A Vital Lesson:
H0w Fantasy Ruins Your Life
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
Torah states that one who does not bring sacrifices to God to the Tabernacle (Temple) is blamed for bloodshed and he will be cut off from among this people. The reason given: “That they may no longer offer their sacrifices to the goat demons after whom they stray” (Lev. 17:7). The Jews believed in goat demons to which they sacrificed in the desert. To eliminate this type of idolatry, God commanded sacrifice to be brought only in the Tabernacle.
Torah then employs a strange formulation for the next prohibition of blood eating: “And to them say.” Why here does Torah deviate from the typical intro, “And God said to Moses saying” or, “Command the Jews saying?” With this unique phrase “And to them say,” God forbids blood to “those already forbidden” in goat demon worship. In other words, God says, “Those already forbidden in goat demon worship, are also those forbidden in blood eating.” God clearly conveys a relationship between goat demons and blood eating; those prohibited in one are prohibited in the other. This relationship between goat demons and blood eating is further supported by both prohibitions being contained in a single parsha:
That they may no longer offer their sacrifices to the goat demons after whom they stray…
And if anyone of the house of Israel or of the strangers who reside among them eats of any blood, I will set My face against the person who partakes of the blood…” (Lev. 17).
It is very curious indeed. What is God’s cryptic message? What quality is shared by these 2 sins?
On goat demons, Ibn Ezra comments: “Insane people see them (seirim) in the form of goats” (Lev. 17:7) Meaning, they are not seen by normal people. They are “imaginary.” That’s a key word. Isaiah also refers to those goat demons:
And Babylon, glory of kingdoms, proud splendor of the Chaldeans, shall become like Sodom and Gomorrah…overturned by God. Nevermore shall it be settled nor dwelt in through all the ages. No Arab shall pitch his tent there, no shepherds make flocks lie down there. But beasts shall lie down there, and the houses be filled with owls; there shall ostriches make their home, and there shall satyrs dance. (Isaiah 13:19-21)
Satyrs refers to demons, similar to Lev. 17:7 (above) and they are so called because as they appear as goats to those who believe in them.
With his words, “to those who believe in them,” Radak says that normal people do not see goat demons. Both Radak and Ibn Ezra discuss the phenomenon of “imagination.” Goat demons are imagined in the psyche, and not seen with one’s eyes.
Maimonides addresses the other sin of blood eating (Guide, book III chap. xlvi):
The Law, which is perfect in the eyes of those who know it, and seeks to cure mankind of these lasting diseases, forbade the eating of blood, and emphasized the prohibition exactly in the same terms as it emphasizes idolatry: “I will set my face against that soul that eats blood” (Lev. xvii. 10). The same language is employed in reference to him “who giveth of his seed unto Molech”; “Then I will set my face against that man” (ibid. xx. 5). There is, besides idolatry and eating blood, no other sin in reference to which these words are used. For the eating of blood leads to a kind of idolatry, to the worship of spirits.
As the Israelites were inclined to continue their rebellious conduct, to follow the doctrines in which they had been brought up, and which were then general, and to assemble round the blood in order to eat there and to meet the spirits, God forbade the Israelites to eat ordinary meat during their stay in the wilderness: they could only partake of the meat of peace-offerings. The reason of this precept is distinctly stated, viz., that the blood shall be poured out upon the altar, and the people do not assemble round about. Comp. “To the end that the children of Israel may bring their sacrifices, which they offer in the open field, even that they may bring them unto the Lord…And the priest shall sprinkle the blood upon the altar…and they shall no more offer their sacrifices unto the spirits” (Lev.xvii. 5-7). Now there remained to provide for the slaughtering of the beasts of the field and birds, because those beasts were never sacrificed, and birds did never serve as peace-offerings (Lev. iii). The commandment was therefore given that whenever a beast or a bird that may be eaten is killed, the blood thereof must be covered with earth (Lev. xvii. 13), in order that the people should not assemble round the blood for the purpose of eating there. The object was thus fully gained to break the connection between these fools and their spirits.
“They sacrificed unto spirits, non-gods” (Deut. 32:17). According to the explanation of our Sages, the words non-gods imply the following idea: They have not only continued worshipping things in existence; they even worship imaginary things.
How are goat demons and blood eating different from classic idolatry? It is that they do not relate to any real object: “they even worship imaginary things.” Worship of imaginary things completely removes man from reality. There is no rational component operating to bring him back to truth.
There is a profound lesson here: Maimonides says the most corrupt person is he who follows pure fantasy. Those who imagined goat gods, and those who believed in spirits were completely divorced from reality, as they worshipped something never sensed by the eyes. Only fools imagined goat gods, and spirits by definition cannot be seen. At least in classic idolatry of stone idols, man engages some of his senses, as he sees the idol. But when man worships imaginary things, his mind is completely removed from reality. There is no rational component operating to bring him back to truth. This explains why God says, “And to them who worship goat demons, tell them also not to eat blood.” It is because they share the same attachment to imaginary things, that God joins His warning of these 2 sins.
This sin of following fantasy still applies today, but the objects of fantasy are simply changed. Today, even religious Jews imagine protective powers to alleviate their insecurities. Instead if trusting in the most powerful God, Jews foolishly trust in their imagined superstitions. People still flock to graves and insert notes to the dead, they place notes in the Western Wall, they recite Tehillim as a magical cure, and they wear red bendels. They don’t consider that Tehillim’s author did not recite Tehillim when his infant was sick. King David properly fasted and prayed. Torah’s words are not to benefit our bodies (Maimonides).
Our precious Torah is ignored, rejected are the values of our patriarchs and matriarchs who never followed superstitions, but devoted their prayers to the one God alone. Rabbis and teachers, this must be corrected.