Shabbat Shoftim

Candles - Friday, August 25th @ 7:19pm
Havdalah - August 26th @ 8:12pm

The term Toevah, that I referred to last week, is applied here to “anyone who practices divination, astrology, omens, sorcery, charms or enquires after the dead” (Devarim 18:9-12).

All of this is something disapproved of by the Torah because of its association with idolatry. From its condemnation, the Torah stresses time and again that our lives should not be governed by magic or superstition. Instead we should develop a direct relationship with God. The way to do that is by living a God like life.

Having faith in God directly contradicts having faith in magic and its various branches. By knowing from the start what God expects of us. There are no surprises or weird, unpredictable spells.

Yet throughout Jewish history, we have continuously followed astrology, mediums, sorcerers and others who claim to know the future or protect against the present and the past. Even the Talmud refers to spells, magic formulae and cures. Even if Maimonides consistently says that this only reflects the credulity and ignorance of ordinary people. We Jews have continuously turned our backs on God and preferred delusions, illusions, false gods and prophets.

Why? Because most people feel insecure, lack faith and therefore need certainties, substitutes, crutches and placebos.

What is the difference between faith and superstition? Superstition is the belief that the world is random. It is full of competing gods and energies and one can never know what or when things will go wrong. But if one can find the right spell, the right formula and the secret, then one will be protected. If a black cat crosses one’s path, or a mirror breaks or a candle blows out, then regardless of any other factor, bad things will happen to us. But with the right antidote one can change one’s luck.

Being rational means knowing that actions are caused, even if we do not always see what has caused them.

Luck, mazal, on the other hand, means that there are forces in the universe that one has no control over, the sun, the moon, the stars. Just as we do not have control over the actions of crazy, or drunk or deranged evil people. The only thing we do have control over to some degree at least are our actions, what we do and how we live. And here we have been given the rules.

We know how to behave to get the best out of ourselves and life and be good people. That is what having faith means. Not doing the illogical, the magical, the nonsensical in the vain hope that these can have any effect. We need cures sometimes. But we ought not to need placebos. Having faith means that we can cope with whatever happens whether it is through our mistakes or those of others. Or just because the world we live in, runs according to its rules, not ours.