Letters Feb. 2009


In response to an internet posting discussing "shadim" (demons) I wrote the "Author" the following:

Rabbi: Perhaps you should inform your audience as to how the Rabbis viewed "demons".  Talmud Gittin 66a states that shadim are only found in caves, mountain tops, deserts and at night. The Talmud says one must not offer greetings to shadim. The Rabbis are suggesting that places of isolation cause man to believe he sees others, as a means of comforting him from his loneliness. We know solitary confinement is the worst punishment, as the psyche of man finds loneliness most torturous. 

Shadim are not in fact real creatures like men or beats, but they are psychologically generated illusions, like mirages. When we are in dire need of something, we often imagine we see it. Therefore, the Rabbis instructed us not to treat illusions as reality, by offering greetings.  We must not view shadim as real beings.

Author: A nice contemporary attempt to explain what shadim are, but without any sources from Rishonim or even Achronim. This does not fly with the simple mesorah of my Rebbeim that shadim are real beings, which are not as prevalent today as they once were, but are still here.

Rabbi: What do your Rebbeim say about shadim? What are their sources? What is their explanation of these gemaras?

Author: They are real, not imaginary. Not prevalent today as they were in the time of the gemara, but still around. From time to time tzaddikim are involved with shadim even today. Very rare. The sources are not at my fingertips now, but that is my mesorah. That they are real.

Rabbi: You rejected what I sent you as you stated, "without any sources from Rishonim or even Achronim....does not fly with the simple mesorah of my Rebbeim". Yet, in your current response, you do not produce the very Rishonim or even Achronim you requested from me. You fail to be consistent in you reasoning. 

Author: I know the Torah that I have learnt for the last 40 years and it is not what you presented to me. That is a new idea that I have never heard before. I do not reject it as being incorrect or unacceptable. Only as unknown to me, and unacceptable to me without a source. On the other hand, what I know as correct pshat in Shadim for 40 years does not require, for me, to have the sources used by my rabbeim at my fingertips. It is well known that the Rambam disagreed with most other Rishonim in pshat in all gemara's about Shadim. But most others held that the simple understanding is that there are beings in the world called shadim and that it is not imagination. There may be an acceptable source that says that the Rambam held that shadim is imaginative. I have just never heard that before. I do not discount it as being possible though.

Rabbi: I applaud your open-mindedness...it's actually refreshing. Most people will not consider that their opinions might be incorrect. I feel this is due to a view of their Rabbis as infallible. However, we know that all men err, even Moshe Rabbeinu. So we must not hold our Rabbi's teachings are infallible, especially when reason suggests otherwise. 

Rabbi Bachaya – author of "Duties of the Heart" – teaches this important lesson, "Whoever has the intellectual capacity to verify what he receives from tradition [from the Rabbis], and yet is prevented from doing so by his own laziness, or because he takes lightly God's commandments and Torah, he will be punished for this and held accountable for negligence." (Feldheim, pg. 25)  

Rabbi Bachaya says we must "verify" our Rabbis teachings. That is to say that since our Rabbis can err, we must not rely on them as having correct ideas 100% of the time. But we must determine for ourselves. Only when we do so, are we truly using our intelligence as God desires. Simple faith is not what God asks of us. Rather, God gave each person a critical faculty so we each might employ it to arrive at "convictions" in truths, not mere belief.

Now, you asked for a Rishonic source. See Leviticus 17:7 where Ibn Ezra says only fools see demons. He means they are not real, nor actually perceived by intelligent people. He further states that whoever believes in them, that beings other than God can perform good or bad...such a person "abandons God". This makes perfect sense. For if one believes any force (demons, etc.) to exist that can interfere with God's will by doing evil, then such a person has a flawed view of God. Such a person does not view God as the "exclusive" power in the universe. For this individual assumes that despite God's will that certain people should be unharmed, shadim exist and can harm them. If however shadim are under God's control, and cannot harm others without God's will...then of what use are shadim? God does what He knows is just "without" shadim! Either way, shadim are of no use an do not fit into a rational system of the universe.

I never came across any source that says forces exist outside of God. Such a notion is idolatrous. Nor does reason accept this notion, as I have explained. 

Nonetheless, if you Rabbis say such a sources exists that describes shadim as actual beings, please produce that source. But also consider that a source they might produce could very well be one of 1000s of Rabbinic metaphors, as King Solomon says the Rabbis write in riddles and metaphorically. 

Please also consider this: you call shadim "real", and not imaginary. "Real" meaning, a real "what"? 

An animal? 

An insect? 

A ghost?

If we cannot substantiate what exactly we discuss, then accepting an unknown is equal to non-acceptance. For if I say a Xalamundot is "real" but I have no idea what a Xalamundot is, then my testimony of its reality is meaningless.

Finally, consider Ibn Ezra (Lev. 19:31): "....empty brained (people) state that were it not for the fact that conjurers and magic were actual truths, the Torah would not have prohibited it. But I say just the opposite of their words, for the Torah does not command against truth, only what is false, and the proof is the idols." 

Ibn Ezra says that what Torah prohibits – including demons – must be false. God does not wish us to ignore truths, so when He wishes we avoid sacrificing to demons or assuming their existence as real beings, it is because they are false. Leviticus 17:7: "And you shall not continue anymore your sacrifices to seirim (demons) that you err after..."

Demons Too?

Jessie: I was wondering if you can give me a rational explanation for this. Brachos 54b says that 3 need shmira (guarding): the sick person, the groom and the bride. The Braisa says a sick person, a woman who just gave birth, the groom, and the bride...and there are those who say even a mourner...and there are those who say even a talmid chochom, at night. (Rashi attributes the attacks to shadim)

I remember you explained the shadim as the internal forces or fears that a person has, and you explained that isolation or nighttime magnifies those psychological worries and causes a person to lose perspective.  Does this idea apply here?  And why the groom, and the bride (I believe rashi says the shadim are jealous), and why a talmid chochom?




Rabbi: Yes, as reprinted in this issue, shadim are not actual beings, but demons of the mind. No one has ever seen shadim, let alone formed any description: are they black, white, tall, short, humanoid, animated, etc. Similar to UFO claims, no real McCoy has ever been seen. Furthermore, the claims are not that "I saw a shade", but that "I heard they are real" casting further doubt by this absence of any first-hand contact.

One type of shade or demon mentioned in the article are projections or illusions. Man needs company, and when alone for too long, he imagines others to be around him. These imaginary mirages are what the Rabbis term as "shadim". The Talmud you cite addresses another two types: demons in regards to 1) the sick, and 2) fortunate individuals (newlyweds and intellectuals).

Now, as the Talmud says these specific individuals require guarding, from what exactly must they be guarded? Rashi says these people need to be guarded from "mazikim", or "shadim". What are these "destroyers"? We can determine what these destroyers, or mazikim are, be examining the potential victims. Something in their specific makeup will offer us the answer. 

Rashi says the sick person's "mazel" or natural course took a turn for the worse, as is true regarding the woman who gave birth, and also the mourner. In these cases, a destroyer is mentioned. Why? As sickness or grieving humbles and weakens man's confidence, he is apt to make poor choices and harm himself. In this case, the destroyer is the person himself. Thus, he or she requires guarding: since alone, such a person might self-inflict himself by poor choices and actions. 

But the bride and groom require guarding...but for another reason: these individuals evoke jealousy in others. In this case, the shadim in whom jealousy is evoked, refers to the public. This is the same idea as the "evil eye" where one is wise not to boast success, marriage or other fortunate happenings, lest he evoke jealousy in another and that other person consciously or subconsciously acts on it. Unconscious aggression is known, and takes on many forms, such as "accidentally" spilling a drink on someone we despise, or consciously speaking Lashon Hara, which can cause great harm.

We maintain our definition of a demon as a psychological phenomenon. In some cases, these phenomena are psychological forces in the victim himself, and at other times, demons refer to the psychological forces in others. Talmid Yoma 75a states that a demon can change into many colors (appearances). This is now easily explained as the ability for harmful emotions and psychological tendencies to take on many forms.

We can now go one step further and examine the structure of the Talmudic source you cited. The first individuals (newlyweds and and the sick) embody both types of demons: demons in others (those singles jealous of newlyweds) and demons in ourselves (the sick). The Talmud cites additional victims: a new mother, a mourner and a Chocham at night. Why these additions? 

We understand that due to illness, our fragility weakens our decisions. This is a passing "state" brought on by external causes, like disease. But we can also be thrust into states of mind where we are insecure and unfamiliar, like a new mother or a mourner, where our thoughts encounter uncharted areas, loose their footing, and our decisions are not well-calculated. These people have internal demons at work. 

But the talmid chochom at night is a different type. His internal demon is the suppressed energies and fantasies which all men have. By day, the chochom suppresses and redirects his energies towards Torah, and he is safe. The depth of Torah taps all of his great energies. For it is the chocham who is so wise, due to the great energies he was gifted at birth, but channels properly as God commands. However, at night, removed from Torah...to where will all his energies flow? The answer is the instincts. He is at greater risk at night, than anyone else. For all others of lesser energies will not be confronted with such a change in psychological flow of energy. We learn that the greater the person, the greater are his errors. This means that as a great person only became great since he had the energies to follow through making him successful, those same energies can cause great sin since they are powerful and not as easy to control as a lesser person. So it is the chochom at night – and no one else – who requires guarding against his own natural and powerful energies.


Heshy: How would you respond to my friend's following claim: "Not all knowledge comes from G-d, because then all knowledge would be objective. If someone has an opinion on something, that is a type of knowledge, and is obviously not objective. Because if all knowledge was objective, then there would be no arguments over it. The fact that people dispute these things shows that a person's knowledge can only be SUBJECTIVE!"

Rabbi: All "true" knowledge has God as its source...we simply "perceive" His truths. All false ideas (viz., idolatry) have man as its source. In this case, man fabricates notions. So I agree with your friend, but I would not say as he did, that "Not all knowledge comes from G-d". I would change the word "knowledge" in his statement to "notions".


Last week you ran a story lifted from the internet attempting to substantiate Pharaoh's chariots through photos. I wrote you that it was a hoax, and you did remove the story. I wish to allow others to appreciate that I said that Ron Wyatt's "discoveries" could never be confirmed nor peer reviewed in a proper manner. This was due for a number of reasons. Basically, there was nothing to verify. From the material that I managed to read, those experts that did look into the matter dismissed them as spurious and unsubstantiated. 

One such case that he latched onto was the burial cave in which a ossuary was found purporting to be that of a brother of Jesus. Since then this case has been brought to court and dismissed as a clever forgery. The forgery was not by Wyatt but somebody else who has had a string of them laid at his door.

Additional reading: Almost all the material is available on the internet; both Wyatt's and his critics.

There are a good many people who over the years have made many outrageous claims and I suppose will continue to come to the Holy Land to do so for a variety of reasons. Most of them have an agenda of their own. Some are well-meaning but most are not. Almost all of these people do not have the proper training and experience nor do they have the approval of the Antiquities Authority to do such research on sites of their choosing.