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According to Wikipedia, Judaism holds that there were 48 males prophets and 7 female prophetesses mentioned by name in Tenakh, counting ONLY the Jewish ones. (Judaism recognizes that there were many other Jewish prophets as well as prophets among all the nations, Balaam one of the most famous of them).

Chabad.org states that a “prophet is an individual who receives a message from G‑d to transmit to the people”. Sometimes, a prophet can foretell the future.

My question is, does the Torah (or other sources of Jewish tradition such as the Talmud) identify and discuss people who did—I suppose one way of putting it—-the exact OPPOSITE of prophecy? Namely, “see” the past (maybe even past lives) unveiling unknown events and knowledge in order to guide people in the present? I hesitate using the term “past live regression” as that is done by placing an individual under the state of hypnosis. I also hesitate using the term “psychic” which has negative connotations. Quite frankly, I have NO idea what call the phenomenon if it exists at all!

It seems to me that if there were prophets who could foresee the future, there had to be those who could see into the past as well, not only in the context of gilguls but past events that were known by few if any. Revealing secret meaning to a known event might also qualify.

  • See commentary of the Gra (Mishlei 16:4) דהיו הולכים אצל הנביאים לדרוש את ה', והיה הנביא אומר על פי משפט הנבואה דרכו של אדם אשר ילך בה, הכל לפי שורש נשמתו ולפי טבעת גופו. – IsraelReader Dec 21 '18 at 0:06
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    Could be hard determining if the particular prophet was prophesying about “past events in general” or just a good historian. Nevertheless, God dictating to Moses the history of Man etc. would be the obvious example of “seeing into the past”. – Oliver Dec 21 '18 at 0:20
  • @IsraelReader Is there an English translation? – JJLL Dec 21 '18 at 0:27
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    Not sure but something that comes to mind is the arizal identifying kivre tzadikim – Dude Dec 21 '18 at 4:18
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    I’m not sure, but I remember a teaching in which Moshe saw the past beside the words of G-d so he could write down the stories of Bereshit. – Levi Dec 21 '18 at 6:59
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Note that the definition of prophecy that you quote is a prophet is an individual who receives a message from G‑d to transmit to the people. This means that if the message involves the past, the present or the future, it would still be a valid message. Examples in the Torah would include the events that involved Par'o and his servants when Moshe was not present to hear them as well as the conversations between Balak and Bil'am. Similarly, the events written in Shoftim before Shmuel haNavi was born could be of this type. Another example is the entire Book of Ruth. A specific example can be found in I Shmuel 9:20

And concerning the she-asses which are lost to you, (and you have sought them as of) today, three days, do not take them to heart, for they have been found; and to whom does all that is desirable in Israel belong? Is it not to you and to your father's house?

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It should be recognized that most prophetic oracles are not "foretelling" oracles, but rather "forthtelling," i.e. speaking an uncomfortable truth to the prescribed audience, usually to a powerful authority; e.g. Nathan's warnings to King David in Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles (especially 2 Samuel 7:2-17, 12:1-25) or Yonah's warnings to Nineveh. The latter generally presented the behavior in which the recipient of the oracle was engaging, and what Hashem's historic (past) reaction to it had been. Projecting Divine responses from the past onto present behaviors predicts future consequences. In that sense, prophets "see the past" throughout the Nevi'im. This approach worked because Hashem Himself said that He does not change (Malakhi 3:6).

The intent of prophecy is almost always to change current behaviors of those being addressed. There must be a message to the original audience, or what is the point of delivering to that specific audience rather than to an audience 500 or 1000 years later? The purpose is to correct the path of an individual, a nation, or a society. Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote in his classic tome The Prophets (New York: Harper, 1962), "All prophecy is one great exclamation: God is not indifferent to evil!" (p. 365).

In philosophical Kabbalah, the concept of the gilgul is for the purpose that the individual be given multiple attempts to achieve obedience to all of the positive mitzvot which apply to him or her and successful abstinence from all applicable Torah prohibitions. Its relevance would not extend beyond the individual him or herself. There is nothing I am aware of recording a person being aware of their performance to that end in a past life; the idea is to perform to the best of one's ability in the current life, for one doesn't know whether it is his first chance or his last.

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    Welcome to MiYodeya R Brian and thanks for this first answer. We hope to see many more to come. Great to have you learn with us! – mbloch Dec 21 '18 at 11:03
  • Thank you Rabbi for your answer. I am referring to someone who has the ability to pinpoint a specific event (known or unknown) from the past—generally from way before anyone alive today—that is the cause of some negative current event(s). The person would offer the “uncomfortable truth” to a “powerful authority” and offer a warning (advice?) how the act be corrected. – JJLL Dec 24 '18 at 22:46
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He saw an Egyptian man ,Exodus 2:12. Moshe saw through divine inspiration what the Egyptian has done to the Jewess in the house I.e. that the Egyptian has committed adultery also that the Egyptian was smiting the Jew in the field because he wanted to kill him. Shemos Rabbah 1:28,29, Eitz Yosef.

It appears that Moshe saw the “past”from my understanding in this matter

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I found a Gemara by accident in Sota 46 that quotes (Shmuel) in relation to Navi Elisha : He saw that all of them (the children who were killed by the bears) were conceived on Yom Kipur.

I’m pretty sure only Nevua / Ruach Hakodesh happened.

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It is quite common for the midrash to tell stories about the past. And all the time people give new interpretations to old texts and stories. Some people claim that they can see in currently alive people the souls of the ancients. There are many many more examples of this sort of thing, some more mundane, and some more esoteric.

  • Listing some of the examples that appear Torah or Talmud sources would be a good answer to this question. Without them, the affirmation that such sources exist is much less helpful, given the examples listed in other answers. – WAF Jan 6 at 9:22

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