`121 The False Prophets of Today
Chananya Weissman
August 5, 2021

This week's parsha gives us the commandment to execute a false prophet, which is predicated on our responsibility to tell the difference. As I've noted many times, false prophets were great scholars, spiritually exalted (or extremely talented at faking it), and had alluring personalities. It is asking a great deal of an average person to see through the deception, let alone oppose a religious figure held in high esteem by many.

Yet that is what the Torah demands of us. We are expected to know the difference, and we are expected to act accordingly.

If the Torah expects us to know the difference between a real prophet and a fake prophet, and even to know if a true prophet has gone rogue, the Torah certainly expects us to know the difference between a rabbi who is guiding people according to the Torah and when he is leading them astray. We are also expected to know if a formerly reliable rabbi has gone rogue due to bribery or other forms of corruption, and to act accordingly.

One who does not believe this, or does not accept it, or does not want to inconvenience himself with it, is disregarding the Torah and empowering rogues to continue misleading our people.

That is a lesson from this week's parsha. But there is a very interesting prophecy in Zecharya chapter 13. Sometime during the final stages of the redemption period (it is unclear exactly when) Hashem will cut off idolatry and remove the “spirit of impurity” from the land. False prophets will be attacked by their own parents, and will be filled with shame for having spoken falsely in the name of God. They will stop posing as prophets and will deny ever having been in the profession, out of humiliation.

The commentaries offer a wide range of interpretations of this prophecy for a reason that should be obvious: we don't have prophets anymore! If anyone tried to pass himself off as a prophet today he would be ridiculed by almost everyone, even those of us who are eagerly anticipating the return of true prophecy. The false prophets of old are long dead. So who in the world is Zecharya talking about?

Rashi and Metzudas David refer to them literally as false prophets, apparently assuming that there will be such people at this time who are humbled.

Radak says that these are false prophets from the time of the first Beis Hamikdash, whose names and legacy will be cut off. This is also difficult, because in the time of Zecharya they were already dead for generations and proven false. Despite the tremendous damage false prophets had caused, prophecy in general was almost extinct, and false prophets were no longer a threat.

Malbim understandably goes in another direction, and says this refers to modern-day idolaters in Asian countries (including China) who lead people astray with false prophecies. However, this explanation is also difficult, since the immediately preceding pasuk refers to the house of David and Jerusalem. A prophecy about false prophets in distant lands seems out of place here, and it seems the Malbim is forced into a difficult interpretation only because he finds the existence of false prophets in Jerusalem at that time untenable.

I speak with no authority, and suggest the following explanation only as food for thought. Perhaps this is a hint to the preponderance of rabbis who will speak falsely in the name of God, fabricating Torah directives and promoting a spirit of impurity. After all, a navi in essence is someone who carries a spiritual message, ideally one that is authentic. It is not the most precise word to describe a contemporary rabbi who misleads the people, but when such figures dominate the establishment, to the extent that they essentially hijack the Torah, it is reasonable to equate them with the false prophets of old. Their effect as a collective, carrying similar false messages in lockstep, is precisely the same.

Whether or not Zecharya is indeed referring to these charlatans is only speculative. However, this is the reality before us, and his prophecy about the false prophets being humiliated on the Day of God is inspirational for our times. When the truth is no longer deniable, and God sets the world straight, whoever survives from this wretched bunch of false leaders will be scorned by everyone.

They will try however possible to deny that they said what they said, or that they meant it that way. They will claim they were following the best information available, the most reliable experts. According to Zecharya, the false prophets will claim they were never in the business, but were farmers all along.

Maybe the drug-pushing, hate-mongering, Torah-twisting rabbis of today should take up agriculture, just in case.