Shoftim: You must be wholehearted with the Lord your God

Are we allowed to delve into the future?

Professor Gerald Aranoff,

Judaism Prof. G. Aranoff
Prof. G. Aranoff

In this week’s parsha we read:

“You must be wholehearted with the Lord your God. Those nations that you are about to dispossess do indeed resort to soothsayers and augurs; to you, however, the Lord your God has not assigned the like. The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet from among your own people, like myself; him you shall heed” (Deuteronomy 18:13-15).

My questions:

To be “wholehearted with the Lord your God” Rashi says “Walk with Him with wholeheartedness.  Look ahead to Him and do not delve into the future.  But rather, whatever comes upon you accept with whole heartedness, and then you will be with Him and His portion.”

Not to delve into the future?  Why not? What if it’s פיקוח נפש, a life threatening situation, that justifies extreme measures including violating laws? 
“Those nations that you are about to dispossess do indeed resort to soothsayers and augurs.” Are these soothsayers and augurs just tricksters and illusionists, or do they do real magic? 

Does God also send  the nations prophets?  Does God also speak to individuals of all nations?

Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (Netziv) 1816-1893 head of Volozhin Yeshiva

The Netziv explains here:

“According to what we say is the meaning of “Walk with Him with wholeheartedness” with naivety. What then will we inquire from the prophet about the future? We should know that in the ways of man in God’s world, we must be naïve with God and not inquire to future events. With Balaam it is written “Lo, there is no augury in Jacob, No divining in Israel: Jacob is told at once, Yea Israel, what God has planned” (Numbers 23:23).

The time of war, with no clear counsel, is life threatening.  We must research to know.  This was the reason King Saul, the righteous: “Then Saul said to his courtiers, Find me a woman who consults ghosts, so that I can go to her and inquire through her. And his courtiers told him that there was a woman in En-dor who consulted ghosts” (1 Samuel 28:7). It says “to you, however… The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet.” This means that when there is no prophet and no breast plate אפד, one must seek even sorcery.

He [King Saul] was punished for this, as written “and did not seek advice of the Lord; so He had him slain and the kingdom transferred to David son of Jesse” (1 Chronicles 10:14).  Saul should have sought God by holy means to answer him.  Surely King Saul had to know what to do.  This is not like private matters of an individual not in danger. Our parsha explains that “Those nations” have among them augurs and sorcerers when necessary and even if not necessary. Individuals went to necromancers and sorcerers. “to you, however, the Lord your God has not assigned the like.”

In a matter of concern for the whole of Israel there is a prophet dwelling by the king or the Sanhedrin.  An individual did not hear from God unless God wanted the prophet speak to that individual, as the matter of Saul’s asses he was looking for. Individuals were insolent to prophets such as to Moses:  “And whence do we know that if one behaves insolently…As it is written: [And Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab]; And they said: [We will not come up] . . . Wilt thou put out the eyes of these men? [We will not come up]” (Mo’ed Katan 16).  All the more so, people were insolent to later prophets. Samuel was known as a prophet of Israel: “Formerly in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, he would say, Come, let us go to the seer, for the prophet of today was formerly called a seer” (1 Samuel 9:6). In matters of mysticism and other matters God spoke to prophets.” 

According to the Netziv one must do whatever possible in matters of danger when there is no prophet and no Sanhedrin including resorting to sorcerers and magicians. At times of war we must do all manner of research.  Ancient sorcerers and magicians knew secrets of nature.  God does speak to the nations.  

Moses and Egyptian Magicians

Moses was confronted in Egypt: “Then Pharaoh, for his part, summoned the wise men and the sorcerers; and the Egyptian magicians, in turn, did the same with their spells” (Exodus 7:11).

There’s a Midrash in Ginzburg’s Legends of the Jews that Abraham taught Pharaoh’s couriers secrets of nature. This was when Abraham went down to Egypt with Sarah and Lot due to a famine in Israel. Pharaoh seized Sarah but then returned her and then gave Abraham presents.   These secrets of nature which Abraham taught Pharaoh’s couriers enabled the Egyptian wise men and sorcerers to mimic Moses’ signs. The Midrash ספר הישר says that Terah, Abraham’s father, was King Hammurabi’s chief sorcerer and head of his army.  Terah repented later in life.  

God Sends Prophets to the Gentiles

Religions throughout the world are based on claims of hearing directly from God.  God spoke to Balaam.  The Bible records that God spoke to Job and to Eliphaz: “After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, I am incensed at you and your two friends, for you have not spoken the truth about Me as did My servant Job” (Job 42:7).

The Bible records: “Thus said King Cyrus of Persia: The Lord God of Heaven has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and has charged me with building Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Anyone of you of all His people—may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem that is in Judah and build the House of the Lord God of Israel, the God that is in Jerusalem; and all who stay behind, wherever he may be living, let the people of his place assist him with silver, gold, goods, and livestock, besides the freewill offering to the House of God that is in Jerusalem.” (Ezra 1:2-4).

Cyrus the Great: Ruled the World

“Cyrus II of Persia כרש 600 – 530 BC commonly known as Cyrus the Great and also called Cyrus the Elder by the Greeks, was the founder of the Achaemenid Empire. Under his rule, the empire embraced all the previous civilized states of the ancient Near East, expanded vastly and eventually conquered most of Southwest Asia and much of Central Asia and the Caucasus. From the Mediterranean Sea and Hellespont in the west to the Indus River in the east, Cyrus the Great created the largest empire the world had yet seen.  Under his successors, the empire eventually stretched at its maximum extent from parts of the Balkans (Bulgaria-Paeonia and Thrace-Macedonia) and Eastern Europe proper in the west, to the Indus Valley in the east. His regal titles in full were The Great King, King of Persia, King of Anshan, King of Media, King of Babylon, King of Sumer and Akkad, and King of the Four Corners of the World.”

God Roused the Spirit of King Cyrus

“And in the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, when the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah was fulfilled, the Lord roused the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia to issue a proclamation throughout his realm by word of mouth and in writing, as follows: Thus said King Cyrus of Persia: The Lord God of Heaven has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and has charged me with building Him a House in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Any one of you of all His people, the Lord his God be with him and let him go up.” (2 Chronicles 36:22-23). 

May it be God’s will, that we see the complete fulfillment of Biblical prophecies:

“I will restore My people Israel. They shall rebuild ruined cities and inhabit them; They shall plant vineyards and drink their wine; They shall till gardens and eat their fruits. And I will plant them upon their soil, Nevermore to be uprooted From the soil I have given them —said the Lord your God. (Amos 9:14-15)