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Prophecy as a source of politics and metaphysics – Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah ch. 7

The Rambam in Chapter 2 explained that angels are metaphysical beings, which are bodiless and have knowledge of God. Yet when describing Yaakov’s vision of the ladder with angels climbing up and down, he explains that it is a metaphor for the empires and subjugation to them. Similarly, Chayot are the highest level of angel, yet, like Yaakov’s vision, Yechezkel’s vision is also a metaphor for the exile.

What is the relationship between politics and metaphysics, such that a prophecy which is seemingly about metaphysical knowledge, turns out to be about politics?

The Rambam introduces the phenomenon of Nevuah as an extension of knowledge of Pardes (i.e. science and metaphysics). But if that is the nature of prophecy, how can you have a message for the people? The idea of prophecy to expand the Navi’s own understanding makes sense, but how does Pardes translate into a political message for a nation (whether as a warning or a call to repentance)?

It seems that prophecy as a mission to the people, happens when the Prophet receives an insight about how his knowledge of the whole impacts on man. Prophecies always contain philosophical ideas, but can also convey political and social applications. When studying Nach, Pshat operates in the human and political realm. This is why you can have chapters of ‘maaseh merkava’ read by everyone.

The Rambam’s example of the ladder is a good example of this. In the Mishnah Torah he explains it as a metaphor for politics, yet in the Moreh Nevuchim he explains it differently (as ideas about nature and the phenomenon of prophecy).

How does prophecy extend to both? Perhaps it is based on the idea of knowledge of God being insights into His actions. Prophecy provides a set of metaphors which allow a person to follow in God’s ways, showing how divine causality applies to man as well. This causality can either be accepted as the basis of human life (as it will be in the days of Mashiach), or ignored which leads to subjugation to oppressive empires. This is also why only the 13 attributes of mercy are listed when Moshe learned the entire system of creation.

This is what Yirmiyah teaches “Know me, that I am God, who does kindness, justice and rightness on the earth, because these are what I desire”. Since knowledge of God is as the one who acts in a (metaphorically) ethical way, metaphysical prophecies can also be a political message to the people, teaching them how to live and calling them to return to the good.

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