- No Politics when Learning Torah - Ibn Ezra on 'Magic'
- Moshe Ben-Chaim
- Some Jews have the idea that the Torah prohibited magic because
it is true. They believe 100% that magic and fortune telling
works. The Ibn Ezra (Leviticus, 19:31) says the following, "Those
with empty brains say 'were it not that fortune tellers and
magicians were true, the Torah would not prohibit them.'
But I (Ibn Ezra) say just the opposite of their words, because
the Torah doesn't prohibit that which is true, but it prohibits
that which is false. And the proof is the prohibition on idols
- The Ibn Ezra states clearly and without softening the blow,
that it is not the way of God to prohibit us from that which
is true. Just the opposite is the case; our lives are meant to
be in search of truth, and living by it. The Torah prohibits
magic, witchcraft, fortune telling and the like, for one reason:
they are absolutely false. Saadia Gaon states this in Emunos
v'Daos, that the Egyptian's who mimicked Moshe's feats, did so
through slight of hand, not 'magic'. They used dyes to turn the
Nile red, and chemicals to repel frogs from the water. Magic
does not exist.
- God designed us with a mind which can discern between truth
and falsehood. If one would suggest - as these fools had in Ibn
Ezra's time - that God wants us to see the truth, but not follow
it, this means to say that God contradicts Himself. Does He or
doesn't He desire we follow the truth? Ibn Ezra says that God's
plan - as expressed through Torah commands - is to abandon that
which is false. The reason? Fallacy steers us away from the Source
of all truth - God - while truth leads us to Him. Therefore,
we must attach ourselves to all that is true as commanded by
the Torah, and we must deny all fallacy.
- We also note that the Ibn Ezra, and the Sages did not play
'politics' when they saw an idea as ludicrous. Terms like "empty
brained" were used to make their teachings as penetrating
and as passionate as possible. And this must be done if we are
to make clear how false or true an idea is. The goal in teaching
is that a new idea is successfully impressed upon the student.
Reality must be presented in a stark, succinct and clear fashion.
"Stark", so the contrast between truth and falsehood
is seen; "succinct", so the concept is grasped easily
and readily; and "clear", so no confusion enters the
students' minds as they ponder the ideas.
- Many times when people argue over Torah ideas, some may back
off of their opinion if the other party becomes upset. This is
wrong, as all must be sacrificed for Torah. We must not protect
a friendship in place of allegiance to the truth. The person
does not enter the equation when we debate over God's ideas.
Rather, we are taught by Ibn Ezra that we must disagree, and
do so strongly. A Rabbi once mentioned that we have a tradition
that there is to be no restraint when learning - personal considerations
of respect take a backseat when Torah is studied. Talking about
objective truths must be approached with no restraint.
- When is restraint proper? When rebuking someone. The verse
says, "...surely rebuke your fellow man, and don't carry
upon him sin." (Lev. 19:17) Rabbi Reuven Mann explained,
rebuking another is a command, but the latter part of the verse,
"and don't carry upon him sin" means, do so in a manner
through which the recipient will accept your rebuke, and not
become inflamed by your manner of delivery. No one likes to hear
another rebuking them. But the Torah sees fit that man must assist
another with rebuke, when he acts improperly. Since the goal
is that man change his ways to the good, a rebuke must be delivered
with the most care, that the recipient appreciate your concern,
and not rebel.
- In contrast, when not pointing out subjective flaws in others,
but teaching the Torah's objective truths, a person is not "under
fire", so there is no need to restrain oneself from expressing
conviction or dissatisfaction in an idea. Here, one must show
his unrestrained passion. Energies must not be curbed, as this
compromises the learning process.