier generations were like that for all temptations - it was an act of giving in, not an act of self-deception.

When you know something is bad, and you do it anyways, as soon as you do it and the temptation is removed, you regret it wholeheartedly and feel embarrassed. Especially with the earlier generations, with their fuller appreciation of Hashem's greatness, felt an incredible regret immediately after giving in. This is the meaning of ראשונים נתגלה עונם נתגלה קצם (Yoma 9b) - as soon as their sin became apparent, it was the end of the sin. Therefore, immediately after Cain sinned, his awareness of Hashem was still in full-force and, with his repentance, his perception of prophecy remained steady.

  • But there is no prophet among anyone now. So are we all bad people now? That's despite the fact that murder and robbery rates have dropped a lot edited for language
    – user4951
    Commented Apr 10, 2014 at 1:41
  • @JimThio I'm not sure you understood what I said. R' Dessler's point is not what makes someone a prophet, but what makes someone realize that what they did/are doing is wrong. And to answer what (I think) is your mistaken point, yes we are all on a lower level now. Commented Apr 10, 2014 at 16:02
  • Robbery rates drop. Murder rate drops. World GDP up. We did far better than our ancestors. Yet we are on a lower "spiritual level"?
    – user4951
    Commented Apr 22, 2015 at 4:51

the rabbis count 48 prophets and 7 prophetesses in tenach [added credit to DoubleAA- whose prophecies are relevant for future generations]. It seems Adam and Abel and Cain aren't listed


The RAMBAM lists levels of prophecy. (in his guide for the purplexed). Moses had the highest level. And below that is a vision or dream.

I recommend rabbi aryeh kaplan's handbook of jewish thought vol 1, it might mention a bit about prophecy. There were even schools of prophecy apparently.

Somebody that God speaks to in a vision or dream, is a prophet. A "Navi".

Bilam's level of prophecy might've been the same as Moses. Bilam was bad but God gave him those abilities anyway.

http://curiousjew.blogspot.co.uk/2007/12/balaam-and-moses-prophets-of-god.html "In one of the most famous comparisons in Midrash, the heathen prophet Balaam and the Jewish prophet Moses are equated. It is said that their powers are equal"

A level below a vision or dream type prophecy, is Ruach Hakodesh. I'm not sure whether one would call that a low level prophecy or not prophecy at all, but it involves God putting an idea or thought or solution in somebody's mind. I heard somewhere that of the Tenach(Torah Neviim and Ketuvim), Neviim involves vision/dreams, that's for a Navi, a prophet. The contents of Ketuvim(the book of writings) was written with Ruach HaKodesh.

I have heard that at Gan Eden(the garden of eden), God revealed himself at a high level of prophecy. That is mentioned here for example http://www.torah.org/learning/rabbis-notebook/5760/kisisa.html
"At the giving of the Torah, G-d once again decided to manifest Himself to the Bnai Yisroel on a level that was similar to Gan Eden"

So maybe the 48 prophets and 7 prophetesses isn't including God communicating at the time of Gan Eden because prophecy then was not so unusual. The rules were different at that time.

As for why God could talk to a bad person,a reason could be that their lives may interact with the lives of good people. Bilam ended up blessing the Jewish people. Or it may be to test;.. One could always come up with reasons, for specific cases. And there might not be one or some general rules that we can rationally determine.

  • There are 48+7 whose words are recorded and many more whose words are not recorded. Cain's words of prophecy might not have been recorded, but he may have been a prophet.
    – Double AA
    Commented Mar 23, 2014 at 1:00
  • @DoubleAA under the view that cain had prophecies but none were recorded, well, you'd have to say that God speaking to him wasn't prophecy. I suppose you could say Gan Eden communication was very high level. And there was moses(and I suppose bilam).And the rest were level of book of neviim,visions and dreams. And ketuvim was ruach hakodesh.i'm not sure we can categorise it so well though.I'm sure if one counted all the prophets and prophetesses in tenach without looking at the 48+7 list it'd be a struggle to get the exact same list with the rules or reasons for who was included and who wasn't
    – barlop
    Commented Mar 23, 2014 at 12:55
  • I don't understand your last comment at all. Not all prophets had their prophecies recorded.
    – Double AA
    Commented Mar 23, 2014 at 18:34
  • @DoubleAA yes I know not all prophet had their prophecies recorded. I suppose a prophecy has to be about the future. So God speaking to Cain where we see in tenach, was not prophecy so what we see in tenach of God speaking to Cain, was not prophecy. Is that your position? That makes sense and would answer the questioner's claim, the questioner thought any talking from God to man was prophecy. You make a good point against that.
    – barlop
    Commented Mar 23, 2014 at 19:20
  • It could have been about the future when it was said, but it's use had already ended when Tanach was canonized.
    – Double AA
    Commented Mar 23, 2014 at 19:21

The good guy prophets which one is commanded to listen to are those mentioned in Deuteronomy 18:15 "The LORD your God will raise up unto you a Prophet from the midst of you, of your brethren, like unto me; unto him you shall hearken;"

Rashi: [A prophet] from among you, from your brothers, like me (Moses): This means: Just as I am among you, from your brothers, so will He set up for you [another prophet] in my stead, and so on, from prophet to prophet.

This is the type which the Rambam says must be extremely righteous as a prerequisite, similar to Moses.

One is commanded to listen to them after all the tests have been passed provided he does not come to alter the commandments of the Torah. see this.

  • Doesn't explain how God talked with bad guys like Cain, Bilam, Pharoh Necho, and others. There must be another category of circumstances under which God will talk to you. Commented Mar 20, 2014 at 11:58
  • @ClintEastwood it explains what is a good guy prophet which was the underlying question the way i understood it
    – ray
    Commented Mar 20, 2014 at 12:06

Firstly, God spoke to Cain before he sinned. Secondly, God may speak with anyone. When there are a selection of people and God needs someone to preach righteousness to the public, He will pick from among the most righteous. At the time of Cain, the only two other people in the universe invented sin and introduced mortality. The only being sufficiently righteous to rebuke Cain at the time was God. Thirdly, because of the language "Cain rose up" I have seen pointed out that Cain's murdering was not premeditated. Cain meant to start an argument with Abel, but the killing was unintentional. That is why Cain was exiled and not executed.

  • so what is a prophet?
    – ray
    Commented Mar 20, 2014 at 13:27
  • "before he sinned" - see Bereishis 4:9 Commented Mar 20, 2014 at 18:46
  • a prophet is anyone with whom God spoke. Commented Mar 20, 2014 at 23:45

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