In this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Re’eh, (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17) it talks about a false prophet. There are three steps in this scenario:
1) “If there will arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of a dream, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, 2) and the sign or the wonder of which he spoke to you happens, 3) [and he] says, ‘Let us go after other gods which you have not known, and let us worship them.'” Then, G-d concludes, 4) “You shall not heed the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of a dream; for the L-rd, your God, is testing you, to know whether you really love the L-rd, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul” (13:2-4).
A good old con-artist is one thing, but this prophet guy really comes through. And then, based on his proven track record, it is only logical to follow his lead. Unfortunately, he steers his followers away from G-d.
Chassidic masters use this description of the false prophet to resolve an age old conundrum: Why do bad things happen to good people, and good things to bad people (like the popular guy who walks all over people, or the millionaire who is fraudulent in business)? What bothers us most about this injustice is that it simply confuses us. Why would G-d back up the false prophet by validating his prediction? Why would G-d reward an immoral person with success?
It makes us doubt the validity of our own moral compass. If that person achieved success, maybe I should forgo my scruples and play by his rules. The false prophet has proven his success, and those around him will naturally follow his lead.
Indeed, the question is puzzling. Why does G-d allow sinful people to prosper? Of course, it is hard to know who is truly happy and prosperous. What appears to be a life of perfection and bliss may look quite different from the inside. But, still, why would G-d make the sinner appear to prosper and initiate a crisis of faith in those around him?
And so the Torah concludes, “G-d is testing you to know whether you really love Him.”
If reward and punishment were so transparent then there would be no test. Following in G-d’s ways would be the most logical and beneficial decision one could make. But when G-d’s justice seems askew, it becomes more challenging to make G-d-centered decisions. So G-d tests the waters to measure the depth of our love. Do you love Me? Do you trust Me? Or are you only in it for you?
There is one final question to be asked. If He really is G-d, does He really need to test us to know whether or not we love Him? Can’t He read our hearts like an open book? The third Chabad Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, answers this question. The test is not so much for G-d to know us, as it is for us to know G-d, to breed “daat,” an intimate knowledge of G-d’s omnipotence. Within every false prophet, within each test of faith, G-d plants a seed. When we remain firm in our belief despite the evidence that success lies outside of G-d, the shell of the test simply falls away and the seed emerges. This seed is the gift of deep, intimate knowledge.
We don’t go looking for tests. But if they come our way, we should appreciate that it is critical to our success as G-dly human beings and committed Jews that we face up to the challenge.