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And how to spot a real one…

There are many things that I loved about Rav Trugman’s latest book, ‘Prophecy and Divine Inspiration’, but one of my favourites was his discussion about false prophets – because in this time of geula blog madness, it’s still very much a ‘live’ issue.

After the last round of terrible, blood-curdling predictions on one side, and reassuring if concerned statements from our true Tzadikim that the situation is indeed grave, but that teshuva, tefilla and tzedaka can still sweeten everything, I decided that we could probably all need some help, to work out which modern-day ‘prophets’ are actually the real deal, and worth listening to.

Enter Rav Trugman. In the chapter on clarifying prophecy and Divine inspiration, he brings down the Rambam’s pre-requisites for someone claiming prophecy to even get past the starting gate.

According to the Rambam, an individual needs to have the following qualities in order to qualify as a ‘potential true prophet’:

  1. Deep wisdom
  2. Broad-minded knowledge
  3. The ability to be in control of his or her physical urges, as well as to be unaffected by the vanities of the material world.
  4. The prophet-in-waiting has to be involved in holy pursuits at all times.

Rav Trugman also explains that the Rambam says that a prophet has to prepare themselves carefully to receive the flow of Divine information, and that they have to be in a state of absolute joy. “Prophecy does not come to one who is sad or lazy.”

That’s a lot of food for thought, isn’t it? Let’s break it down even further, and make it even more crystal-clear.

Deep wisdom

Deep wisdom doesn’t mean someone once read a book of kabbalah, had a funny dream, can translate Hebrew to English (or vice-versa) or correctly predicted who was going to win Israel’s last elections.

Broad-minded knowledge

Finding allusions to the latest autistic  pronouncements in the latest Brad Pitt film they just watched doesn’t count. (By way of comparison, the sages of the Sanhedrin had to know 70 languages, and be whizzes at maths, logic and natural science before they’d even be considered for a place.)

The ability to control their physical urges, and be unaffected by the material world

Any wannabe-prophet who is giving over their ‘nevua’ via Facebook, or who has their own twitter account, is clearly not meeting these requirements.

Has to be involved in holy pursuits at all times

There’s a lot of people trying to wave their ‘real prophet’ credentials in our faces, without a whole lot to back it up.  I’ve also been taken in by these people in the past, sadly. It was only when I got to Jerusalem and I saw really holy people like Rav Shalom Arush and Rav Ofer Erez in action, and the humility they have, and the utter simplicity and sweetness they have, and the lack of arrogance and superiority they evince, that the penny dropped that

Rabbis with their own YouTube channel, blog, Facebook accounts and personal agenda to be the next Moshiach are simply not anywhere near the same playing field, kedusha-wise.

That doesn’t mean you can’t be holy, and still doing good work online, or still be holy and coaching little league, or visiting chocolate factories, or riding horses in your spare time. But it definitely does mean that you aren’t in the really big leagues when it comes to kedusha, where the potential prophets are hanging out.

You need to be prepared to get prophecy

Some half-baked idea you had while washing up that WW3 is starting tomorrow is just not going to cut the mustard. Ditto some vague dream that you had, where Obama was riding a white donkey into Jerusalem (unless you spent the 40 days prior to having that dream fasting and praying in the desert somewhere…)

You need to be happy

And this, dear reader, is where so many of today’s false internet prophets are really falling down. When Rav Arush or Rav Berland says ‘trouble’s brewing’ you can believe they aren’t just scaremongering or going on a power trip so fifty people will comment on their post.

The only time they say hard things is in order to get us to make the teshuva we need to turn things around.

That’s what my eldest asked me this week. Of course, I hadn’t because I don’t listen to the news or read papers, but I’m a very small minority in my daughter’s class, so of course all of her friends had heard about the rabbi in Tsfat, and were vigorously discussing it.

My daughter told me that a lot of her classmates were really, really upset about it, and that it had put a severe dint in their belief in our holy rabbis. I don’t blame them. Every time I meet another fraudulent rabbi or self-serving ‘spiritual mentor’, my heart also sinks a couple more notches.

But it doesn’t stay there for long.

You know why? Because so many of our holy people explained that in the generation before Moshiach, a huge number of our leaders and rabbis would be fakers.

There are many definitions of what these fakers do and how they act, but their main identifying traits are that they are in the game only for their own honour, power and kudos, and that they excel at being the most arch hypocrites you’ll probably ever meet in your life.

They’ll make it seem like they hold themselves to super-high, super-strict standards of everything themselves, and that they’re incredibly holy and beyond reproach, but to put it bluntly, they lie about everything and often treat their fellow man like rubbish.

Now, in the Levy household we’ve unfortunately had far too much experience with ‘holy fakers’. As each ‘holy faker’ exploded in our face, my husband and I had to pick up the pieces of our emunat tzadikim, rebuilt our faith and emunah, and work really hard to see God behind it all.

At the same time, we had to educate ourselves, and our children, about what was really going on in the world, to ensure as best we can that neither we, nor they, would be hurt by any more ‘holy fakers’ in the future.

That means I’ve sat my kids down, and quoted them bits from Rebbe Nachman, and from Rabbi Chaim Vital, and the Gemara in Sanhedrin and a few other places too, where it talks about how a huge number of our leaders and rabbis would be fakers, before Moshiach comes.

Forewarned is forearmed, so my children are not fazed in the same way now, to hear that yet another ‘holy faker’ got unmasked. But their peers are not so fortunate. Their peers are still being told by the adults in their lives to ‘stop talking lashon hara’, and to ‘stop questioning our holy rabbis’ – which was the correct response 50 years’ ago, but is definitely NOT the correct response now.

Why not?

Simply put, because this is the generation before Moshiach, and a huge number of our leaders and rabbis are fakers.

I want my kids to grow up believing in God, serving Him happily, and having a strong connection with the true tzaddikim who do still exist, and are still out there, albeit currently a quiet minority.

We need to teach our children (and also, ourselves!) to listen to the inner voice that’s telling us something isn’t ‘quite right’ with many of the people in authority positions in our lives. If more of us would advocate for judging people on the basis of their personalities, instead of being blinded by their reputation and title, things would be very different, and these unholy fakers would find it much harder to take us all for a ride.

Sigh.

It’s all so heavy and unpleasant, isn’t it?

I wish from the bottom of my heart that all the lies being told would vanish, so that we could all have a clear picture of who’s really holy and good, and who isn’t. But that’s one of the biggest tests of this generation, that no-one is going to spell all this out to you except God.

That’s how God wants it, and as I explained to my kids, the single best (and probably only) way I know of being able to distinguish between who’s a faker and who’s for real is personal prayer.

Personal prayer enables you to have a real conversation with your ‘inner voice’, and it gives your soul the space it needs sometimes to convince you of the things you really don’t want to hear or believe.

Like, a huge number of our leaders and rabbis are fakers.

In the meantime, I’m sticking close to Rav Arush, Rav Ofer Erez and Rav Berland, because I know from personal experience that they’re the real deal.

And I’m encouraging my children to trust their gut instincts, and to not assume that a big beard and a bit title automatically equates to ‘holy’, because sadly, even without keeping up with the news, I’ve had enough fakers in my own life to know that in 2015, genuinely holy leaders and rabbis are pretty few and far between.