י״ד בתמוז ה׳תשע״ה (July 1, 2015)

Nedarim 38a-b: Qualities of a Prophet

What qualification does a person need to be a prophet?

Our Gemara brings a statement taught by Rabbi Yohanan, who says that by using Moshe as an archetype we learn a prophet must be:

  • Gibor – mighty
  • Ashir – wealthy
  • Hakham – wise
  • Anav – humble

The Gemara then continues by quoting Biblical passages indicating that Moshe Rabbeinu had each one of these qualifications.

The Ri”af points out that there is a clear source from Sefer (18:15) which alludes to the fact that all prophets are modeled after Moshe: navi mi-kirbekha me-ahekha kamoni yakim lekha HaShem – that God will establish a prophet from among the Jewish people who is “like me.” The Rosh explains that this means that only someone with these qualities will receive permanent prophetic capabilities, but it does not preclude someone who lacks these qualities from receiving a single prophetic message, like Hagar (see Bereshit 21:17-19) or Lavan (see Bereshit 31:24).

With regard to the qualifications themselves, the Rambam appears to interpret all of them within the context of spiritual qualities, i.e. the gibor is a person who can control his impulses and the ashir is a person who is satisfied with what he has. This approach follows the explanations presented by the Mishna in Pirkei Avot. The Ran disagrees and accepts the Gemara for its simple meaning, which is certainly the way the continuation of the Gemara reads. He explains that aside from the highly developed spiritual qualities that a prophet must have in order to communicate with God, he also must possess qualities that will encourage the populace to listen to his message. This requires him to have such qualities as wealth, strength, and, according to the Midrash (as well as one variant reading of our Gemara), physical height and presence (ba’al komah).

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