Letters II: Feb. 2022

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

Amulets & Tehillim

Reader: I want to know how rational Torah principles can help with finding the right soul mate. I have heard about segula (amulets) and Tehillim in finding the right partner. But it seems inconsistent [with Torah values] and it’s very difficult to hit at the right guidance in this increasingly secularized world.

–Nora Esom

Rabbi: Talmud Sanhedrin 101a rebukes the recital of Torah verses for some personal gain. Torah cannot be utilitarian. Torah is to be studied, without ulterior motive. Thus, reciting Tehillim (Psalms) with the intent that it locates a spouse or generates some changes in our lives, is prohibited. Even King David—Tehillim’s author—did not recite Tehillim when his infant was dying. King David fasted and prayed (Samuel II, 12:16, 12:22). Certainly we must not contradict Tehillim’s author.

Lamentations 3:40 says our response to need is to “Search and examine our ways, and turn back to the Lord.” This means that the evil and negative events we encounter in our lives, is mostly self-inflicted. Maimonides teaches the same. Segula and Tehillim recitation are not Torah’s prescription for success, and express an idolatrous emotion, that incantations and amulets change the world. But that is not how God designed the world’s operation…

God employs a system of nature, where our intelligent acts comply with the universe and we meet with success. When acting intelligently, like seeking a wife based on her admirable qualities and humility, or a husband based on his Torah education and practice, we seek proper character that leads to happier marriages than not seeking such qualities. The is a natural result, and how the world operates. And when living by Torah guidelines and also praying, God may step in as He did for Eliezer, Abraham’s servant, and immediately provided Rivka for Isaac. 

Thus, God designed this world where natural and intelligent choices comply with the world’s workings and lead to success, and also where God rewards those who follow Torah. That’s all that exists: nature and God. There are no other powers. Abandon useless amulets and Tehillim.

Maimonides harshly criticized those people who used a mezuzah as an amulet, saying they have no share in the world to come:

But these (people) who write on the inside of the mezuza the names of angels or sanctified names or passages or seals, they are in the category of those who have no world to come. Because it is not enough that these fools have taken a command and nullified it, but they rendered a great command—the Unity of God, the love of Him and the worship of Him—as if it's an amulet for personal benefit and they assume in their foolish hearts that this will give them pleasure in their futilities of this world (Laws of Tefillin 5:4).

Where is it in Torah?

Reader: Having just finished reading the Five Books of Moses, I have a couple of questions regarding authenticity:

1) How can there be an Oral Torah as it is not mentioned in the Written Torah? 

2) Where does it mention about milk or meat? 

3) Where does it mention about having a mikveh? 

4) Where are the festivals Purim & Hanukkah mentioned? 

5) Where is it mentioned we need to wear a tallit, it only mentions tzitzit. Also women? 

6) Where does it mention tefillin? 

7) Where does it mention the lighting of the Sabbath Candles? 

Thank you in advance for any return email regarding these questions. 

–Elliot Taylor

Birmingham, UK

Rabbi: Responding in order:

1) Maimonides’ introduction to the Mishneh Torah states:  

“All of the commandments which were given to Moses on Sinai were given together with their oral explanation for, it is said: ‘And I will give thee the tables of stone, and the Torah and the commandment’ (Exod. 24.12.); the [word] Torah [refers to] Holy Writ; and the [word] commandment [refers to] the Oral Explanation. Moreover, He commanded us to observe the Torah by the word of the commandment; thus it is this commandment which is called Oral Torah.”

Ibn Ezra writes identically: “The Torah” is the Written Law and “the commandment” is the Oral Law, as all the commandments were given to Moses on Sinai during the days that Moses was on the mountain” (Ibn Ezra, Exod. 24.12)

2) The prohibition to eat milk and meat are derived from the 3 times this phrase appears in Torah: “Do not cook the kid in its mother’s milk” (Exod. 23:19, Exod. 34:26, Deut. 14:21). One verse applies to eating this mixture, one to cooking it, and one to gaining benefit from this mixture. 

3) Mikveh is derived from the many commands to immerse in water.

4) Purim and Chanukah are rabbinic and therefore are not found in the Written Law. But the rabbis have license to formulate those and other laws (Deut 17:11).

5) Tallis is the identical mitzvah of tzitzis, with the requirement that the garment be of a certain size. As this law is time bound (daytime), it is not obligatory on women.

6) Tefillin are mentioned Exod 13:9, 16.

7)  Sabbath Candles too are rabbinic and are not found in the Written Law.