Magic & the Supernatural

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

Reader: The Torah tells us in Deut. 18 to avoid divination, sorcery, necromancy, etc., but rather accept spiritual guidance from G-d through Prophets. In this case metaphysical or supernatural matters are exposed to us outside the Torah only through prophets and not idolatrous priests. Therefore, belief in metaphysical revelations from Prophets is not illegal according to Torah. Living out the Torah makes you fulfill your religious duties as part of the Covenant with G-d but revelations from Prophets help us to deal with spiritual issues in life. An example is, one can stay religious all his life and yet will remain financially unstable because of a family curse or cycle imposed by some negative spiritual forces. In this case, only spiritual guidance from G-d through His Prophets can set you free. Being religious and spiritual go hand in hand.

Rabbi:  "Family curse,” “spiritual forces" and "idolatrous priests" (who supposedly perform supernatural phenomena) are all unverified. Distinguish these fantasies from reality i.e., what your senses detect. God gave you senses for a reason: to accept what they detect, and to deny what they do not detect, like such fantasies you mention. And we only accept as prophets those who performed miracles, and who endorse Moses' Torah.

Reader: If the Torah itself attests to Bilam being an evil priest, how would you consider it unverifiable? Also, the Pharaoh's magicians?

Rabbi:  What's your question in Bilam? That phenomenon follows what I cited, that we admit to what our senses tell us. And as we witnessed Torah being given by God on Sinai, we accept all stories contained therein, including Bilam receiving prophecy. However, the Torah uses a different term "lahat"—not "os" or "mofase” used regarding Moses' miracles—teaching that the magicians' used sleight of hand, as they had no powers more than you or I. And the very Torah verses teach their incapabilities, as they cold not reproduce lice (to small for tactile dexterity) and they could not remove the boils from their bodies! Why? Because they could only use sleight of hand, turning the waters red with dyes, and expelling the frogs from the Nile with chemicals that frogs repel (Saadia Gaon). Why didn't the magicians stop any of the plagues? They were powerless. See this essay:

Reader: Didn't really have a question. My response was based on your statement “’idolatrous priests are unverified." The magicians’ powers were limited, but not all opinions agree that all tricks were sleight of hand. Regarding Bilam, we can infer he didn't just have prophecy as Balak was convinced Bilam could also issue curses. Bilam never denied his general ability to cast curses, he simply refused because he didn't want to act against G-d's will.

Rabbi: Man can't possess power to alter nature. As God created the universe, He alone caused all existences to be, and how to behave. Man can't overpower God. And God does not give man such powers. The greatest man ever—Moses—prayed to God to alter nature for every miracle, for he had no powers himself. Bilam not rejecting he has cursing ability in no way validates that he actually changed nature with his lips. He had no powers, but as Rabbi Israel Chait explained, he naturally predicted—not caused—that someone was about to bring failure on himself through poor decisions. At that moment, to make himself appear as his curses worked, he pronounced a curse. Onlookers attributed the person's failure to Bilam, and Bilam grew fame through being hired to curse. But Bilam was simply shrewd, not magical...magic does not exist. And Pharaoh's magicians have now powers as the Torah attests, as I wrote above. Magic has never been proven because it does not exist.