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  Comments on “Part XII: Yet Another Way to Look at the Torah and Numbers

  1. Ezra, again thanks for these qualitatively and quantitatively really amazing insights and mathematical masterpieces.

    This whole week I’ve been busy and barely able to keep up, so I’m falling way behind in some feedback I’d like to provide, and now before Shabbos there is very little time left.

    Just very briefly then focusing on one matter, in reply to what you wrote: “Black magic is prohibited in the Torah, so we know it exists. Magic and illusion can be very entertaining and often employs deft sleight of hand. The magic we are about to show you is neither black, nor illusion or sleight of hand, but it is real magic.”

    Yes the Torah prohibits magic, so yes “magic” exists, but what is it? As I noted in a previous comment, Rambam (Maimonides) held very strongly that there is no “real magic” of any form, only illusions, performed with sleight of hand and trickery of various sorts. Other sages, including Ramban (Nachmonides) held that “real magic” does exist, only the Torah strictly prohibits such practices.

    The Artscroll Chumash explains (Exodus 7:9):

    “Pharaoh’s magicians were able to duplicate the wonders performed by Moses, thus supporting the king’s insistence that Moses himself was nothing more than a magician, a profession that was well represented in Egypt. This raises the question of whether Pharaoh’s sorcerers had any real power. Alone among the classic commentators, Rambam (Hil. Avodas Kochavim 11:16), Moreh Nevuchim 3:37) maintains that all magic, even that discussed in Scripture, is sleight of hand and that only foolish and ignorant people believe in it.

    “The other classic commentators, however, based on copious proofs from the Talmud, dispute his contention. According to then, the sorcery mentioned in the Toah was real, and its practitioners knew how to alter nature and foretell the future by utilizing powers built into Creation. Very briefly, Ramban (Deuteronomy 18:9), Derech Hashem, and others explain that G-d created the universe so that earthly events are regulated by angels and other heavenly forces. G-d also provided that by the use of various sacred or profane incantations, people could harness these heavenly forces and th3ereby override the laws of nature. This is how the Egyptian magicians and others whose feats are related in Scripture and the Talmud were able to perform miracles. It was because of this ability that false prophets were able to mislead people into believing in the power of idols.”

    For a long time I have been of the opinion that if our sages like the Ramban were living in today’s modern period, when science and technology have made such major advances, and dispelled the darkness of ignorance and superstition, then surely they would recant their previous ideas and come to agree with the Rambam.

    Recently I found that this theme is expressed clearly in an article entitled “U-Madua Lo Yeresem,” by R’ Asher Benzion Buchman, published in the 2nd volume of “Hakirah, The Flatbush Journal of Jewish Law and Thought.” This crucially important article may be read online at Hakirah’s website “hakirah.org”- http://www.hakirah.org/Vol%202%20Buchman.pdf

    R’ Buchman explains that Ramban, too, was a rationalist committed to the scientific method, and were Ramban alive today his eyes would tell him that Rambam’s views were correct.

    The same article (on page 20 of 32 pages) refers to Rambam’s opinion regarding various Holy Names:

    “Rambam rejects the concept of magical powers in the שמות [Names] as well. The concept of שמות with 42 and 72 letters represents various understandings of השם ייחוד. There are no magical powers in names but there is great spiritual growth in understanding what these various names tell us about the Creator (Moreh Nevuchim 1:62).”

    The trend in Judaism is that the practice of so-called “white magic” or “practical Kabbalah” is also being strictly discouraged, and this can be elaborated on in another comment BE”H next week.

    Good Shabbos!

  2. In continuation to my previous comment, especially since we are coming from the fast of Tisha B’Av at the beginning of the week, it is fitting to emphasize another point from R’ Buchman’s previously mentioned Hakira article (page 8/32), that according to the Rambam the destruction came about due to our ancestor’s wrongful reliance on magical and supernatural interventions:

    “To Rambam the Torah’s prohibition of avoda zara and magic, was meant to prevent what was bad for the soul and also bad for the body. When he was queried by the scholars of Montpelier about the value of astrology, he responded as follows:

    “This is what lost us our kingdom and destroyed the Bais Hamikdosh, and brought us to our present condition. Our forefathers sinned and thus vanished, because they found many books pertaining to the matters of astrology – which is at the heart of avoda zara as we explained in the laws of avoda zara. They erred and followed after it, believing that they were magnificent sciences, with great utility, and thus they did not involve themselves with learning the military sciences and principles of conquest but chose to believe that the astrology would suffice [for their protection]. This is why the prophets called them ignorant and foolish. Indeed they were fools, following after that which has no value. (Letter to scholars of Montpelier. See Igros HaRambam, Shilot vol. 2 p. 480.)”


    Regarding the trend in Judaism to strictly discourage the practice of so-called “white magic” or “practical Kabbalah,” my previous comments cited and quoted from R’ Aryeh Kaplan to this effect, and even the Wiki entry on “Practical Kabbalah” says the same, as in these excerpts:

    “The separation of the mystical and magical elements of Kabbalah, dividing it into speculative theological Kabbalah (Kabbalah Iyyunit) with its meditative traditions, and theurgic practical Kabbalah (Kabbalah Ma’asit), had occurred by the beginning of the 14th century.[9] Many traditional speculative Kabbalists disapproved of practical Kabbalah, including Abraham Abulafia, who strongly condemned it.[2][need quotation to verify] While the great majority of historical Kabbalistic involvement, writing and development concerns the theological Kabbalah, the majority of practical Kabbalaistic writings were never published.[10]

    “One important tradition of practical Kabbalah thrived in Spain during the second half of the 15th century, before the Alhambra Decree. The main text of the tradition was called Sepher ha-Mashiv. The practitioners of this tradition were described by Moshe Idel as “interested in demonology and the use of coercive incantations to summon demons, angels, and even God”[11] in order to hasten the Messianic Age.[12] Joseph Della Reina’s (1418–1472) failure with his students in this, was considered a warning by later Kabbalists of the potential perils of involvement with Kabbalistic practice.[13]

    [My interjection: This was also what happened in the more famous Shabbatai Tzvi debacle, and in other failed messianic movements, past and present.]

    “In the 16th century Isaac Luria, who opposed Kabbalah Ma’asit and forbade his students from writing amulets and using other techniques of practical Kabbalah, evolved a form of exorcism which effectively transferred techniques from practical to speculative Kabbalah. While this led to the displacement of magical formulas and rites by contemplative exercises, the old forms of practical Kabbalah continued to exert broad appeal.[14] Luria’s position as the central teacher of modern Kabbalah, the foundation for later Hasidism, gives his proscription authoritative force. He taught that in our generations, without the Temple in Jerusalem and its ashes of the Red Heifer to purify, the pursuit of the realm of practical Kabbalah by a person with an impure body is very detrimental.[15]

    “…In Hasidism, the displacement of practical Kabbalah by conceptual and meditative trends gained much further emphasis. Hasidism internalised Kabbalah through the psychology of deveikut (cleaving to God), and cleaving to the Tzadik (Hasidic Rebbe). In Hasidic doctrine, the tzaddik channels Divine spiritual and physical bounty to his followers by altering the Will of God (uncovering a deeper Will) through his own deveikut and self-nullification. Dov Ber of Mezeritch is concerned to distinguish this theory of prayer from contemplative magical process.[22] This rendered the external methods of practical Kabbalah unnecessary and a hindrance, though some Hasidic leaders retained use of accepted amulets.

    “This change was manifested in the personal life of Hasidism’s founder, the Baal Shem Tov (1698–1760), in his move from Baal Shem to the prototype of Hasidic leader. While a Baal Shem, he used amulets. At the end of his life, the Ba’al Shem Tov never wrote the Names of God, only his own name in amulets, Yisrael ben Sara or Yisrael ben Eliezer.[16] A traditional story relates that on one early occasion, the Baal Shem Tov resorted to practical Kabbalistic names of God, to cross a river and save his life. Afterward, he regretted this, even though he had used it in holiness. He knew that his repentance was accepted when later, he found himself again in a similar situation. This time he did not use practical Kabbalah to perform the miracle, but instead used faith to give him the miraculous supernatural power to cross the river. He then knew that his teshuvah was complete.[15] Hasidic thought teaches that its internalised mysticism enables the soul to affect the world through its essential connection to God, rather than Divine manifestations of Kabbalah.”

    Until here from Wiki. Of course from the Rambam’s perspective there is no doubt about this, for as previously noted:

    “Rambam rejects the concept of magical powers in the שמות [Names] as well. The concept of שמות with 42 and 72 letters represents various understandings of השם ייחוד [Yichud HaShem]. There are no magical powers in names but there is great spiritual growth in understanding what these various names tell us about the Creator (Moreh Nevuchim 1:62).”

  3. Thanks Moshe, as usual very thorough. In case it is not clear to anyone, practical kabbalah is a misnomer; it has nothing to do with practicality in our sense of the word. it is black magic and is to stayed away from at all cost. Certain cult leaders have used it top attract followers, especially wealthy ones but it is an allegiance with demonology and worse and should be avoided. It is not a shortcut to evolvement/enlightenment. My use of the term real magic pertains to the workings of Hashem, which to our limited perspective appears as magic.