Rob has tried to convince me to go to Torah study on Shabbat for quite some time. I never really wanted to for a variety of reasons, mainly because we don't get there early enough for me to daven the Amidah. If I go to Torah study, then I miss all chances to daven the Amidah unless I can get may family there early. I have not been successful in that so far, which is heartbreaking because I really appreciate davening pesukei, hallel and shacharit. Ah well...another blog post but not this one!
Anyway, for the past few weeks, I have been attending the Torah study and I must say -- I am enjoying the guided open discussions about the parsha each week. This past Shabbat, we studied parsha Shoftim. A summary can be found here: Chabad - In a Nutshell. Stick with me here -- stick with me. One part of the parsha deals with prophets, and how to tell if someone is a false prophet. Basically, it is a pretty simple formula: If the prophet spoke in the name of God and the prophecy did NOT come true, then that prophecy was not spoken by God, the prophet had taken liberties, and the people were not to be afraid. (Deuteronomy 18:21–22.).
Now, going to another part but keeping in mind we are going to come back to this...
Another part of the parsha has to do with the rules of war. If the town did not surrender when the Israelites offered them peace, the Israelites were to take the town, and kill all its men and take as booty the women, children, livestock, etc.(Deuteronomy 20:12–14.)
As you can well imagine, this is a little bit disturbing and all kinds of commentary have been written to get around this. Jews are by and large a peace-loving group. We struggle with these rules being in our Torah. It seems unjust, and who wants a God who orders these kinds of things? Also, if you read of the Biblical conquests, you know that these rules were not really followed, because we read of inhabitants of lands we conquered, and there were surviving men from these lands living amongst us.
A gentleman in our Torah study (can't remember his first name but his last name is Singer) stated that he had a radical interpretation, and I think in a lot of ways it is a brilliant one. I have not ever considered this as a possibility. He said, what if all of this - written in the voice of Moses - is actually a false prophecy. The Torah isn't saying that we are to do these terrible rules of war, but that it is Moses' prophecy and because he is human, he is taking liberties or thinks they are God's words but they are actually his. This would make them a false prophecy.
How do we know? Well, it says "When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken; the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously, thou shalt not be afraid of him." Well, it didn't come to pass - over and over again, although the Israelites take some spoils, they do not actually kill all of the males. In this way, all of these distasteful concepts we have a hard time digesting can be explained away/discarded because they are false prophecies.
That isn't to say that Moses is a false prophet - just that this particular prophecy is false. We know Moses is fallible, and we have a guideline to help us weed out that which is false.
Whether or not that is a viable theory, and with the utmost respect for Moses, and in the vain of looking at the text from every angle, it sure was exciting to discuss!