"If the Torah is so Adamant, Then That Must Mean Something Huge" Series: Why Does the Torah Relate to Kishuf with Such Severity?
One night, two secular-looking young men showed up wearing kippahs.
Although this class was not specific geared toward novices, it still welcomed anyone who wished to learn the Ohr Hachaim.
Everyone in attendence received the young men warmly, while at the same time, everyone felt curious about what brought these two davka to this class in this area.
At one point, the young men felt compelled to share what happened to them prior to their decision to attend this class.
Get Thee to an Ohr Hachaim Shiur—Go!
Like a lot of Israelis, they weren't so secular at heart and via their grandparents, they received certain pure ideas about Judaism.
Other secular friends told them about an impressive "kabbalist" who lived in a secular moshav in central Israel.
(That in itself is a bit odd because most very frum people do not wish to immerse themselves in a wholly secular environment.)
The young men arrived by car to the home of the "kabbalist."
The first thing they saw was a fence which contained a large black dog guarding the entrance to the home.
That immediately struck one of the young men as shady.
Since when do holy Torah sages own big scary black dogs?
At that moment, the "kabbalist" opened the door and guided the two inside, away from the black dog.
Once inside, the "kabbalist" led them to his study, offered them chairs in front of his desk, then sat himself behind his desk.
Behind the "kabbalist" stood shelves of books.
The same young man who felt suspicious of the big black dog now scanned the titles of the books, which set off another warning light in his head: Most of the books seemed to be about the occult.
The "kabbalist" then asked them what they wanted to drink. He reassured them that he could serve them any drink they wanted.
Literally, ANY drink in the world...
That sounded weird.
But not wanting to trouble him, they agreed to a simple cola.
The "kabbalist" whisked a bottle of cola out of thin air right before their eyes.
After a split-second of stunned realization, they bolted from the room.
They shot down the hallway, out the door, past the dog, and to their car, speeding out of the moshav, never to return.
Desperately wanting some tohar (spiritual purity) after that unnerving encounter with tumah (spiritual impurity), they searched for a Torah class and somehow heard about the secluded Ohr Hachaim class.
Knowing that the Ohr Hachaim is for sure the real thing, they showed up to the class, still shaken over their encounter.
They now realized how important it was to pursue real authentic tried-'n'-true Judaism, and not go for kabbalah stuff (or a "kabbalist") that sounds interesting, but is actually based on tumah, rather than the authentically pure & holy kabbalah of the Zohar.
As a side point, the above also shows that even a little bit of knowledge helps with proper discernment.
Meaning, these 2 young men realized that a large black dog indicated something "off," as did the rows of occult books on the man's bookshelf.
The cola-out-of-thin-air simply confirmed their suspicions.
In contrast, less knowledgeable people may not suspect anything upon seeing the large black dog & either not notice the occult books or not realize those books deal with forbidden kochot hatumah.
Finally, despite their predominantly secular background, they possessed enough tradition to realize the urgency of an Ohr Hachaim class to counteract their spooky tumah experience.
(Many secular Jews never even heard of the Ohr Hachaim. But they had.)
Yet the story doesn't end there.
Once You're In, It's Not So Easy to Leave
At first, it worked for her. These occult tricks often work for certain things for a short period of time.
The problem is that there's a price to pay.
If you want the "gift" to keep on giving, you need to keep paying.
(Which means it's not really a gift—after all, you're paying for it. Right? So it's a transaction...a transaction of only one side knows all the rules & stipulations—and it ain't your side.)
Eventually, the young woman came to the truth on her own.
She couldn't keep paying and anyway, she started to sense something off about the "kabbalist" and, if I remember correctly, she also felt that he was davka blocking her in shidduchim, rather than helping her as he claimed.
So she gradually ceased contact with him.
But he didn't let her go so easily.
As she cut off contact, all sorts of things suddenly started happening around her home—accidents, annoyances, and so on.
But the most frightening consequence was how her skirt suddenly caught on fire for no reason—meaning, there was no open source of fire. She wasn't standing near a gas stove or smoking or anything like that, no gas fumes in the air, etc.
Like, she'd just be standing in her living room and all the sudden, her skirt would be on fire.
This happened several times.
Understandably freaked out, she went to a real Torah mekubal and he changed her name for her, plus he encouraged her in tsniyut (dignified modesty & behavior), plus certain Tehillim & davening, and so on. I think he also either had her mezuzot checked or he gave her some really high-quality mezuzot.
(As we know from Rav Chaim Palagi's Chaim Bayad mentioned in The Vital Importance of being Tamim with Hashem, kosher mezuzot do a great job of keeping out unwanted entities.)
Once her name changed, the skirt-fires stopped. The real mekubal explained that because the "kabbalist" had her name for davening (i.e., her full name, plus her parents' names), he could send demons her way.
So the mekubal also cautioned her not to reveal her new name in order to prevent the "kabbalist" from accessing her new "address" for the demons.
And that was that.
Note: Publicizing full names for davening is a praiseworthy & common custom, and people needn't fear the misuse of their names. Furthermore, if we know them & and their parents, we know many people's full names anyway. So, if I remember correctly, the fact that she facilitated a connection with this swindler, plus she herself gave him her name for this occult purpose—which she initially didn't perceive as occult--that's what caused the problem. She unwittingly opened a door to this dynamic & providing her name was simply part of that process, and not the only key to facilitating the frightening events that followed.
The final say on that story was that she was in the process of doing full teshuvah.
Like the two young men, she started out as a mostly secular girl who stumbled upon this same "kabbalist."
While the magic trick frightened the two young men, it impressed others who considered it proof of having found a real mekubal.
And therein lies the problem with kishuf (witchcraft, sorcery): It removes people from emunah in Hashem and leads them down the path the mechashef (witch, sorcerer) wishes them to go.
Postscript: After hearing the above stories, a frum couple driving on their way home stopped to pick up a young newly married frum couple hitchhiking home. When the newlyweds stated their destination, the driving couple was surprised to hear it was this same moshav that housed this occultist posing as a kabbalist. Speaking with the newlyweds, they discovered that the groom had grown up on this secular moshav, becoming frum later, and married a fellow baalat teshuvah. Now they were going to stay with his parents for Shabbat. When the driving couple inquired as to whether the young man knew of the "kabbalist," the young man replied, "Yes, of course, everyone on the moshav knows about him. He is an ish tameh (a spiritually impure person), so we simply stay away from him."
The Liberating Torah View of Any Supernatural Performances
It means NOTHING!
Wonders & marvels don't prove a darn thing.
If you go by the Rambam (who did not believe in demons or occult powers), then you consider such thing illusions & sleight-of-hand—definitely magic tricks, which only display the performer's deception.
However, if you go by the vast majority of the Torah Sages, then you acknowledge that while occult powers exist, they don't impress you or prove anything whatsoever.
All it shows is the performer's mastery over kochot hatumah...UGH.
With all our beautiful, protective, and uplifting connection to spiritual purity, like:
- the morning brachot
- Pitom HaKetoret
- the Aleinu prayer
- chanukat habayit (when moving into a new home you purchased)
- and much more...
...we thumb our noses at the icky & constricting kochot hatumah.
It's very liberating to be released from finding anything impressive or intriguing about wonders & marvels & any other mysterious or supernatural phenomena.
The Main Problem with Kishuf: A Rationalist POV & the Non-Rationalist POV
- From a rationalist point of view, the kabbalist-poser retarded the young woman's spiritual progress & her ability to get married.
Rather than dedicating her time & efforts to increasing her mitzvah-observance, she made no progress in actual mitzvah-observance & instead invested her money in supporting this harmful faker (rather than buy beautifully modest clothing or giving tzedakah, etc.).
So she felt like she was doing something, but wasn't actually doing anything—only she didn't initially realize it due to the kishuf deception.
A rationalist would feel infuriated with the swindler because of the block to the young woman's spiritual growth & also that he's stealing money from a vulnerable young woman.
Also, a rationalist would attribute all the household mishaps to the power of suggestion, like her perception of routine mishaps as connected to the mechashef (which the rationalist would reject as routine & not connected to the mechashef, except only in her mind).
As for the skirt-fires, a rationalist would attribute them to her standing too close to a heat source (like certain space heaters, from which cloth can easily touch the heat source & catch fire) or maybe the fake "kabbalist" even sprinkled a substance on her clothes that becomes flammable when it comes into contact with water.
Or that she's lying or exaggerating.
The skirt-fires prove harder to explain away using rationalist explanations, and you can see that the only ones I managed to come up with are far-fetched, but strict rationalists refuse to even contemplate any other explanation.
So to them, even the far-fetched (or viewing her in a negative light as a liar or unreliable) are acceptable.
She hadn't had contact with the "kabbalist" for a while (and she'd laundered her clothes since the last contact), she insisted she wasn't near any heat source—but a committed rationalist would dismiss these arguments as her forgetfulness or lack of attention.
(Or again, demean her character by presuming her a liar or hysteric or attention-seeker or something like that.)
On the other hand, the cola trick can easily be explained via sleight-of-hand. After all, Israelis aren't generally going to request a strawberry daquiri or inconvenience the rabbi with a request for coffee—an Israeli would only ask for a common cold drink.
Knowing this, the swindler could easily hide a few bottles of popular drinks (orange-flavored, bottled water, cola, etc.) under his desk, then appear to whisk them out of thin air at the visitor's request.
- From a non-rationalist point of view, the block in actual mitzvah-observance is also of great concern, with the frightening occult attacks considered equally dangerous.
A non-rationalist would feel infuriated by the same aspects as the rationalists—with additional outrage & concern about the entities visiting her at home & causing her active harm in a way that's difficult to remedy.
As common with all kinds of swindlers & abusers, mechashefim initially present themselves as a source of assistance.
They offer their help in finding your zivug, protection from your fears, revenge, material improvement, success, health, new knowledge, adventure, entertainment, and much more.
Only there is a price to pay...
Either way you look at it, the mechashef hits people where it harms them the most: their emunah.
In other words, mechashef causes very real harm & moves people away from Hashem & His Torah.
- Part 1: What's So Bad about Kishuf? A Look at Halacha, the Rational vs the Supernatural, the 80 Witches of Ashkelon, and the Machshefah Midwife of the Me'am Lo'ez