Rabbi David Walk, Education Director

Congregation Agudath Sholom | 301 Strawberry Hill Ave | Stamford, CT 06902 (203)-358-2200 www.agudathsholom.org

Thursday, January 3, 2019

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Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Walk Article

DO YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC? 

Va'era-5779 

Rabbi David Walk 

 

Aren't magic tricks terrific? Great magicians amaze me, and then I love trying to figure how they did it. Remarkably, a tremendous number of famous magicians are Jewish. Starting with Harry Houdini (ne Erik Weisz), through David Copperfield (ne David Seth Kotkin), Uri Geller, David Blaine, David Berglas (who escaped Nazi Germany at the age of 11) and to the marvelously monickered Max Maven (ne Philip Goldstein). Should we add Aharon to that list? In this week's Torah reading the founding cohen presents a number of 'signs' to the Egyptians. How are we to understand Aharon's 'magic act'? 

Generally, we understand Aharon's role with the first two plagues (blood and frogs) as denoting Moshe's reticence to smack items which had helped him in time of need (the Nile and sand, Rashi, Shmot 7:19). Is there another explanation? Moshe is presenting himself as a potentate of a people, and those types had assistants to perform their instructions. It's a matter of public honor. When the leader Moshe wants a display of power before Pharoah, he requests Aharon to change the staff into a snake (or some other Nile reptile), Pharoah calls upon his court assistants to respond. This formal minuet continues until the fourth plague by which time the Egyptian magicians have withdrawn from the competition. They had always been in over their heads. Remember, Aharon's 'staff' swallows theirs. 

Who were these Egyptian court performers? Three terms are used to describe them: CHACHAMIM (scholars), MECHASHFIM (wizards), and CHARTUMIM (7:11). What are Chartumim? Rav Arye Kaplan OBM translated the term 'symbolists', and in a foot-note suggested astrologers. Dr. Robert Alter renders it 'sooth-sayers', and his foot-note adds 'the Egyptian designation for priest-magicians'. In Hebrew, CHARTUMIM isn't only the word for these wizards, it's also the word for Hieroglyphics, which is the Greek word for ancient Egyptian writing. Their magic was an expression of their scholarship, which resulted from their monopoly on literacy. 

This brings us to the next problematic word, B"LATEHEM. This word is variously translated as spells or magic. How the Egyptian practitioners of the occult arts did their 'tricks' is a massive debate amongst Jewish scholars. The battle lines tend to be drawn between those Jewish scholars thought of as mystics (led by Nachmonides), who believe they actually performed magic, and those thought of as rationalists, of course led by the Maimonides team. The Ibn Ezra explains the term to mean 'flame out', and describes a flash of combustibles which might accompany a magic trick. Others say the word denotes speed, and is closer to what we call leger de main or sleight of hand.  

The Torah Temima, Reb Baruch Halevi Epstein, among others, points out that two terms describe the actions of the court magicians, LATEHEM and LAHATEHEM, and suggests that one means tricks the other implies dark forces. 

Although, I have trouble believing these men had supernatural powers, the average person 3200 years ago believed it. As Arthur C. Clark once observed, 'Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.' It's truly in the eye of the beholder.  

This brings us to the $64,000 Question: Why does God need to get involved in a magic contest? And we must eliminate assuming that it was for future special affects in Hollywood films, even though I love them.  We must bear in mind as we investigate this question that the Torah is adamantly against any form of magic. In a future article I'll explore why magic is forbidden. 

I believe that the Sfat Emet answers this question in next week's parsha, when the mitzva of Tefilin is introduced: And it shall be to you as an OT (sign) upon your hand and as a ZIKARON (remembrance) between your eyes, in order that the law of the Lord shall be in your mouth, for with a mighty hand the Lord took you out of Egypt (Shmot 13:9). Before God can command us to remember something, which happened six times, something concrete must have happened for us to later remember. The OT is the event which will eternally trigger the remembrance. 

The heavenly pyrotechnics at Sinai triggered the obligation to remember the epiphany there. The ongoing creation of the cosmos requires us to recall this phenomenon every Shabbat. Amalek's dastardly attack sparked an eternal memory in our national psyche. The sins and punishment for Miriam's gossip and the Jews' worship of the Golden Calf elicits an eternal reminder of Heavenly justice. And all these displays of Divine power from the staff through the plagues to the eventual splitting of the Sea generated a national memory which cannot and must not ever be erased. 

The second Gerer Rebbe goes on to state: In truth God has engraved the letters (OTIOT) of the Torah onto every Jewish soul, but we are required to actualize these letters into action (Bo, 1897). Similarly, God performed OTOT (signs, miracles) on our behalf throughout history to act as catalysts for our memories and stimuli for our behavior. 

The first 15 chapters of Shmot describe a complex series of signs and wonders carefully orchestrated by the Divine Maestro to accomplish many goals. Obviously, the main objective was to free the Jews, but along the way we and our Egyptian captors were taught the power and glory of the Almighty. The scene in the throne room of Pharaoh wasn't meant as a real competition. It was a small first step in the demonstration of the reality that court magicians are puny, at best, and charlatans, at worst. 

I still love a good magic show. However, it's critical to always remember that 'there is no power other than God (Devarim 4:35).' The best magicians call themselves 'illusionists', because that's all they do. But that doesn't mean that there isn't magic in the world. I like the way German poet Johanne Goethe put it, 'Magic is believing in yourself, if you can do that, you can make anything happen.' Of course, with Divine support, SIYATA D'SHMAYA. 

 


A Jewish Mother in Need of Your Help..

I am writing this letter with a broken heart.
We Just Want Her Home!
Many sleepless nights passed before I dared to put my feelings in writing.
I am a mother of children who is very ill. It all started a few years ago. I had a simple virus, and my body went into septic shock. All my organs shut down; I was not amongst the living. I miraculously survived, B"H. But my life since then has been anything but simple.

The past few years, I went through more than two dozen surgeries, And it so happened that every surgery came with complications. if there were awards for people with the most physical pain, I would come in first place with flying colors.

I've suffered two strokes and spent almost 2 ½ months in rehab. I have spent a few summers in the hospital and in rehabs, while there I was unable to give my children the love they so much needed. Just this Winter I spent 6 weeks away from my family in another treatment.
Now, I go every week for outpatient therapy. I am constantly in pain, and sometimes I feel that my middle name is "Pain."

My husband helps me in every way he can, takes care of our children, take me to doctor's appointment, and works in a retail store trying to make ends meet. However, because of him taking off so much time from work, he does not bring home as much.

I am currently waiting for a procedure to be done, which is not covered at all, and they won't see me before paying $9500.00. And just recently, after some test done by my doctor he scheduled me for a 8-12 hour surgery on my stomach.

The bills have kept piling up throughout the years, a mountain which I have no idea how we'll scale. And unfortunately I can't sleep at night... or I cry myself to sleep. The financial pressure is crushing, and we are on the brink of collapse. Being disabled in a wheelchair making it unbearable to cope. There are times that we can't put food on the table to feed our children, pay utility bills, rent & tuition, because all the money is going to my medical expenses. We still have so many old bills to pay. {more then $70,000.00} My husband runs from Gemach to Gemach to pay debts, and just recently took out a big loan that we have to pay back very soon.

We are collapsing from all this pressure and our children are suffering greatly. Anyone who donates to this campaign will not only be saving my life, but our children's as well, you'll be giving them back their futures!

Please have an open hand and heart and help us. In return, may Hashem, in His infinite mercy, bless you all with life, health, and every kindness and may you always be Zoche to be on the giving end!

I desperately need your love, support & help, now more than ever. Please, Please, please give generously.

You will not regret having taken part in this incredible mitzvah.

I would appreciate it so so so much.

Thank you from the bottom of my shattered heart.

Please be so kind and share this campaign with family and friends.

Tizku l'mitzvos!
Tzippy
 
 

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