Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

Question: My wife came home from a matchmakers (shidduch) meeting this week. She said one of the women had holes placed into the walls of her home in order that the demons (shadim) can leave. Huh?

Rabbi: Don’t be so surprised, many Jews share this nonsensical belief. Coincidentally, this week’s parsha Achary Mos discusses demons:

“And they shall no longer slaughter their sacrifices to seirim (goats) that they are estranged after them…(Lev. 17:7).”

Ibn Ezra comments:

“To seirim:” These are the demons, but they are called “seirim” for whomever sees them, his hair (seir) stands up (from fright). But more sensibly, is that that fools see these demons in the forms of goats (seir). And the phrase “no longer” indicates that the Jews sacrificed this way while in Egypt.

“That they are estranged after them:” For anyone who sought the shadim and believed in them, he has estranged himself from God, for he thinks that there exists a being that can perform good or evil other than God, the honored and feared One.

Ibn Ezra teaches that the Jews learned from the Egyptians this practice of idolatry; animal sacrifice to imagined beings, thinking this would secure their future good. But Ibn Ezra makes it clear that the Torah (Bible) views only one being as possessing the ability to alter our fates: God. No other forces exist. It is man’s insecurity that drives his fantasies to attempt to secure his future. Man is a very insecure being. That is, until he matures his thinking to the point where he rejects his fears of unproven beings, and strengthens his sense of independence until he arrives at a level of self-confidence. 

Finally, man must learn from God’s numerous Biblical lessons that God works with a system of Reward and Punishment. Intelligent men and women who are also morally correct, enjoy God’s divine assistance, while people who abandon God for fabricated gods and powers, who sin, live without His protection. The Bible teaches, to attain confidence in a good future, we must be intelligent, moral, and follow God’s ways and commands. But if we reject Him, and believe other forces exist, like those sacrificing to shadim, such people cannot be assisted by imagined beings!

Ibn Ezra’s words are revealing, “For anyone who sought the shadim and believed in them, he has estranged himself from God.” Ibn Ezra teaches that shadim depend on belief, and not that they possess true existence like a tree or a lake. As they are based in belief, we are taught that shadim are merely a belief, and not real. He also says only fools see them, meaning a demented mind will create illusions.