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Beit Hamidrash

Ruach Hakodesh - Nevuah

By: Avrumi Gross

There is an obvious question which arises from this Piska regarding the difference between Ruach Hakodesh and Nevuah.

There are many scholars that wrote about this topic, spanning from the Rishonim through to the Ba’alai Hamussar and onto the Chassidim. The following interpretation of this complex topic is that of Rav Kook’s and the Ramchal. (The Rambam writes concerning this topic in Moreh Nevuchim but it has not been included here due to its overwhelming length and complexity)[1]


"כשרון הנבואה במקורו, קודם שהוא מתפתח במלואו, הרי הוא רוח הקודש, אשר נזדווג בתחלת מטעם, ורוחך הטוב נתת להשכילם. רוח קודש זה אינו סר מבחירי האומה, מפעם הוא בכל ישרי לב, לפי שיעור וערך מיוחד, לכל אחד לפי מדתו. מרומם ומעדן הוא את רוח גדולי דעה, חכמי לב העוסקים בתורה לשמה, גדולי הנדיבים, שכל המשכת חייהם הרוחניים הוא נחל גדול של טוב וחסד, משוררים מלאי רוח מוסר וקדוש, חושבי מחשבות טובות על ישראל ועל העולם כולו" (ג, מה)


In this Piska, Rav Kook describes the different appearances which Ruach Hakodesh takes form in. He adds that Ruach Hakodesh is basically the first and ‘lowest’ form of Nevuah. This power is found in the leaders of the nation, in the ‘pure of heart’, those who learn Torah Lishmah, poets etc. Ruach Hakodesh appears to these varying individuals in different levels, according to the respective individual’s deeds and spiritual level.


"ישנם בתוך הרגשת הבשר ניצוצי דמיון ובתוך הדמיון ניצוצי שכל. בתוך השכל ניצוצי רוח הקודש, בתוך רוח הקודש ניצוצי נבואה, בתוך הנבואה ניצוצי אספקלריא מאירה, בתוך אספקלריא מאירה ניצוצי זיהרא עלאה דאדם הראשון, בתוך זיהרא עלאה דאדם הראשון ניצוצי אור החיים של אחר התקון השלם של כל העולמים, אחר תחיית המתים ויום שכולו שבת" (ו, קמו)


This Piska is a list of the human spiritual forces. Every force which is present in man is just a remnant of the force greater than it in the higher spiritual worlds. Rav Kook, in this list, comments that Ruach Hakodesh is just a remnant of Nevuah. In other words, the level of Ruach Hakodesh exists in a high spiritual state, but its pinnacle only achieves the lowest level of Nevuah.


"נבואה היא הכשרון המפותח של רוח הקודש, ורוח הקודש הוא הכח הנבואי טרם צאתו מן הכח אל הפועל הגמור... עולה היא הנבואה על רוח הקודש, מפני שהיא מדת רוח הקודש מפותחה ומבושלה.

מובן הדבר לפי זה, שאפשר שיהיה אדם גדול במדת רוח הקודש שלו ומכל מקום לא יהיה נביא, מפני שלא פתח את כשרונו לבא למדת הנבואה... ויש נביא שלא הגיע למדת רוח הקודש באותה המעלה המופלאה של בעל רוח הקודש הגדול, ומכל מקום אותה המדה של רוח הקודש שיש בו באה לידי פתוח..." (ח, קמו)


Nevuah is the ‘mature personality’ of Ruach Hakodesh. Therefore, Nevuah is greater than Ruach Hakodesh. However, it is possible that one who achieves Nevuah is not necessarily on a higher spiritual plane than one who achieves Ruach Hakodesh. This is because the one who has achieved Ruach Hakodesh has not necessarily developed the qualities needed to acquire Nevuah. (For example, one who can learn Gemara, definitely can understand Tanach. However, this is not true when the case is visa versa. But, one who does not understand Gemara might know more Tanach than he who understands Gemara). 

In this Piska, Rav Kook presents his opinion about the relationship between these two concepts. It is clear that Nevuah is greater than Ruach Hakodesh, but one can achieve greater heights and a closer communication to God through Ruach Hakodesh.


The Ramchal dedicates an entire Piska regarding this topic (Derech Hashem 3:3 regarding Ruach Hakodesh and Nevuah):


The Ramchal begins this chapter by explaining the back round of Ruach Hakodesh: man has the ability to comprehend concepts. These abstract ideas are grasped through Ruach Hakodesh. The definition of Ruach Hakodesh is the understanding of ideas and concepts that cannot be comprehended in a natural way. Ruach Hakodesh appears in different levels. Sometimes when man is experiencing Ruach Hakodesh, he is aware of this dialect but during others, he does not recognize that he is experiencing it. 

Like we have already stated, Nevuah is a higher state than Ruach Hakodesh. Nevuah, in essence is the experience whereby man can maximally comprehend God. When experiencing Nevuah, one recognizes that which he is experiencing. It is so-to-say, a sixth sense. However, Ruach Hakodesh does not reveal God, Himself or his Will; rather it uses metaphors or filters. According to the greatness of the receiver, the metaphors are less abstract and the filters ‘block out’ less of God’s essence.

The Ramchal also details the form in which the Nevuah takes place: the body experiences great shivers, and all emotions and desires are lost.


At the conclusion of this chapter, the Ramchal states the differences and the advantages of Nevuah over Ruach Hakodesh:


"...ובזה יפה כחו של הנביא מבעל רוח הקדש אפילו בהשגת הידיעות, כי הרי הוא משכיל בהשכלה עליונה מכל השכלה שאפשר לאדם, והיא השכלה בבחינת היותו קשור בבוראו. והנה גילוי כבודו ית' הוא יהיה הפועל בכל מה שימשך לנביא בנבואתו. והנה ממנו ימשך בכח הדמיון שבנפש הנביא, ויצויירו בו ענינים מה שיוכרח בו מכח הגילוי העליון ולא מצד עצמו כלל. ומתוך הדמיונות ההם תמשך בו מחשבה והשכלה, שחקיקתם תהיה מכח הכבוד המתגלה וישאר הענין קבוע בשכלו, שגם כאשר ישיב למצבו האנושי תמצא הידיעה בו בבירורה. זה כלל ענין הנבואה לכל הנביאים..."


The power of the Navi is greater than he who possesses Ruach Hakodesh, even in the understanding of regular intellect, for his ability is beyond human possible grasp. However, this is not so regarding Ruach Hakodesh. Nevuah comes from the very connection with God. It is a mere Godly choice whether an individual will experience Nevuah or not; there is no contribution from the human himself. Furthermore, Nevuah has an everlasting effect on the human when he returns to his normal state, and he will be able to acknowledge and understand the world with complete clarity.

The Ramchal concludes by saying that there are many levels regarding these concepts of ‘Ruach Hakodesh’ and ‘Nevuah’, but Moshe Rabbeinu’s achieved the highest possible level of Nevuah.


Summary: The basic difference between Rav Kook and the Ramchal's understanding of this complex topic is the path needed to be taken in order to achieve these powers. However, both agree that Ruach Hakodesh is humanly attainable level, which can be achieved through hard work, persistence and a constant striving to purify one’s soul. Once he achieves this extremely elevated level, he will hear God’s word in this finite world. Yet, regarding Nevuah, there is a dispute. Rav Kook claims that it is the level following Ruach Hakodesh, and consequently achieved in the same fashion. On the hand, the Ramchal believes that Nevuah is a ‘gift’ from God - man can work hard and invest great efforts, but the ability to prophesize emanates from God’s Will only.

Another difference between the opposing opinions is the overall greatness of Nevuah over Ruach Hakodesh. The Ramchal says that Nevuah is greater than Ruach Hakodesh in every way. One who achieves Nevuah is on a higher spiritual level than the one who achieves Ruach Hakodesh. However, Rav Kook believes that there can be a situation where someone has a better connection with God, and he has achieved ‘only’ Ruach Hakodesh, than one who has a lower level of Nevuah but his connection with Hakadush Baruch Hu is not as ‘strong’.


Understanding this difference clarifies a problematic point in our Piska. In our Piska, it appears that Hizkiyahu was right and the Navi was mistaken. Taking into account what has been understood in Rav Kook’s opinion about Ruach Hakodesh, it is possible to understand how the king (Ruach Hakodesh) had a better understanding of God’s intention, than Yeshayahu (Nevuah).

[1] Rav Lichtenstein suggested that one go look in Moreh Nevuchim in order to find the difference between these two ‘concepts’. Rav Bick explained that the difference is unclear. However, when the concept of Nevuah returns and actualizes itself in this world, we will again know the difference.