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    Fools, children & prophecy – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. Does the Talmud really say that these days only fools and children think they are prophets?

    A. Rabbi Yochanan says this in Bava Batra 12b. In contrast, Rabbi Avdimi says (BB 12a), “Since the destruction of the Temple, prophecy has been given to sages”.

    R. Avdimi emphasises study and analysis: prophecy is a mental exercise. R. Yochanan emphasises the heart, soul and instinct.

    Rabbi Joseph Carlebach credits R. Yochanan with a great discovery. “How often,” he says, “have children and fools hit upon the truth! The prophet takes a leap into the infinite… Maimonides gives this wonderful simile: ‘Prophetic inspiration is like the lightning on a dark night which suddenly illumines the entire landscape’ … To the prophet, to his own surprise, secrets reveal themselves… He is lifted up by the hand of the Almighty.

    “Does prophetism then expose us to spiritual hazard?

    “The answer is provided by the other saying: prophecy, since it ceased to exist in immediacy, belongs to the sage. The sage also can prophesy. By discovering the laws of nature and of history (he) can foretell the future course of events.”

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