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I was asked the following question recently and, incapable of doing it justice on my own, am seeking a cogent printed answer to give the questioner.

If God wishes to express an unequivocal directive to a person or people, why does He not simply tell them and cut out the middle-man of navi? Is the answer to this question also the explanation of the midrash that the nation was unable to withstand the first two dibros, which came directly from God to them?

  • Wait, why do we need the Prophets at all, really? To tell us where the donkeys are? TO tell us the next year there will be abundance or famine? What does it do to the person's reasoning? – Al Berko Dec 15 '18 at 19:36
  • It appears to me that the prophecies never changed anything (but Ninveh). So why bother? – Al Berko Dec 15 '18 at 20:06
  • I see some contradiction between your title and the question and that was the reason I edited it. I want to ask the question why to bother at all, but your point is why not speak straight to the person, and that's different. – Al Berko Dec 15 '18 at 20:08
  • Why is your preface important? Does anybody care how you ask the question? The first line appears first when the question is shown in searches and it causes unneeded טרחה for the people. – Al Berko Dec 15 '18 at 20:11
  • @AlBerko I think a little bit of context can help and can't hurt, so I included it. I see the distinction between this and the question you want to ask, which could have the same title. But I'm sure when you ask it you will make the title unequivocal! – WAF Dec 19 '18 at 14:04
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Rambam (Hil. Yesodei Hatorah ch. 7) describes the prerequisites that a person needs in order to be a navi. To put it in contemporary terms, these are needed so that his mind is "tuned to the correct frequency" on which to receive Hashem's word. The average person has not reached this level - they would no more be able to receive such a transmission than a toaster can receive an FM broadcast.

I've also seen an idea somewhat related to this (whose source I don't recall), that prophecy requires the receiver's personality to be effaced as much as possible, so that the message doesn't get distorted. As it is, with most prophets (except Moshe, as the Rambam explains there), it does inevitably get filtered through their own subjectivity (this is why the Gemara, Sanhedrin 89a, states that "no two prophets use the exact same terminology" - they may both receive the same message from Hashem, but each one perceives it slightly differently), but that has to be kept to a minimum. According to this approach, too, for Hashem to speak to the average person would be a purposeless exercise: the message would be so thoroughly mangled in its passage through his or her mind as to be unrecognizable.

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    After thinking a little about it, I think the question would still be a good question for Ramba"m: If everyone attains the capability of נבואה, why doesn't Hashem just tell them all the נבואה rather than telling one of them and having him tell the others? Alternatively, addressing Ramba"m's premise: Why did Hashem make the bar so high for figuring out what He wants if it is expected of all people? – WAF Apr 8 '11 at 4:57
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    I'm not quite sure I'm following you. According to the Rambam not everyone attains this capability; perhaps they have it latent within them (as in Moshe's expression, ומי יתן כל עם ה' נביאים), but most people don't actualize it. And the point is that if an unprepared person heard Hashem speaking to him or her, any of the things that happened to 3 of the 4 who נכנסו לפרדס might happen: they might die or become deranged from the intensity of it (like Ben Zoma and Ben Azzai); or they might so badly misconstrue what they hear that, far from obeying, they would come to mistaken notions about Him. – Alex Apr 8 '11 at 16:40
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    WAF, May I suggest learning the following Sefer which addresses many of the underlying philosophical issues that your question involves? It is called Shomer Emunim Hakadmon. hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=45212&pgnum=1 – Yahu Apr 10 '11 at 6:14
  • @Alex - I was referring to a hypothetical granting of n'vu'a to everyone as a means to the end, but I understand your point more clearly now. Thanks! @Yahu - Thank you very much for the recommendation. I will be sure to pass it on to the questioner. – WAF Apr 17 '11 at 14:24
  • @Alex +Check for the combination of answer and comment. – WAF Apr 17 '11 at 14:25
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Life in this world is meant to challenge Humanity hence I think the reason he does not simply tell them is to give a person Free Choice (Bechirah) if you hear God tell you something it is hard to say no. Thereby talking away free choice.

  • Source, please? – msh210 Apr 8 '11 at 2:31
  • I think implies opinion – SimchasTorah Apr 8 '11 at 4:21
  • So what about the Navi's free choice? – Yahu Apr 10 '11 at 6:08
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    HIs Nekudas Habechirah is somewhere else – SimchasTorah Apr 10 '11 at 11:49
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    Then again, a navi does have the choice to disobey Hashem's command too - consider Ido eating at the false navi's house despite being told not to (I Kings ch. 13), and Yonah running away to Tarshish rather than go to Nineveh. – Alex Apr 11 '11 at 3:11

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