When studying the Bible we find that prophecy begins to wane during the Second Temple times, and that by the time the Second Temple was destroyed, prophecy has largely ceased to exist. The Gemara on today’s daf discusses what became of nev’ua – of prophecy.
Rabbi Yohanan taught that from the time the Temple was destroyed, nevu’a was taken from the prophets and given to shotim and tinokot – to imbeciles and to small children.
This difficult statement has been the center of much debate and discussion among the commentaries.
The Maharsha rejects the notion that true prophecy has been given to these kinds of people. The concept of prophecy – of the ability to receive the word of God – must be given to those people who are on a high spiritual and intellectual level. He suggests that we are not discussing true nevu’a here, rather a lower level of foreknowledge that comes through a supernatural force, but not through a real relationship with God.
The Iyyun Ya’akov suggests that the lack of nevu’a after the destruction of the Temple is a consequence of the fact that ein nevu’a shorah ela mi-tokh simḥa – that prophecy can only take place in a setting of joy – and after the destruction of the Temple, people with high levels of intellectual and spiritual sensitivity cannot reach a level of joy that would allow them to connect with the Almighty. Specifically because of their lack of sensitivity, imbeciles and children may occasionally undergo a prophetic experience.
The Maharal explains that there is a constant barrage of prophetic waves that emanate from on high that are beyond the comprehension of people with normal intellect. Ordinarily, only select individuals – nevi’im – are able to tap into these waves and still retain their sanity, while ordinary people cannot receive these waves because of their source, which is beyond comprehension. It is specifically those individuals whose intellect does not stand in the way of their comprehension – like children and imbeciles – who can occasionally receive these messages.