Imagine yourself in front of the one teacher you most respect. He commences to tell you that he is about to share a vital idea with you. He pauses…
Stop! What are feeling at that point? You are expecting to hear something quite fundamental and inspirational. You have no doubt about the truth that will be contained in his words. You have been conditioned to expect this, given his reputation, the masses that follow him, and the volumes he has written.
He then starts talking…he says “2+2=5”. You are confused at first. You might even think for a second…but you eventually shed the awe, and recognize that despite all he was correct about until now, he cannot possibly be correct with his equation.
It is this lesson that must remain with us as we continue our studies into this week’s Parshas Mishpatim. Last week we discussed demons, and explained that the Rabbis often speak in riddles. They wished to develop our minds through the design of riddles, which is also how the Torah was written. I do not mean riddles equate to metaphor, and that Torah is metaphoric. Not so. Only minute Torah cases are metaphors, like “circumcise the foreskin of your hearts”, (which means to remove your stubbornness, not to brutally and foolishly carve our hearts). What I mean is that Torah is cryptic by its very design, like a riddle. There exist many layers to each verse. Beyond the literal reading, are numerous, profound lessons and ideas, uncovered only with a trained mind.
The mistake many of us make, is taking the Rabbis words literally. It is this error that causes our grave misunderstandings, and even heretical notions. Ignoring King Solomon’s words that the Rabbis speak differently than Torah – in riddles and metaphors – we harm ourselves by assuming all their words to be literal.
We explained that the Rabbis’ discussion of demons is a metaphor for psychological phenomena. Only a study of their words, and the appreciation that they possessed genius minds, will propel us into hours of necessary research and thought to uncover their true intent. The Rabbis didn’t tell us “demons are only found on mountains, in deserts, caves, and at night”, unless there is an underlying idea. Thinking into this statement, we discovered the common denominator: all four instances are cases of isolation. From there, we realized that the warning “not to give greetings to demons” means not to elevate fantasy to reality. For it is only due to isolation, that man creates imaginary demons to ‘keep him company’. The Rabbis wished us to remain in reality, and not to relate to fantasy in real action. What beautiful ideas are derived from their crafted riddles. What harmful notions are accepted when misunderstanding them through a literal read.
We can miss so many other intended lessons, so many vital ideas, if we assume that the Rabbis wrote in literal terms at all times. But when are we to understand them literally, as describing something “real”? How do we know when to understand them metaphorically?
The answer to both is determined by our sense of reality. If we do not witness a phenomenon in our daily lives – like flying camels – then when we read the Rabbis discussing flying camels, we know they are speaking in metaphor. The problem is that many people do not pose this litmus test. They feel that “although today we don’t see flying camels, maybe they existed a long time ago”. But this is a grave error.
God has not reinvented the world.
Although we see men today over 7 feet tall, and we read of the giants in the times of the Torah, no man was ever large enough to lift a mountain…despite the literal reading that Og lifted a mountain (Tal. Brachos 54b). That must be understood metaphorically.
In the entire universe, there exists a law called “range”. For example, birds possess a bill or a beak. Some are narrow, long, colored, ribbed or toothed. But a bird will never be hatched with an elephant’s trunk. It will never have scales in place of feathers. It will never grow eyes on its feet. However, some animals may have two heads, many arms or legs, and other deformities. This is because genetic design possesses a range. Beyond that range, it cannot go, as God limited it. Maple trees will never grow mammals from their branches. The genetic design is limited in range. Man possesses the quality of height, and that is limited in its range. Man will never be as tall as the Empire State Building.
If we study the physical world as God demands of us by granting us senses, we will arrive at the conclusion that “range” is part of God’s will, and it is a reality. Flying camels and men lifting mountains are impossibilities. But if we feel whatever we can imagine can exist in reality…we reject God’s “design” of natural law: we reject our senses, and we cannot comment on what is true or false.
This is a state of psychosis.
In order to follow God and the Rabbis, we must compare the words of the Torah and the Rabbis with physical reality. If we fail to do so, we will fail to know what truth is.
For this reason, we dismiss a literal read of the Rabbis’ description of demons, and understand demons as metaphors. This is because we follow God’s will to use our senses. And as demons have never been seen, we do not accept them. But one might say, “Perhaps we simply never saw them, but they exist”. To this person we respond, “Do you live this way in other areas? Do you feel you must relocate you home since it ‘might’ be built on a volcano? Do you change doctors because he ‘might’ not have gone to med school?” We must be consistent in our reasoning, if we are to be reasonable at all.
Now, some have said that some Rabbis might have accepted demons as real creatures. You must know that the Rabbis were not at fault for accepting the science of their times, although it was later disproved. No one person can study all areas in his short lifespan. We depend on the testimony of others for most of our decisions. Who is a doctor? Are newscasters receiving accurate information? Was my plane fueled sufficiently? Is my child’s bus driver safe? We rely on the credibility of others for so much...at times for our very lives.
When the Rabbis turned their energies to matters outside Halacha and Torah philosophy, they arrived at truths, since they possessed the intelligence to do so. We all do. But they did not have the ability to study everything. This is why many accepted the elements as being four: fire, water, air and earth. But today, we have the equipment to investigate on microscopic levels. We know there are 110 elements in the Periodic Table. The Rabbis were not at fault for their externally imposed limitations. But this does not mean we reject newly found data to preserve their reputations. The goal is not to deify man, but to serve God by using the tools He intended we use. He granted us senses. This is so we might accurately praise Him as the Kedusha says, “The whole Earth is filled with Your honor”. This means that what we “sense” is truly a reflection of His will, and all His creations and laws are impressive. We find the Torah phrase “The whole Earth is filled with Your honor” precisely because God wants us to appreciate what we sense, and to reject what we do not encounter.
We must abandon undue allegiance to man, which cripples our mind from questioning a revered author or Rabbi.
By now you are wondering why I titled this article “Witches”…good question! Although I feel you now have the answer, let’s address it briefly. This weeks Parsha Mishpatim states, “A witch you shall not let live”. (Exod. 22:17)
Now…let’s employ our reason, and think about this…
God can only command us to slay the witch, since she has no ability to defend herself from other mortals. Had she any real power, why would God endanger us with His command to kill her? If God desired witches to have power – as He created everything – why would He want us to destroy His creation? How could God even make such a command, if it is impossible to carry out due to our weakness over the witch? God does not perform useless acts.
These questions expose witchcraft as lies. In fact, God desires us to kill the witch, as it hurts His reputation. Witches mislead mankind from God and reality. The Talmud asks why a witch is called a “mach’shefa”. It answers that this is an acronym, which means, “contradicting the heavenly reputation”. A witch or warlock undermines God’s “exclusive” role as the sole universal power. This is why we must “not let live” any witch, or any performer of sorcery or superstition. All fall under the category of witch or warlock. Other Torah violators “must be killed”, but a witch or warlock is more severe, and “you shall not let [her] live”.
Do demons or witches exist? Did they ever? God says, “There is none other than God alone”. (Deut. 4:35) There are no other powers. Remain true to this verse by authority of Torah, until your mind can accept that not all Rabbis were correct. The Talmud is replete with Rabbinic arguments. This shows that they attest to this themselves! Why should you opine that a Rabbi is correct on every one of his statements, when he will tell you himself that such is not so? The Rabbis even wrote that if a reader would find an error in his words, to correct him. God alone is without flaw.
We must therefore abandon the practice of quoting a Rabbi to defend a philosophy or a fact. Instead, we must determine for ourselves who is correct when we see Rabbis arguing. They cannot both be correct in such a case. Demons exist, or they don’t. Both views cannot be correct. And in philosophy as well, two opposing views cannot be correct: one or both are wrong.
God gave each of us senses. He wants each of us to examine reality and use our intelligence to make our own determinations. Just as you do not rely on a friend’s word whether a car is hurling down the street you cross, but you check for yourself…you must show more care for your soul and not simply accept notions which you do have the ability to verify, or reject.