Parashat Shoftim – False Prophecy

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What does it take to be trustworthy? What does the word even mean? According the Boy Scouts of America (my alma mater?), being trustworthy means telling the truth, being honest, keeping promises and being dependable.

This week’s Torah portion explains the laws of how to deal with a false prophet. If a person claims to be speaking on behalf of God, but what they say will happen does not happen, we can be confident that he or she was not a real prophet.

It seems like a very simple concept. If someone claims to have absolute insider information about what’s going to happen, and they turn out to be wrong, there are only two possibilities. They were either misleading people intentionally, or they were misled themselves. These are clearly not people that we would want to take advice from.

So what was the point of having this section on false prophets? I guess it’s good to know what the punishment is (us Yekke, type-A, Jews like to have things nice and orderly), but aside from that it’s an obvious rule.

I think the Torah is reminding us of the power and value of our words and reputations. When I tell someone that I can be depended on to make something happen, or that the information I’m telling them is reliable, I am putting a lot at stake. Speaking rashly, or without thinking, I can lose my credibility with friends, family, colleagues and strangers very quickly.

In the case of the Bible’s false prophet, the punishment is death (damn!). Today our lives aren’t on the line, but our reputations are still extremely valuable. When we act with integrity, we build value for ourselves. When we become reckless and unreliable, we send ourselves down the self-destructive path of the false prophet.

We have the power to create our personal value, but we can also diminish that value very quickly.

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