The passuk in this week’s parshah states, (Devarim 13:2-6): “If there should stand in your midst a prophet… and he will produce to you a sign or a wonder… And the sign or wonder does come about… (And he says) come; let us worship other gods that you did not know. Do not hearken to the words of that prophet… for Hashem is testing you to know whether you love Hashem your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul. [Rather,] you shall follow Hashem… and Him shall you fear… His commandments you shall observe. And that prophet… shall be put to death, for he has spoken falsehood about Hashem Who has taken you out of the land of Egypt and who has redeemed you from the house of slavery, to make you stray from the path… and you shall destroy the evil from your midst.”
There seems to be a dispute between Rambam and Ramban on the exact explanation of the abovementioned prohibition of “Do not hearken to the words of that prophet.” Rambam in his Sefer Hamitzvos (lav 28) writes that the injunction does not mean that one may not to listen to him in the sense of engaging him in debate or conversation or proofs. Rather, the verse is to be taken literally —do not listen to him at all! Whereas Ramban (ibid.) writes, “But I say that the hearkening in the passuk refers to being taken in by his words, acting upon what he says, obeying him; but rather, to ignore the ‘miracles’ which he performs. And so really all the Torah is telling one here is to not worship avodah zarah [as this person tells one to do]…as the Torah repeats the prohibition of worshipping avodah zarah many times. If so, it certainly has no place being counted as a ‘new’ mitzvah… but perhaps it should indeed be counted, since (as the Gemara states in Sanhedrin 90a) it includes a prohibition not to listen to a true prophet of G-d if he tells us to uproot completely any command presently in the Torah, and we are to not obey him even if he gives us a sign or a miracle.” What is not quite clear is, if the simple understanding of the passuk precludes it’s being counted as a prohibition in and of itself because it is already included in the many prohibitions not to worship avodah zarah, so too is there already a prohibition neither to add nor subtract from the Torah’s commandments. If so, why would interpretation of the passuk as expressing this latter injunction, enable it to qualify as a new prohibition?
In telling us not to hearken to this person’s words, the passuk says, “Hashem…you shall follow, and Him you shall fear; His commandments you shall observe, to His voice you shall hearken, Him you shall serve and to Him you shall bond.”Ramban there explains (presumably referring to the words ‘Hashem you shall follow’), “This is a command to follow Hashem’s counsel and inquire any unknown manner from Him alone and ask about any future event [only by consulting Hashem’s prophets], as we find that Rivkah Imeinu went ‘to inquire of Hashem’ (Bereishis 25:22)…and as the people of Israel did in subsequent years, as it says (Melachim II, 3:11) ‘Is there no prophet of Hashem here through whom we may inquire of Hashem?’….and Sifri states ‘Hashem your G-d you shall follow, this refers to the clouds of Glory,’ which means as we have just explained, [namely,] that we should hearken to the call of Hashem’s signs and follow His counsel, just as we followed the Cloud.”
This raises a few questions. Is there really a specific mitzvah to ask and follow Hashem’s counsel? If so, why is it not counted as one of the 613 mitzvos? Moreover, Ramban, in his explanation of the passuk in Bereishis (6:8) that states that Noach “followed Hashem,” writes that Noach did not allow himself to be drawn into following the sorceries of those who worshipped avodah zarah, and certainly did not actually worship avodah zarah; rather, he cleaved to Hashem and he walked in the path that Hashem chose for him or that Hashem specifically instructed him to follow. The Ramban that this is similar to the message of our passuk in this week’s parshah ‘Hashem you shall follow and Him you shall fear…’ Thus, we see that Ramban is saying that this positive commandment, as articulated in ‘our’ passuk, also includes the ‘positive’ command of not worshipping avodah zarah (i.e., the mitzvah of emunah only in Hashem.)
Let us examine this further. In the concluding passuk of not heeding the prophet’s signs (quoted above), as he is professing that one worship avodah zarah, the Torah states, “for he has spoken falsehood about Hashem…Who has taken you out of the land of Egypt… to make you stray from the path on which Hashem has commanded you to go.” The Ramban (Devarim 13:2) explains that, “The passuk states the reason for this… because upon the Exodus from Egypt that we experienced as an actual event, not a vision, not as a mental image (unlike this prophet), we became aware that ‘the earth is Hashem’s’, meaning that He is the originator of the world and desires and cares about the course of events on Earth, He controls all events, and that there is no god beside Him… Furthermore, we became aware at Har Sinai, face-to-face, that G-d commanded us to go in this path… that we should not worship anything at all other than Him… This then is the meaning of the passuk when it says, ‘to make you stray from the path on which Hashem has commanded you to go.’ Thus, the ‘prophet’ speaks falsehoods, for you have heard directly from Hashem (face-to-face) not to follow such practices.”
Here, the Ramban explains the wording of the passuk to mean that we are not to listen to this prophet as the result of our own experiences at yetzias Mitzrayim and at Har Sinai. However, what about the non-Jews, who are also commanded not to worship avodah zarah, but did not personally experience any of the above phenomena? What are they to do when faced with such a situation?
To be continued…