Letters: May 2007
Meant to Be
Rivkah: A woman gave a shiur this week, from which I walked out. She said that if a doctor treated a person, and he disfigured the patient by accident, then this is from God. She opined that all misfortunes are from God. I don’t accept this as true.
Mesora: You are correct; Maimonides actually teaches as you sensed, that most of man’s troubles are self inflicted. This patient could have researched and located a far better physician, and avoided her pain. We cannot say that God inflicted this on the person…what if this person was totally righteous? Would this woman hold the same view, while God who is perfectly just, never afflicts the innocent? What if a person slices open his forearm…did God want him to do this too?
Numerous Torah instances support your view: Jacob and Esav; Elijah and Jezebel; Samuel and Saul. If they felt, as did this woman who gave the class that all is “meant to be”, why then did they seek to avoid life threatening situations? These prophets should have just said, “I can approach one seeking my life, since if God wants me dead now, I will be killed no matter where I flee. And if He does not want me dead, then I can stare a sword in the face without fear.” But the prophets mentioned did not hold of this opinion, and when faced with risky situations, they fled; for fear that they might be killed. They operated within natural law, which includes taking evasive action when confronted with death threats.
How then do we understand Rabbi Chanina’s statement (Tal. Megilla 25a), “All is in the hands of heaven, except for the fear of heaven. As it says, ‘And now Israel, what does Hashem your God ask of you…but to fear Him?” (Deut. 10) This means that God controls all that is not within our free will. The “fear of heaven” refers to human free will. It is in this capacity alone that man has control, and this includes all of our choices. We can choose to take a ride home from a wedding with a driver who seems under the influence. We can kill ourselves. We can choose doctors who are not adept at their skill. Maimonides teaches that inasmuch as a person is imperfect, God is less involved in that person’s life. Such a person is removed from Divine Providence, while God will protect a more perfected person. But even the prophets used care, not foolishly risking their lives. Thereby, the prophets give testament that even they might experience harm. Natural laws operate, and God wants us to follow them.
When and where God intervenes is a tremendous study. Maimonides rejects the woman’s statement that “all” cases of human trouble are God’s will.
The following is a response to a member of a Jewish Community email list: a list that persistently promotes segula superstitions. When we spoke to the list owner many months ago, he openly disagreed with segulas, but felt he had no choice but to continue posting messages, for fear of public rejection. He did not heed our advice to cease from misleading other Jews. Now, instead, we send individual messages to those who post such messages, with the hopes that they will arrive at an appreciation that these practices are Torah violations. Our last letter met with a welcomed “Thank you” by one such member. This teaches us that we must speak out, since at times such as this, people might appreciate Torah sources in place of popular practice..
“I read your post on segula, and wish to help those in need by providing the Torah's view on this subject.
The Torah teaches that Hashem punishes the wicked, and rewards the righteous. It does not say that challah baking or any other activity will help address our needs, as those practicing "segula" suggest.
When the Imahos were barren, they did not resort to segulas, but introspected and prayed. On Devarim 10:17 "Hashem does not take bribes", Sforno wrote the following commentary:
"The punishment of a sin will not be removed at all due to the reward of a mitzvah that this sinner performed. As the Rabbis taught, 'A mitzvah does not extinguish a sin'. And all this teaches that one should not be confident that if he sins, that his sin is removed at all...except by complete repentance."
Sforno was a great thinker, Rabbi, and a true Torah commentator. He remained loyal to God’s Torah words, and did not follow practices that violated God, unlike proponents of Segulas. And it matters none how popular segulas have become, if they are in direct opposition to Torah and our Rabbis. Sforno taught that our mitzvahs cannot remove our personality flaws, which may deserve a punishment. The only way we are forgiven for our sins and remove God's wrath, is when we identify the cause of our sins, recognize the error, and abandon our poor behavior forever. But, ignoring our flaws, even by occupying ourselves with many great mitzvahs, in no way removes our flaws. "Let us search and examine our ways and return to God". (Megillas Eicha, 3:40) Eicha teaches what we must do, and it does not say segulas are the Torah's approach. No pasuk says so.
Nothing in Torah supports segula, and these Torah sources reject the idea of a segula. If we deserve a punishment, and we don't address our shortcomings, baking challas with brachos cannot help. And if we have no sin, then the correct approach to infertility is medical treatment. In either case, segulas are useless, and violate the Torah prohibition of Nichush. Nichush in common day terms, are good luck charms. It does not matter if the charm is a rabbit's foot, a horseshoe, a challah, key or a red bendel. The practice assumes that forces exist, which do not, and it is idolatrous. Tosefta Shabbos chapter 7 prohibits red bendels openly. It refers to bendels as "Emorite practices" which are idolatrous. This applies to all practices where we assume a causal relationship, which does not exist. Separating challa so that we remove infertility, find a shidduch, etc., assumes a causal relationship that does not exist. God gave us sechel -- intelligence -- precisely because He desires we use it in all areas, especially in our Torah lives. God prohibited many idolatrous rites since they were not supported by natural law. That is why He wiped out so many people, since they worshiped stone gods, or believed in demons, spirits, and other forces that defy natural laws. God wants us to follow what our minds tell us is true, and not what our emotions "wish" to be so.
Believe me, I understand your good intent, but our actions must be based on Torah and reality.
Please help to remove false practices from Jewish culture, and instead of supporting segula, we should spread these Torah sources ot our friends, for whom we desire to help. We must adhere meticulously to Hashem’s Torah...the Torah He said, "not to add to or subtract from". (Devarim, 4:2)
Feel free to show this message to your Rav and email it to others. It is time to use our minds and realign our path of life with Torah sources, not blind faith practices.”
To our readers, if you see such postings on email lists or hear people promoting these notions, forward these arguments so they might have an opportunity to learn the Torah’s view on superstitions. We are all responsible for each other. And teaching Torah to any Talmid – even not a relation – is an obligation. (Maimonides: Laws of Talmud Torah, 1:3)