Yom Shlishi, 18 AdarI 5781
Tuesday, 2 March 2021
Parashat R'eh 5775

Rabbi Aaron Goldstein
14th August 2015

In the book of Eccleciastes (Kohelet), we read “Ayt l’khashot, v’ayt l’daber - There is a time to keep silence and a time to speak (v. 7b).”

We use these words most often and poignantly in our liturgy for shiva prayers along with a list made popular in The Byrds’ song, ‘Turn, Turn, Turn.’ We might apply this one short stanza, “to the ‘false prophet,’ mentioned in this parasha (Deut 13: 2-7). What makes that person a false prophet and wishing - with all the punishments these verses suggest they would face - that they might have kept silent instead of speak?

There is no injunction on speaking the truth and certainly not on expounding on the words of Torah. That, of course, is thoroughly encouraged. What makes the speaker a False Prophet is that their words are conjoined with signs and wonders: One should not need miracles to prove that words of Torah, of Truth, are just that.

As the medieval biblical commentators, Nahmanides, Hinnukh and Sforno suggest: “It is insufficient to say that one does not believe in the false prophets who attempt to mislead with signs and wonders while one listens at the same time to their speeches on the plea that one wishes to test their dreams and signs. Even to debate the subject with the false prophet is forbidden. A Jew must be on such a spiritual and intellectual level that one finds a sign, wonder, or dream of a self-appointed prophet totally intolerable and deserving of no credence whatsoever, even if for a moment.”

In their statement, one is not forbidden from merely listening to a false prophet but following and adhering to that person. Maimonides is harsher in stating that one must not listen to them at all. I can understand that if it is a dream as it has already occurred but if the sign and wonder is yet to occur has one already sinned!

The treatment meted out to a false prophet – death – we know now was inhumane - something to maintain order and strict obedience to God and the Israelite Cult.

Interesting thoughts perhaps for a Labour Party with distinct options for a future leader, each of whom would lead the Party in different directions – rightly or wrongly, correctly or falsely.

I am struck by the one who, knowing the punishments would still in all sanity raise their voices and risk the wrath of authority and an unleashed mob. Is that person false as accused or the justified accuser?

Ayt l’khashot, v’ayt l’daber

There is a time to keep silent and a time to speak.

Finally, I began by mentioning a popular song by the Byrds, on a theme, check out Willie Mason’s ‘A Hard Hand to Hold’

Look him in the eyes
There's no need to be scared
He's as powerless as you and me,
Though his face is well worn
And his clothes a bit torn
That don't mean that you shouldn't believe,
When he asks you your name
Says 'brother we're all here in the same game'
But you shrink back like he's a disease,
Yeah you shake and you moan
You say 'oh please take me home'
And the homeless all sing the reprise.

It's a hard hand to hold
That is looking for control
It is tempting to fight
When you know that you're right,
It's hard to lie down
When you don't trust the ground
It's hard to hold on,
It's hard to hold on.