Does Judaism Believe in Magic - Haftora of Vayikra
Moshe Ben-Chaim
Reader: I applaud your defense of what you believe to be a threat to the concept of the oneness of the Almighty.
However, your offense to me personally regarding the position of the Rambam on Kameahs and the like is not appropriate. The Rambam was a Rishon. He was not the only Rishon, nor is he the last word in Hallacha. There have been many others as I have previously stated and it was from those other authorities that I quoted as they perceived their colleague and not, heaven forbid, my own meanderings.
The point remains the same. By focusing on a non-issue regarding Jews who have authorities to rely on, whether you like their opinions or not is deleterious to your argument. They don't believe that physical things have power by themselves, nor do they worship them. Check out a Hallacha regarding wearing Tefillin on Shabbos (which is usually prohibited) nevertheless in cases of danger they can be used as a spiritual / physical protection. The Medrash Rabbah relates to the manner of death of Billim and Balak as their Black magic was negated by the Teffilin of the Cohen Gadol.
The Gemara, Chumash-Rashi relate how the Aron HaKodesh carried its carriers in the air as the Jews traveled in the wilderness.
The Gemara relates how a Cohen was killed after coming to close to the Aron HaKodesh which was hidden under the floor of the Beis HaMikdash during the time of Yoshiyahu HaMelech.
The Gemara further relates how Avraham, our father, had a special jewel which he wore around his neck and all that were sick could come to him, look at the stone and be healed. (Click here: Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim's elucidation on the metaphor)
Should one, heaven forbid, try to undo the obvious conclusions that the Gemara created directly or by inference. Physical objects can and must play a role in serving Hashem. No, they have no power other than what Hashem chooses to give them. Yes, this reality can be very misleading and dangerous and it needs to be given over with Yire Shamayim or not at all!
Rabbi Rachmiel
Dear Rabbi Rachmiel,
Why do you take these quoted gemoras literally when many have already explained them metaphorically? Avraham Ben HaRambam explained in his introduction to the Ayn Yaakov that these types of stories are meant to be just that.....stories, metaphors, to teach a deeper concept. If you take each story, and carefully analyze it, I am sure you will find that they can be explained rationally, and more beautifully as allegories. Otherwise, they sound like fantasy. As an example, please read my explanation of the 7 Headed Serpent in Kiddushin.
I ask, why did the Haftorah of parshas Vayikra go through such lengths to stop one from investing powers into physical objects? It describes that certain Baal priests (idolaters acc. to Ibn Ezra) would take a stump from a tree. They would take half, cook food, and warm themselves. They would enjoy its heat. The other half they would render into an idol and bow down to it and say, "save me, because you are my god." The Prophet then describes their problem, it was an intellectual one,
"They (the idolaters) don't know nor understand. Their eyes are plastered (closed) from seeing, their hearts from understanding.They would not return to their hearts, not knowledge nor understanding to tell themselves that 'half of this wood I burnt on fire, I even baked on its coals bread, and roasted meat and I ate. Should I make the remainder into an abomination? .....he has falsehood in his right hand."
This prophet is clearly stating that people make mistakes because of both, the lack of perception, and lack of understanding: "Their eyes are sealed from seeing, their hearts from understanding." Meaning, we as Jews are bound to engage and abuse our ability to think for ourselves. Understanding, and endeavoring to find reason is our mark of distinction, and our birthright. We should not view a fantastic story as literal when deeper insight can show it's rational explanation.
What is truly the wisdom imparted from this Haftorah, is that the Navi desired to show the idolaters the best argument possible. That is when you use one's own arguments against him. Thus, the prophet (Navi) demonstrates that "you used half for mere firewood." In other words, "you agree by your very actions that this is only wood! Why then are you praying to the other half of this tree stump?" To display to a wrongdoer that his acts are false from his own premises, shakes their false beliefs most effectively. A realization of inconsistency strikes at the very core of any human, as consistency is logically prior to an opinion. Opinions are stated by one who will defend this same opinion tomorrow. By definition, one who states a view is attesting to its permanence. By displaying a breach in one's own consistency, you undermine the very fabric of his argument. The prophet also adds, "I have warmed myself, see the flame". This teaches how distorted the idolaters are, that they even "see" that it is mere fuel wood which they bow to. Nonetheless, they cannot overcome the idolatrous nature they possess, and allow reality to overrule the strength of their psychological need for physical representations and for the physical securities objects. "Seeing the flame" teaches that their own sense perception does them no good, "Their eyes are plastered (closed) from seeing...".
Rabbi Rachmiel, you said, "Physical objects can and must play a role in serving Hashem, but they have no power other than what Hashem chooses to give them." Please show me where Hashem said this. Please show me where Hashem chose to give some physical object a power other than the miracles wrought by Himself, or through a Navi. Hashem does not "like" to do miracles. "Kol gadol v'lo yasaf". Sinai only happened once. God wants man to fear Him by engaging in the rational - his intellect. This is why G-d gave us a soul, to use it, not to be amazed by imagined miracles.
See also: All Miracles Were Part of Creation
This quoted haftoras Vayikra clearly warns against projecting powers onto physical objects.
You don't need a clearer proof.
(See Saadia Gaon in Emunaas V'Daos)
Reader's response: If I understand you correctly, you do not accept the possibility for physical objects having supernatural powers based on Isaiah 43. My question centers around the tefillin issue; if the power ascribed to tefillin is only metaphoric, why bend halakha and let someone wear them on Shabbat in a time of danger?
Mesora: Perhaps it eases one's mind.
Think about it yourself: God desired that man abandon idolatry, but God also desired man to use his intellect. If the world would be the opposite that it is now, and physical objects had powers, why would God command that we disobey our intelligence? In this hypothetical scenario, God would be contradicting Himself which is impossible. It must be that God desires we follow the intelligence He gave us, to the point that when we see no powers in objects, we agree that our perception is accurate, and this is God's will; that nothing but Him has control over the forces which exists.
God created the forces and the elements in the universe. How then can these elements "control", when they are themselves created objects? They have no control over themselves as they were created. How then can they control other things?

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