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 and statues....."
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.