Parshas Shoftim-A Question regarding Divination

An interesting question occurred to me during Kriyas HaTorah, and I don’t have a good answer off-hand. If anyone has any suggestions, I would very much enjoy hearing them.

In Devarim 18:10-11 we are enjoined to avoid various methods of divination, and Pasuk 13 concludes the Aliya that we should be “simple” with Hashem. Rashi on Pasuk 13 explains the “simplicity,” that we should desist from attempting to predict the future, and instead accept whatever Hashem sends us.

However, the following Pesukim state that the Cana’anim erred in relying on illegitimate methods of divining the future, while Bnei Yisroel have Nevi’im and the Urim v’Tumim to assist them.

The question that troubles me is, “Is there something intrinsically wrong with wishing to know what the future holds, or is the problem only with using inappropriate methods?” The conclusion of the fourth Aliya would imply the former, while the beginning of the fifth would seem to imply the latter.

I look forward to hearing your ideas.

6 thoughts on “Parshas Shoftim-A Question regarding Divination

  1. I think you are correct that it is not clear from what we read in the Torah, whether it is the means of obtaining the information, or actually the knowledge itself. But, from the conversation that Shmuel has with Shaul, after being raised from the dead by the Ba’alat Ov (Samuel II, Chapter 28) I think the answer is clear. Samuel never reprimands King Saul for wanting to know the future, and he even reveals that “tomorrow you and your sons will be with me”. Yet, he does rebuke King Saul for: “why did you disturb me, to raise me up”, the problem was the method, not the want/need to know the future. I hope this helps, Shavua Tov.

  2. Doesn’t the fact that Hashem reveals the future through prophets indicate that the problem is not in knowing the future? Now that we don’t have prophecy it might be moot if that is the only way to find out. But I think that the problem would be by the trying to know by inappropriate means.

    Still Yaakov Avinu being held back from revealing some things to his sons might indicate that some things unknowable even by permissible means.

  3. It would seem that the answer is very simple. Urim VeTumim were used only for the needs of the Klal. Neviim revealed what we needed to know. Trying to know beyond that is trying to control the world, which is in itself a mistake. We are not here to change the world into what we think it should be, we are here to do what Hashem told us to do, whether through Torah, personal insight, Urim VeTumim or a Navi.

  4. Rabbi YL, I totally disagree! take a very “simple” example. Hashem told us in the Torah to build a Beit Hamikdash, then the Prophets told us it will be destroyed, but they never told us when it will be rebuilt, and the commandment is still there, so why don’t we build the Temple today?! Because we do NOT have guidance as to the consequences – not from the Torah, and definitely not from the prophets, Urim Vetumim or even the Rabbis. I really think we deserve to know something about the future. If not – in my humble opinion, you have NO answer why we do not build the Temple today. There are many more ambiguous issues, like knowing which enemy is truly an enemy to the Jewish people – some leaders who may seem like our ‘friends’ or allies, would be frowned upon by Yirmiyahu or Yeshayahu (in their times – Egypt and Assyria, in our times maybe the USA and Russia???!!!). We need answers!

  5. Allow me to add some more to this important discussion. The Sforno on the next posuk, Devarim 18:14, says that the forms of divination that the goyim used will not work for us, since are not subject to the same forces as they are, “ein mazal l’yisrael.” So according to him, this posuk is not a negative commandment to refrain from diving the future through drak arts, rather a practical piece of information that it isnt an accurate means. (Although the posuk of Tamim Tihyeh, posuk 13, would be a positive commandment to refrain from such practices.) We have our own methods- urim vtumim and neviim. Today we dont have these, and we only have our great Torah leaders for guidance, which gives us that much more reason to daven for their continued well being.

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