- Does Judaism Believe in Magic - Haftora of Vayikra
- Moshe Ben-Chaim
- Reader: I applaud your defense
of what you believe to be a threat to the concept of the oneness of
- However, your offense to me personally regarding the position of the
Rambam on Kameahs and the like is not appropriate. The Rambam was a
Rishon. He was not the only Rishon, nor is he the last word in
Hallacha. There have been many others as I have previously stated and
it was from those other authorities that I quoted as they perceived
their colleague and not, heaven forbid, my own meanderings.
- The point remains the same. By focusing on a non-issue regarding
Jews who have authorities to rely on, whether you like their opinions
or not is deleterious to your argument. They don't believe that
physical things have power by themselves, nor do they worship them.
Check out a Hallacha regarding wearing Tefillin on Shabbos (which is
usually prohibited) nevertheless in cases of danger they can be used
as a spiritual / physical protection. The Medrash Rabbah relates to
the manner of death of Billim and Balak as their Black magic was
negated by the Teffilin of the Cohen Gadol.
- The Gemara, Chumash-Rashi relate how the Aron HaKodesh carried its
carriers in the air as the Jews traveled in the wilderness.
- The Gemara relates how a Cohen was killed after coming to close to
the Aron HaKodesh which was hidden under the floor of the Beis
HaMikdash during the time of Yoshiyahu HaMelech.
- The Gemara further relates how Avraham, our father, had a special
jewel which he wore around his neck and all that were sick could come
to him, look at the stone and be healed. (Click
here: Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim's elucidation on the metaphor)
- Should one, heaven forbid, try to undo the obvious conclusions that
the Gemara created directly or by inference. Physical objects can and
must play a role in serving Hashem. No, they have no power other than
what Hashem chooses to give them. Yes, this reality can be very
misleading and dangerous and it needs to be given over with Yire
Shamayim or not at all!
- Rabbi Rachmiel
- Dear Rabbi Rachmiel,
- Why do you take these quoted gemoras literally when many have
already explained them metaphorically? Avraham Ben HaRambam explained
in his introduction to the Ayn Yaakov that these types of stories are
meant to be just that.....stories, metaphors, to teach a deeper
concept. If you take each story, and carefully analyze it, I am sure
you will find that they can be explained rationally, and more
beautifully as allegories. Otherwise, they sound like fantasy. As an
example, please read my explanation of the 7
Headed Serpent in Kiddushin.
- I ask, why did the Haftorah of parshas
Vayikra go through such lengths to stop one from investing powers into
physical objects? It describes that certain Baal priests (idolaters
acc. to Ibn Ezra) would take a stump from a tree. They would take
half, cook food, and warm themselves. They would enjoy its heat. The
other half they would render into an idol and bow down to it and say,
"save me, because you are my god." The Prophet then
describes their problem, it was an intellectual one,
- "They (the idolaters) don't know nor understand. Their
eyes are plastered (closed) from seeing, their hearts from
understanding.They would not return to their hearts, not knowledge
nor understanding to tell themselves that 'half of this wood I burnt
on fire, I even baked on its coals bread, and roasted meat and I
ate. Should I make the remainder into an abomination? .....he has
falsehood in his right hand."
- This prophet is clearly stating that people make mistakes because of
both, the lack of perception, and lack of understanding: "Their
eyes are sealed from seeing, their hearts from understanding."
Meaning, we as Jews are bound to engage and abuse our ability to think
for ourselves. Understanding, and endeavoring to find reason is our
mark of distinction, and our birthright. We should not view a
fantastic story as literal when deeper insight can show it's rational
- What is truly the wisdom imparted from this Haftorah, is that the
Navi desired to show the idolaters the best argument possible. That is
when you use one's own arguments against him. Thus, the prophet (Navi)
demonstrates that "you used half for mere firewood." In
other words, "you agree by your very actions that this is only
wood! Why then are you praying to the other half of this tree
stump?" To display to a wrongdoer that his acts are false from
his own premises, shakes their false beliefs most effectively. A
realization of inconsistency strikes at the very core of any human, as
consistency is logically prior to an opinion. Opinions are stated by
one who will defend this same opinion tomorrow. By definition, one who
states a view is attesting to its permanence. By displaying a breach
in one's own consistency, you undermine the very fabric of his
argument. The prophet also adds, "I have warmed myself, see the
flame". This teaches how distorted the idolaters are, that they
even "see" that it is mere fuel wood which they bow to.
Nonetheless, they cannot overcome the idolatrous nature they possess,
and allow reality to overrule the strength of their psychological need
for physical representations and for the physical securities objects.
"Seeing the flame" teaches that their own sense perception
does them no good, "Their eyes are plastered (closed) from
- Rabbi Rachmiel, you said, "Physical objects can and must
play a role in serving Hashem, but they have no power other than what
Hashem chooses to give them." Please show me where Hashem
said this. Please show me where Hashem chose to give some physical
object a power other than the miracles wrought by Himself, or through
a Navi. Hashem does not "like" to do miracles. "Kol
gadol v'lo yasaf". Sinai only happened once. God wants man to
fear Him by engaging in the rational - his intellect. This is why G-d
gave us a soul, to use it, not to be amazed by imagined miracles.
- See also: All Miracles Were Part
- This quoted haftoras Vayikra clearly warns against projecting powers
onto physical objects.
- You don't need a clearer proof.
- (See Saadia Gaon in Emunaas V'Daos)
- Reader's response: If I understand you correctly, you do not
accept the possibility for physical objects having supernatural powers
based on Isaiah 43. My question centers around the tefillin issue; if
the power ascribed to tefillin is only metaphoric, why bend halakha
and let someone wear them on Shabbat in a time of danger?
- Mesora: Perhaps it eases one's
- Think about it yourself: God desired that man abandon idolatry, but
God also desired man to use his intellect. If the world would be the
opposite that it is now, and physical objects had powers, why would
God command that we disobey our intelligence? In this hypothetical
scenario, God would be contradicting Himself which is impossible. It
must be that God desires we follow the intelligence He gave us, to the
point that when we see no powers in objects, we agree that our
perception is accurate, and this is God's will; that nothing but Him
has control over the forces which exists.
- God created the forces and the elements in the universe. How then
can these elements "control", when they are themselves
created objects? They have no control over themselves as they were
created. How then can they control other things?