This week’s Torah portion, Re-eh, introduces us to false prophecy. “If there appears among you a prophet or a dream-diviner and he gives you a sign or a portent, saying, ‘Let us follow and worship another god’–whom you have not experienced–even if the sign or portent that he has named to you comes true, do not heed the words of that prophet or that dream-diviner. For the LORD your God is testing you to see whether you really love the LORD your God with all your heart and soul”(Deuternomy 13:2-4).
This is one of six passages in the Torah that mention the notion of God “testing” someone. What is the reason for this Divine methodology of testing? Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir, the Rashbam (Rashi’s grandson), explains the present example as follows: “[God] has given this kind of magic the power to discover what is going to happen, in order to test Israel and enable them to earn reward. For [the Torah in Deuternonmy 18:10-13] prohibits them from having such people among them. They would earn reward for not believing in the signs named by these prophets” (Rashbam on 13:4).
Why is this test necessary? Why would God give power to something that could ultimately lead to ruin? The potential reward is nice, but the risk is enormous. Does God truly subject people to Divine testing just to uncover the extent of our faith?
The quintessential rationalist of our tradition was Maimonides, and he could not abide this understanding of “testing.” He wrote about it extensively in his philosophical masterpiece, Moreh Nevukhim, “The Guide to the Perplexed.” On Shabbat morning, we will study a passage from this work, and we can ruminate on what Divine “testing” means to us as we enter the month of Elul and the period of introspection that leads up to the New Year.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and Hodesh Tov,