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   by Jacob Solomon

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Moses tells the Israelites that they should never turn to sorcerers and wizards, for those are the practices of 'the nations that you are possessing'. He reassures the people that they will always have a line to G-d, with the words:

G-d will establish a prophet like me… [He] will place [His] words in his mouth and tell you whatever [G-d] commands… And if you think: 'How do we identify words that are not authentically G-ds? [The answer is that] if the prophet speaks in the name of G-d and what he says will happen does not happen… (18:14-22)

As the Sforno explains, Moses assured Israel that they need not fear the efforts of sorcerers because their destiny is far above anyone's ability to harm them. And that they would continue to be given G-d's instruction after his death on a 'need to know' basis: through a prophet who would receive G-d's word. That need to know basis is from the words: 'I shall tell him my words which will instruct you what to do' (18:18).

It appears that it is this 'need to know basis' that King Saul may have overlooked when he sought the services of a sorceress to advise him in face of the overwhelming enemy Philistine forces stationed by Mount Gilboa.

'Now Samuel was already dead… Saul saw the Philistine camp and greatly trembled. Saul got no reply from G-d in any form - neither from through dreams, nor through the Urim, nor through the prophets. Saul therefore sent his servants to find a sorceress to advise him… (Later on when he was with the sorceress of Ein Dor), she said: "an old man is coming up, and he is wearing a robe". Saul knew that it was Samuel. Samuel told him that he should have never disturbed him as "G-d has left you and taken the side of adversary… because you did not obey G-d… therefore you are in this situation today. G-d will deliver Israel with you into the hands of the Philistines and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me"'(Sam. I 28:3-19).

The Ohr Hachayim suggests that King Saul reasoned in his reading into Moses' words on prophecy that if no prophet was forthcoming it was permitted to seek future through other means. Yet Samuel was not pleased to be brought down to earth (literally) by Saul.

Rashi suggests that his main source of Divine instruction was from the codes emanating from the Urim lights on the breastplate of the High Priest. Because of Saul's earlier massacre of the Priests at Nov (Sam. I 22:18) for having given David (his archrival) and his men food supplies, he did not merit help from that source. In other words, he was not worthy of drinking from the well whose waters he had dirtied.

He may have erred for the following reason, as suggested in the following parable. Before an ocean liner sets on a journey, it has to go through extensive maintenance, load up with supplies, and needs expert navigation through and out of the harbor. Thereafter it sets and follows the compass, and has its huge resources to draw on throughout the voyage, and especially when the storms and gales are unleashed. The crew needs to be well enough trained and equipped to adapt to the fast-moving and unexpected events. Only towards the end of the voyage, when the destination is in sight, do the coastguard service and tugs trek out to the liner and slowly guide into the harbor.

Saul had received his instruction 'en route' from Samuel - and on occasion had gone against the word of that prophet. He was warned that he would lose his kingdom in favor of a worthier person. He knew what he needed to know, and had the resources to find out without turning to supernatural means.

That is what the text means by Moses telling the Israelites 'I will tell him (the prophet) my words and instruct him what to do'. Only when instruction is needed, only on a need to know basis, when guidance is available from no other source.

That is an important message for today. Much as we yearn for an assurance from a prophet figure that we are 'heading for the right thing', our sources for what to do are (as the ship's compass) the Torah and the application of our sacred traditions. That is the reason for the heavy weighting Judaism puts on Torah learning. Only when we arrive at spiritual destination - the Messianic age, will a new generation of prophecy 'come to meet us', as a ship nearing its destination being met by guidance to the harbor.

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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