In the first episode of Netflix’s “The Witcher”, we meet the monster hunter for bounties, Geralt, and his newest client, the mage Stregobor, who has a propensity for killing baby girls born on a lunar eclipse. He bases his conduct on a prophecy that foresaw the end of mankind by baby girls born at that time. He therefore hires Geralt to kill one such baby princess that grew up: Renfri. Our question for today is whether prophecy would ever give license to kill anyone, let alone children, in order to save oneself from a predestined destruction.
וַיֹּ֗אמֶר בְּיַלֶּדְכֶן֙ אֶת־הָֽעִבְרִיּ֔וֹת וּרְאִיתֶ֖ן עַל־הָאָבְנָ֑יִם אִם־בֵּ֥ן הוּא֙ וַהֲמִתֶּ֣ן אֹת֔וֹ וְאִם־בַּ֥ת הִ֖יא וָחָֽיָה׃
saying, “When you deliver the Hebrew women, look at the birthstool: if it is a boy, kill him; if it is a girl, let her live.”
וַתִּירֶ֤אןָ הַֽמְיַלְּדֹת֙ אֶת־הָ֣אֱלֹהִ֔ים וְלֹ֣א עָשׂ֔וּ כַּאֲשֶׁ֛ר דִּבֶּ֥ר אֲלֵיהֶ֖ן מֶ֣לֶךְ מִצְרָ֑יִם וַתְּחַיֶּ֖יןָ אֶת־הַיְלָדִֽים׃
The midwives, fearing God, did not do as the king of Egypt had told them; they let the boys live.
We see a parallel from our own history making a comeback in a fantasy story. Pharaoh is terrified of his people’s destruction at the hands of a deliverer, as he was foretold by his astrologers. The solution: kill male babies. Stregobor, living in a fantasy world set about two and a half thousand years later, clearly had a couple of legs to stand on.
As the Torah story unfolds, we realize that the seeds of rebellion are planted as a result of the Pharoah’s policies, and G-d had already seized upon this time for planning the redemption of His people from Egypt. The question is if a Hebrew prophet would be believed that destruction was coming at the hands of an infant, instead of the results of societal decay and moral turpitude.
(ט) הִנֵּ֤ה יוֹם־ה’ בָּ֔א אַכְזָרִ֥י וְעֶבְרָ֖ה וַחֲר֣וֹן אָ֑ף לָשׂ֤וּם הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ לְשַׁמָּ֔ה וְחַטָּאֶ֖יהָ יַשְׁמִ֥יד מִמֶּֽנָּה׃ (י) כִּֽי־כוֹכְבֵ֤י הַשָּׁמַ֙יִם֙ וּכְסִ֣ילֵיהֶ֔ם לֹ֥א יָהֵ֖לּוּ אוֹרָ֑ם חָשַׁ֤ךְ הַשֶּׁ֙מֶשׁ֙ בְּצֵאת֔וֹ וְיָרֵ֖חַ לֹֽא־יַגִּ֥יהַ אוֹרֽוֹ׃ (9)
Lo! The day of the LORD is coming With pitiless fury and wrath, To make the earth a desolation, To wipe out the sinners upon it. (10) The stars and constellations of heaven Shall not give off their light; The sun shall be dark when it rises, And the moon shall diffuse no glow.Isaiah 13:-10
The above quote is to demonstrate the value attached to astrological occurrences portending “bad omens”. In prophetic literature, darkening of the sun was viewed as a warning that something dangerous was coming.
סוכה כ״ט א:ח׳ת”ר בזמן שהחמה לוקה סימן רע לכל העולם כולו משל למה הדבר דומה למלך בשר ודם שעשה סעודה לעבדיו והניח פנס לפניהם כעס עליהם ואמר לעבדו טול פנס מפניהם והושיבם בחושך
Sukkah 29a:8 The Sages taught: When the sun is eclipsed it is a bad omen for the entire world. The Gemara tells a parable. To what is this matter comparable? It is comparable to a king of flesh and blood who prepared a feast for his servants and placed a lantern [panas] before them to illuminate the hall. He became angry at them and said to his servant: Take the lantern from before them and seat them in darkness.
The Talmud goes on to list what types of events generally attract a solar eclipse. Suffice it to say that these bad feelings for eclipses are meant to rouse the spirit of repentance, of teshuvah, and for adherents to turn from their evil ways. In the case of Stregobor, the prophecy is egocentric as opposed to theocentric. Stregobor believes that he, and not the other forces at play in his reality, are entitled to exist. This form of egocentric prophecy is common amongst pagan and polytheistic societies, with their gods capricious approach to managing reality. However, the Hebrew prophet, the prophet that projects the Word of G-d, is bound to a different code:
אִם כֵּן לָמָּה נֶאֱמַר בַּתּוֹרָה (דברים יח יח) “נָבִיא אָקִים לָהֶם מִקֶּרֶב אֲחֵיהֶם כָּמוֹךָ”. לֹא לַעֲשׂוֹת דָּת הוּא בָּא אֶלָּא לְצַוּוֹת עַל דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה וּלְהַזְהִיר הָעָם שֶׁלֹּא יַעַבְרוּ עָלֶיהָ. כְּמוֹ שֶׁאָמַר הָאַחֲרוֹן שֶׁבָּהֶן (מלאכי ג כב) “זִכְרוּ תּוֹרַת משֶׁה עַבְדִּי”. וְכֵן אִם צִוָּנוּ בְּדִבְרֵי הָרְשׁוּת כְּגוֹן לְכוּ לְמָקוֹם פְּלוֹנִי אוֹ אַל תֵּלְכוּ. עֲשׂוּ מִלְחָמָה הַיּוֹם אוֹ אַל תַּעֲשׂוּ. בְּנוּ חוֹמָה זוֹ אוֹ אַל תִּבְנוּהָ. מִצְוָה לִשְׁמֹעַ לוֹ. וְהָעוֹבֵר עַל דְּבָרָיו חַיָּב מִיתָה בִּידֵי שָׁמַיִם שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים יח יט) “וְהָיָה הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר לֹא יִשְׁמַע אֶל דְּבָרַי אֲשֶׁר יְדַבֵּר בִּשְׁמִי אָנֹכִי אֶדְרשׁ מֵעִמּוֹ”:
If it be so, wherefore is it said in the Torah: “I will raise them up a prophet from among their brethern, like unto thee” (Deut. 18.18)? Indeed, not to establish a religion is he to come, but to command concerning the words of the Torah and warn the people not to transgress it, as the last of among them said: “Remember ye the Torah of Moses My servant” (Mal. 3.22). Likewise if he command us concerning secular things, for example: Go ye to yon place, or do not go; join battle this day, or do not join, construct this fortress, or do not construct it, it is mandatory to hearken unto him, and whosoever deliberately disregards his words has forfeited his life to Heaven, for it is said: “And it shall come to pass that whosoever will not hearken unto My words which he shall speak in my Name, I will require it of him” (Deut. 18.19).2Sanhedrin, 89. C.
וְכֵן נָבִיא שֶׁעָבַר עַל דִּבְרֵי עַצְמוֹ וְהַכּוֹבֵשׁ נְבוּאָתוֹ חַיָּב מִיתָה בִּידֵי שָׁמַיִם וּבִשְׁלָשְׁתָּן נֶאֱמַר (דברים יח יט) “אָנֹכִי אֶדְרשׁ מֵעִמּוֹ”. וְכֵן אִם יֹאמַר לָנוּ הַנָּבִיא שֶׁנּוֹדַע לָנוּ שֶׁהוּא נָבִיא לַעֲבֹר עַל אַחַת מִכָּל מִצְוֹת הָאֲמוּרוֹת בַּתּוֹרָה אוֹ עַל מִצְוֹת הַרְבֵּה בֵּין קַלּוֹת בֵּין חֲמוּרוֹת לְפִי שָׁעָה מִצְוָה לִשְׁמֹעַ לוֹ. וְכֵן לָמַדְנוּ מֵחֲכָמִים רִאשׁוֹנִים מִפִּי הַשְּׁמוּעָה בְּכָל אִם יֹאמַר לְךָ הַנָּבִיא עֲבֹר עַל דִּבְרֵי תּוֹרָה כְּאֵלִיָּהוּ בְּהַר הַכַּרְמֶל שְׁמַע לוֹ חוּץ מֵעֲבוֹדַת כּוֹכָבִים. וְהוּא שֶׁיִּהְיֶה הַדָּבָר לְפִי שָׁעָה. כְּגוֹן אֵלִיָּהוּ בְּהַר הַכַּרְמֶל שֶׁהִקְרִיב עוֹלָה בַּחוּץ וִירוּשָׁלַיִם נִבְחֶרֶת לְכָךְ וְהַמַּקְרִיב בַּחוּץ חַיָּב כָּרֵת. וּמִפְּנֵי שֶׁהוּא נָבִיא מִצְוָה לִשְׁמֹעַ לוֹ וְגַם בָּזֶה נֶאֱמַר (דברים יח טו) “אֵלָיו תִּשְׁמָעוּן”. וְאִלּוּ שָׁאֲלוּ אֶת אֵלִיָּהוּ וְאָמְרוּ לוֹ הֵיאַךְ נַעֲקֹר מַה שֶּׁכָּתוּב בַּתּוֹרָה (דברים יב יג) “פֶּן תַּעֲלֶה עלֹתֶיךָ בְּכָל מָקוֹם”. הָיָה אוֹמֵר לֹא נֶאֱמַר אֶלָּא הַמַּקְרִיב בַּחוּץ לְעוֹלָם חַיָּב כָּרֵת כְּמוֹ שֶׁצִּוָּה משֶׁה. אֲבָל אֲנִי אַקְרִיב הַיּוֹם בַּחוּץ בִּדְבַר ה’ כְּדֵי לְהַכְחִישׁ נְבִיאֵי הַבַּעַל. וְעַל הַדֶּרֶךְ הַזֹּאת אִם צִוּוּ כָּל הַנְּבִיאִים לַעֲבֹר לְפִי שָׁעָה מִצְוָה לִשְׁמֹעַ לָהֶם. וְאִם אָמְרוּ שֶׁהַדָּבָר נֶעֱקַר לְעוֹלָם מִיתָתוֹ בְּחֶנֶק שֶׁהַתּוֹרָה אָמְרָה (דברים כט כח) “לָנוּ וּלְבָנֵינוּ עַד עוֹלָם”:
Likewise, a prophet who violates his own words, or who witholds his prophecy forfeits his life to Heaven, and of the three it is said: “I will require it of him” (Ibid.). Moreover, should a prophet, who is known to us as a prophet, charge us to violate one of all the commandments spoken of in the Torah, or many commandments, whether minor or major, it is mandatory to hearken unto him, if it be a need of the time. Thus did we learn traditionally from the early sages: “In all matters, if the prophet tell thee to forego the words of the Torah, even as Elijah on Mount Carmel did, hearken unto him, save only in idolatry”.3Yebamot, 90; Sifre, Deut. 18. C. Provided, however, that the violation be temporary as, for example, Elijah on Mount Carmel, who sacrificed a burnt-offering without, whereas Jerusalem was chosen the only place therefor, and whosoever sacrifices without is guilty and suffers excision. And, because he is a prophet, it is mandatory to hearken unto him, for even in this it is said: “Unto him ye shall hearken” (Deut. 18.15). Had they at that time asked Elijah, and said unto him: How can we abolish that which it is written in the Torah: “Take heed to thyself that thou offer not thy burnt-offerings in every place that thou seest” (Ibid. 12.13)? He would have replied: “This is not spoken of save against the one who sacrifices without continuously who is guilty and suffers excision, even as Moses hath commanded; but I am sacrificing this day without, because God wills it, so as to deny the prophets of Baal.” In such manner, if all the prophets command to violate aught temporary, it is mandatory to hearken to them; but if they say that the matter be abolished forever, the one saying so is punished with death by strangulation, for the Torah said: “Unto us and to our children forever” (Ibid. 29.28)Mishnah Torah Yesodei HaTorah 9:2-3
We see that prophecy functions to further the Will of G-d and observance of the commandments. Therefore, license is only given to suspend the laws of the Torah temporarily and not on a regular basis. Anyone claiming a project to suspend a law permanently would violate a capital crime. It was therefore fitting for someone like Geralt to question the morality of Stregobor’s supposed prophecy, because under no circumstances is the crime of murder suspended if not for war against an enemy or to save one’s own life in a case of imminent danger. It’s important to note the anxiety driven nature of such prophecies projecting human fears as opposed to projecting law and order. It makes for excellent plot development to ignore such baseless soothsaying and instead look for more practical solutions to your out-of-control supernatural abilities plaguing your reality.