“Please listen to My word: if there be a prophet among you...” (Num. 12:6)

When G‑d speaks about appearing to prophets “in a dream,” this does not mean that they actually dream. Rather, it describes the impact of G‑d’s communications to such prophets as being similar to that of people who experience a dream while asleep, even though G‑d always communicated with His prophets while the latter were awake.

Only Moses...did not prostrate himself or go into convulsions, as did other prophets...

Only Moses was able to maintain his regular posture when G‑d communicated with him; he did not prostrate himself or go into convulsions, as did other prophets. Neither did he receive such communications in the form of a riddle or parable. Every communication Moses received from G‑d was crystal clear, requiring no further elaboration. This is what the Torah means when it describes such communication as “I speak with him mouth to mouth.”

All the Israelites saw that each of the 53 times when the Torah reports that G‑d spoke to Moses (in order that Moses should communicate what He said to them), the message was crystal clear and could be understood by anyone with a command of the Hebrew language. The same applies to all the wealth of wisdom contained in the Written Torah. Anyone who immerses himself in that part of the Torah will find that he can understand it.

This is in contrast to the writings of Isaiah and Jeremiah, many of which are extremely obscure, full of parables and enigmas. The prophecies of the so-called Minor Prophets, such as Zechariah, are even harder to unravel, so that none of us can be certain of the events to which these prophecies relate.

We need to examine why the prophecies given to Moses were all so clear, whereas those granted to the abovementioned prophets appear so confusing.

The Kabbalists explain that the phenomenon of man being a composite of body and spirit is bound to prevent him from being able to receive undiluted spiritual input. Any attempt to subject man to such additional spiritual input upsets the fragile equilibrium between the forces of body and spirit which constitute a human being. It is only natural, therefore, that when a human being is called upon by G‑d, his body will tremble, be subject to convulsions, etc.

...his body is no longer a hindrance to his receiving communications from G‑d . . .

The only human being able to retain his composure when thus addressed by G‑d is one who has succeeded in transforming the material part of himself into the perfect state in which G‑d has created it. Once man has achieved this, his body is no longer a hindrance to his receiving communications from G‑d, and he will be able to do so as a matter of course.

When there are no people around who meet these specifications, and G‑d has found Israel worthy to receive prophetic communications, He has no choice but to choose someone to whom He transmits His word in a manner which upsets the body and mind of the recipient. As a result, the world abounded with prophets who had to receive their messages in the form of parables and riddles, so that the equilibrium of their bodies and minds would not be permanently upset.

The reason that we find that Zechariah’s prophecies were even more enigmatic than those of his predecessors is that he was one of the last of the prophets. Subsequent generations did not create an environment in which G‑d saw fit to communicate His word to prophets anymore.

When G‑d spoke about His communications to Moses being “mouth to mouth,” He meant that His word did not have to travel through the airwaves, or some other part of the atmosphere, which would dilute it (and therefore make it unclear) in order to make it accessible to less-than-perfect man. When G‑d emphasizes that His word appeared to Moses as a “a clear vision,” this means that Moses did not have to go into convulsions, etc., when he received communications from G‑d. G‑d could show Moses a clear vision, and Moses could behold it and understand it—without it being distorted.

When the Torah adds: “...not by means of riddles," this is an elaboration of how G‑d’s word reaches Moses. The Torah is careful not to say that G‑d’s word traveled from G‑d’s mouth to Moses’ ear, but “mouth to mouth.”

King Solomon asked G‑d to grant him “a listening heart”...

King Solomon asked G‑d to grant him “a listening heart” to enable him to divine the truth behind the claims of litigants, etc. (see I Kings 3:9). He aspired to the highest level of prophecy. The Torah describes G‑d’s communication with Moses as “I speak within him” instead of the customary “I speak with him.” This formulation also means that no one else was privy to the fact that G‑d spoke to Moses.

[Selected, with permission, from the five-volume English edition of "Ohr HaChaim: the Torah Commentary of Rabbi Chaim ben Attar" by Eliyahu Munk.]