Parshat Re’eh tells us that “no prophet may advocate idol worship no matter the circumstances. If he does he is considered a false prophet, even if he’s able to perform miracles” (Deuteronomy 13:2-6). The obvious question is: How can a false prophet have the ability to perform miracles?
Rabbi Akiva (in Talmud Sanhedrin 90a) contends that when the Torah speaks of this prophet performing miracles, the prophet was then a true prophet, and only later did he deflect to the wrong path. Once becoming a false prophet he is no longer able to perform miracles. As Rabbi Avi Weiss extracts, this answer underscores a critical concept in Judaism, especially as the month of Elul, the thirty days of introspection before the High Holidays begin: notwithstanding one’s achievement or spiritual level there is always the possibility of failing (i.e. false prophet), and an equal possibility of improvement (i.e. Teshuva – repentance – before Rosh Hashana). While the Parsha depicts a prophet that has fallen from grace, rising to grace is just as viable. Just like the prophet, we are judged based on where we are now, and how much we’ve improved, not on where we once were.