MA'OR YESHIVA HIGH SCHOOL of the Jersey Shore Celebrating 10 Years of Educational Excellence
By: Rabbi Adi Cohen
This month, we will embark on an exciting trip to the future, assisted by those people who traveled to the future through their unique spiritual powers. We will discover that the Being that set into motion the fixed laws of the universe to make life possible on Earth is also directly involved in the supervision of world history.
Seeing the Future
Foretelling the future has become a popular and profitable occupation. Fortune-tellers, such as palm readers, crystal ball gazers, astrologers, and pendulum swingers, are very much in style in today’s day and age. Most intelligent people keep away from them – for the simple reason that fortune tellers’ rates of success are usually around the statistical probability of a random guess, and most of them are very clearly outright charlatans.
But is there a way to know the future? Were there ever any
people who could see the future without any instruments besides their intellect?
Seeing the future is impossible as long as we are bound to the dimension of time that controls our life, and until now no means has been found of freeing ourselves from this dimension. However, there is one way to know what will be in the future – by communicating with someone who lives above the dimension of time, someone for whom the past, present, and future are as one. This is the Creator, who existence is purely spiritual, and who is not bound by the dimension of time. Indeed, His Name (referred to as “Havayah”) represents the words “hayah,” “hoveh,” “yiheyeh” – “was,” “is,” and “will be.” For Gd, the three dimensions of time are all one and the same. And thus the prophet Yeshayahu (41:4) describes Gd as the One who “calls the generations from the beginning,” and later (41:4) says that He “tells the end from the beginning.” He knows all future events well before they happen.
The Creator did not keep this knowledge to Himself. Instead, He opened a small crevice through which people can peer into the future – embedding this knowledge in the Torah and in the words of the prophets.
All the prophecies included in the 24 books of the Tanach have been accepted by the Jewish People as true. The prophecies conveyed at Mount Sinai were affirmed by the very experience of the Revelation, and the prophets’ words are proven true by the prophets’ having passed all the tests affirming their status as authentic prophets, as the Rambam explains (Hilchot Yesodeh HaTorah 10:1-3):
Any prophet who arises and says that Gd sent him… we tell him: “If you are a prophet, then predict future events,” which he then does. We wait to see if what he says happens or not. Even if he was wrong regarding only a small matter, he is a false prophet; only if all of what he said comes true is he credible. A prophet has to be tested many times. If all his words are true, then he is a true prophet...
Enchanters and diviners also predict the future, so how do they differ from a prophet – in that only some of what enchanters and diviners say comes true, while some does not... With respect to a true prophet, all of what he says comes true.
Hence, all the Jewish prophecies in the Bible have been accepted as true, as they were spoken by prophets whose authentic status
A prophecy’s truth and authenticity is confirmed if it meets the following criteria:
1. It is certain that the prophecy was conveyed before the events it predicts took place.
2.The prediction is understood from the simple meaning of the text, without the need for intricate explanations or complex deciphering, such as through gematria (calculating numerical values of words) or the first or last letters of words.
3.The prophecy relates to the historical event itself, without the need for interpretations of the event. Furthermore, the historical event is known to all, and the prophecy relates to the entire event and not just a part of it.
4.The prophecy is detailed, as opposed to the vague predictions of astrologers and other types of fortune-tellers that “it will be fine,” or, “there will be a disaster.”
5.The prophecy contradicts historical experience, such that it cannot be dismissed as a prediction based on a past historical model.
6.The prophecy contradicts not only historical experience, but also logic, such that the prophet puts his reputation on the line by predicting such an event.
In this feature we will present just a small sample of prophecies that clearly came true. It must be emphasized from the outset, however, that the purpose of prophecy is not simply to predict the future. Gd relays to us – through His prophets – information about future calamities in order that we repent and improve ourselves so we will be worthy of being saved. He also conveys prophecies about the great rewards that await the righteous so we do not despair in the face of the success of the wicked, as we recognize that ultimately justice will prevail, and Gd will bring punishment upon the evil people and shower the righteous with blessing.
I. The Permanent Fall of Babylonia
The prophets Yeshayahu and Yirmiyahu predicted the future of the world’s major empire at their time – Babylonia:
“And Babylonia, the beauty of the kingdoms, the glory of the pride of the Chaldees, shall be like Gd’s overturning of Sedom and Amorah. It shall not be settled forever, and it shall not be occupied from generation to generation, and no Arab shall pitch his tent there, neither shall shepherds rest their flocks there.” (Yeshayahu 13:19-20)
“And I will recompense Babylonia and all the inhabitants of the land of the Chaldeans for all their evil that they committed in Zion before your eyes, says the Lord. Behold I am against you, O’ destroying mountain, says the Lord, who destroys all the Earth, and I will stretch out My hand upon you and roll you down from the rocks and make you a burnt mountain. And they shall take from you neither a stone for a corner, nor a stone for foundations, for you shall be desolate forever, says the Lord.”(Yirmiyahu 51:24-26.)
While the styles of these two prophecies differ from one another, their message is one and the same: Babylonia would be destroyed and never be rebuilt.
These prophecies fulfill all the criteria specified above. They were said at a time when Babylonia stood at the height of its power and glory, after the Babylonians had conquered the entire civilized world, including the Land of Israel. A prophecy delivered at this time foretelling the downfall of Babylonia clearly contradicted expected historical norms. Furthermore, these prophets were members of a nation conquered by Babylonia, the worldwide superpower which exiled them from their homeland and destroyed their country. Nevertheless, they did not hesitate to declare with absolute certainty that Babylonia would be overthrown and decimated. And these prophecies were stated clearly and simply, in a manner such that they cannot be interpreted in any other way.
Sure enough, history confirms the authenticity of these prophecies: the mighty Babylonian Empire was destroyed and never rebuilt. The prediction that the empire would never be restored fulfills yet another requirement – that the prophecy contradicted all logic. It would utterly insensible at the time to predict that the Babylonian Empire would be permanently lost, and unless the prophets heard this information from Gd, they would not have taken the risk of undermining their credibility through such a prediction.
While it is true that other great empires have also been permanently destroyed, Babylonia is unique in that some of the empire’s important cities have been rebuilt, though the empire itself was never restored. Additionally, there were attempts to rebuild the ruins of Babylonia, but they did not succeed. From a statistical perspective, this phenomenon is very rare. This thus confirms the authenticity of the prophecy of Babylonia’s downfall, and of Yeshayahu’s prediction that the empire “shall not be settled forever, and it shall not be occupied from generation to generation” (Yeshayahu 13:20).
The greatness and importance of Babylonia can be seen from an entry in the Hebrew Encyclopedia:
Nebuchadnezzar not only made Babylon into a great empire, he invested much effort to lift the hills of Babylon from their ruined state, and especially to improve the capital city of Babylon. He filled it with glorious temples, sanctuaries, hanging gardens, and a famous promenade for processions. The tower of Babylon was elevated to the height of 100 meters. The promenade was tiled with bricks of hard stone, and a wall was built along its length with a width of seven meters and with tall towers.”
Dr. Pinchas Biberfield writes:
Babylon continued to be an important city even after the dynasty of Cyrus. It maintained its status as one of the imperial cities of the Persian Empire. However, it gradually became ruined beyond repair. Alexander the Great dreamed of turning it into the center of his worldwide empire, but his sudden death killed this idea. Eventually Babylon disappeared from the stage of history. It has been a mound of ruins until our day, and its destruction serves as strong and continual evidence of the truth of the Hebrew prophecies.
Many centuries after Alexander, there was another ruler who attempted to rebuild Babylonia and restore its past glory – Saddam Hussein, the despotic ruler of Iraq who was eventually captured and executed by U.S. forces. Hussein declared himself the successor of Nebuchadnezzar, but his efforts to rebuild the region failed and came to a complete halt with the devastation caused by first Gulf War in 1991.
The following citation from the Biblical Encyclopedia clearly demonstrates the fulfillment of the prophecies of Yeshayahu
This city, which was for two millennia the capital of mighty empires, remains today as only a vast empty field of deserted ruins on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River, about
thirty-four kilometers south of Baghdad. The ruins of Babylon are the largest in the Near East. Their area, in the shape of a huge triangle, covers almost 8.5 square kilometers. In the northern section of this expanse is the mound that kept the name of the city for all those generations – Tel Babylon, while the city itself was sunken into the most abject desolation.
The prophecy that foresaw the permanent destruction of Babylonia meets all the strict criteria that we noted, including that the prophecy must contradict both logic and historical experience, such that the prophet would expose himself to risk by falsely making the prediction. Undoubtedly, then, the prophets who foresaw the fall of Babylonia knew with absolute certainty that it would occur.
II. The Survival of The Western Wall
King Solomon writes in Shir Hashirim (2:9): “My beloved resembles a gazelle or a fawn of the hinds; behold, He is standing behind our wall, looking from the windows, peering from the lattices.”
The Midrash (both in Shir Hashirim and in Echah 1:32), which was written over 1,600 years ago, interprets this verse as a reference to the Western Wall: “‘Behold, He is standing behind our wall’ – behind the western wall of the Temple. G-d swore that it will never be destroyed. Why – because the Divine Presence is in the west.”
According to the Midrash, the Jewish People were given an explicit promise that the Western Wall would never be destroyed. And although the Midrash here speaks of “the Western Wall of the Temple,” it refers to the western supporting wall of the Temple – known to us today as the Western Wall – because the word “Temple” (“Bet Hamikdash”) is used to mean the entire Temple compound, that is, the entire Temple Mount. Proof of this usage of the term “Bet Hamikdash” can be found in Masechet Middot (1:1), which states that kohanim would stand guard at “three locations in the Bet Hamikdash,” and proceeds to identify the gates to the Temple Mount as one of these locations. Clearly, then, our sages used the term “Bet Hamikdash” to refer to the entire Temple Mount, and thus “the western wall of the Bet Hamikdash” refers to the western wall of the Temple Mount.
This promise, that the Western Wall would never fall, contradicts all historical experience and logic. Virtually all the other walls from that time period built the same way were eventually destroyed. And even if we find a number of walls from that period that have survived over the last two millennia, nevertheless, no one could have foreseen that they would have endured for so long.
The authenticity of this prophecy is reinforced by the fact that Jerusalem and the Temple, with all its walls, were completely destroyed by the Jews’ enemies, as predicted by the prophet Michah (3:12): “Therefore, because of you, Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the Temple Mount like a shrine in a forest.” Only the Western Wall remained fully intact. In fact, Jerusalem has been conquered 18 times in the last 2,000 years. It was even struck by an earthquake. And yet, the Western Wall remains intact and never fell.
The Midrash (Echah Rabbah to Echah1:31) tells of how the Western Wall survived the fierce invasion of Jerusalem led by the Roman Emperor Vespasian, which resulted in the destruction of the Second Temple. Vespasian assigned to each of his four commanders one wall to attack and dismantle. Three commanders succeeded in their mission, but the fourth, Panger, who was assigned to the Western Wall, left the wall intact.
Vespasian angrily confronted Panger, who explained, “I did this for the glory of your kingdom. If I had destroyed it, the world would never know what you destroyed, but now they will see and realize the great power of Vespasian and what he destroyed.”
Vespasian accepted the explanation, but nevertheless ordered Panger to jump off a roof for violating his order. “If you live, then you will live, and if not, not,” the emperor said. Panger jumped up a roof and died.
This remarkable account demonstrates how history conforms to ensure the Western Wall’s survival, which was guaranteed through prophecy. The commander assigned the task of dismantling the wall suddenly thought of a strange idea which led him to disobey the order, and Vespasian, apparently, found this idea compelling enough to never again attempt to destroy the Western Wall.
Today, 2,000 years after the Second Temple’s destruction, this promise is still being fulfilled before our very eyes. The Western Wall stands high against all odds. Who could have anticipated at the time of the Temple that it would remain standing after 2,000 years, unless he had clear knowledge of the hidden future events?
III. The Israeli-Arab Struggle
Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai, author of theZohar, made the following prediction approximately 1,900 years ago:
In the future, the descendants of Yishmael will rule the Holy Land, during which time it will be desolate for an extended period… and they will prevent the people of Israel from returning to their place until the Yishmaelites’ merit of circumcision will expire.
The Zohar was written 450 years before the birth of Mohammed, when the Yishmaelites were nothing more than a group of nomadic desert tribes, at a time when no one could have imagined them seizing control over the Land of Israel. Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai foresaw the Yishmaelites’ conquest of the land during the Jews’ exile, that the land would remain desolate throughout this period of Yishmaelite control, and that the Yishmaelites would seek to prevent the Jews’ return to their homeland.
This prediction becomes especially astonishing when we take into account the fact that it was made nearly two millennia ago, and off the backdrop of the opposite predictions made by the leaders of the Zionist movement in modern times. Dr. Max Nordau (1849-1923), the architect of the Basel Plan in the First Zionist Congress who founded the concept of a “national homeland,” served as the Vice President of the Zionist Congress in Herzl’s time and, later, as President of the Seventh Zionist Congress. In his book, entitled The Arabs, Dr. Nordau writes, “In our justness and in the righteousness of our conduct we will be able to eliminate the Arabs’ feeling of distrust towards us; we will approach them with more or less polite relations that will quickly, so I hope, turn into warm relations.” As opposed to Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai, who nearly two millennia earlier predicted the Arabs’ fierce opposition to the Jews’ return to their homeland, Dr. Nordau – writing less than a century before the establishment of the State of Israel – assumed that Arabs would agree to “warm relations” with the new arrivals.
In fact, until the beginning of the 20th century, everyone, including the new Jewish settlers in Israel, and especially the leaders in the Diaspora, believed that the Arabs and the Jews were capable of living in Israel harmoniously side by side. Very few imagined at that time that a violent, decades-long struggle over control of the Land of Israel lay in store for them. Lilenblum, Pinsker, Hess, and Herzl viewed Jewish values as inconsequential factors, and they therefore considered the Arabs as potential Zionists.
Zalman David Levontin, founder of Rishon Letzion, wrote: “The Arabs of Palestine are quiet, submissive, and honor the Europeans. Certainly, the Jewish people, who are intelligent and understanding, can purchase fields and property in Palestine and do business in the Land.”
Dr. Yaakov Herzog, in his work, A Nation That Dwells Alone, writes:
The Zionist leaders did not understand either the Jewish people or the Arabs. Meaning, the Zionist leaders – when you read their speeches it is apparent – actually believed that we would return here in a normal track of the 20th century. Dozens of nations received national independence after WWI, and they thought we would also receive independence here. The world would recognize this independence. We would turn into a “normal people” and be released from the burden of exile, accepted throughout the world. The facts came and refuted this theory, as no theory has ever been refuted before, in my knowledge, in such a short time.
Returning to the words of Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai, author of Zohar, the question must be posed: how did he know exactly how Israeli-Arab relations would unfold in the 20th century thousands of years ago? How did he know that the small group of nomadic tribes and the handful of permanent Arab residents of Palestine at that time would undergo a nationalistic awakening and violently resist those whom they viewed as “foreign invaders,” in an attempt to prevent them from returning to their ancestral homeland? How did he know that the Arabs would rule the Land of Israel at that time, rather than any of the other numerous nations that attempted to conquer the Land during the 2,000 years of the Jewish people’s absence?
Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai’s prediction came true. He exposed himself to great risk by making such a prediction, which was utterly illogical at the time he wrote it. Doesn’t common sense dictate that he knew these matters from a reliable source, from the One Who exists beyond the dimension of time, and is capable of seeing the future just as we see the present – and therefore he could state them with such total certainty?
Like someone who has returned from a trip in a time machine, the Torah describes future events that relate to our day and age. The prophets and sages of Israel do the same. We can only observe these prophecies with utter astonishment, seeing how, one by one, they are all coming true in front of our eyes with absolute precision, against all logic and historical experience.
Could it be that these words were written by ordinary human beings without prophetic capabilities? Or does it seem more reasonable to conclude that they were written by people connected to a Being beyond time and space, for Whom there is no difference between the past, present, and future, Who controls history and directs it according to His will?
Rabbi Adi Cohen is the head of Maagley Yosher educational institutions who has educated hundreds of students over the years. He has authored Hatzala K’Halacha, Moral Dilemmas and Their Solutions, and The Handbook of
Emergency Response According to Jewish Law.