Friday, August 04, 2006

demons, ayin horah, mazel, etc.

Sheidim do exist. They can do commit harmful acts and sometimes do live in animals.

They don't live in abandoned houses, but sometimes do live in demolished houses.

They have chicken-like feet, but can't normally be seen.

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The Minchas Elozor explains why the Rambam wrote there is no such thing as Sheidim when Chazal say there is. He says that Sheidim are the kind of things that kol dekapid kapdi bahadei udelo kapid lo kapdi bahadei (Pesachim 110b) – they can only harm you if you’re scared of them. Now the Rambam lived in Egypt in the middle ages, where the masses believed strongly in the power of demons and all sorts of magical forces. This presented a grave danger of the people being damaged by Sheidim. The Rambam, knowing his target audience as people who are very scared – and therefore very susceptible – to the damage that can be done by Sheidim, tried to get them to think that Sheidim don’t exist so they would not longer be scared of them and thus escape the very real and tangible danger that Sheidim posed.

That’s an example of what the seforim mean when they say that the Moreh Nevuchim was meant for his generation. There is a lot we can learn from this Rambam, regarding how Sheidim work and to what extent we are allowed to go to protect people from them, which is relevant to so many Halchos and Agados.

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Gilgullim are real. There are many things not mentioned in the Gemora, especially Kabalistic things. And they don't originate from Eastern religions - those religions got it from us. The reason Rav Saddiah Gaon says they don't exist is because he never got to see the Zohar, which says clearly they do. This was discussed previously. Not every animal is a gilgul, though, and there’s no reason to assume any animal that follows you or bothers you is a gilgul asking for forgiveness. Even if they were, how could you know what you are forgiving? People can also be gilguls, though very few people can know what gilgul they are.

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Some rabbis, particularly among the sefardim, seem to believe that "faking" supernatural phenomena will impress non-religious Jews and bring them back to Yidishket. And they are right - it does. Non-religious Sefardim are very impressed with supernatural things. But the dybbuk "exorcising" video is definitely fake.

Perhaps these things are done l'shaym shamayim, and regardless of whether it is proper or improper to do (I vote "improper"), it doesn’t make it real.

The dybuk story, incidentally, was a transparent hoax from the get go. The whole thing, as documented on tape, made no sense. It was just a matter of time before the cat got out of the bag.

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Tamim Tihiyah (Devarim 18:13) is a Mitzvah that tells us not to care what fortune tellers or other future-seers say, because we know that Hashem is in charge of the world, and He can change whatever those people see in whatever they are looking at anyway, so who cares what they say. And we should not have an interest in these peeks into the future, even if it is done in a way that is permitted according to the Torah (i.e. even if it is not kishef etc). In other words, we should not have anything to do with any of those people who tell the future in any way whatsoever.

We also have no interest in looking into the future in any way whatsoever. Rather, we trust in Hashem that whatever He wants will happen, and that what happens is dependent on our ACTIONS, not something that these people see in our palms or the stars or our names or whatever.

All these types of people are either fakers - which is most of the time, the vast, vast majority - or utilizing some forces of tumah.

I would suggest that you get a hold of a wonderful work on this topic, by the Mekubal and Talmid Chacham Rav Yaakov Moshe Hillel, called Kuntres Tamim Tihiyeh, which is an excerpt from his Teshuvos Vayashav HaYam #16. After a very thorough treatment of the subject, he points out that in order to be on the level to know the future in gashmiyus things, such as those which these witch-doctors and pseudo-kabalah people claim to know, in any form whatsoever - unless you're using kochos hatumah - you have to be on the level of the great neviim. He quotes from the Tanya (Igros Kodesh 22) that even the great sages of Chazal who were baalei ruach hakodesh and knew the "streets of the heavens" as well as the streets of the earth, you still could not ask them the future - only the great prophets like Shmuel had that ability. And even to be on the level of a Baal Ruach HaKodesh of our times, you still have to be on an awesome level of righteousness (he quotes criteria from the Arizal), including learning Torah lishmah until he has no strength left, and much, much more than that.

On the contrary, he writes, such soothsayers and miracle-makers were never respected in Klall Yisroel amongst the Gedolim, but rather they were looked down upon, and were the objects of scorn, since obviously they were not on the level to make those miracles in a Kosher way. When the Gedolim found out about such a person, they would prohibit people to go to see him.

If you want to get a Brachah from someone, he says, go to the known and established Gedolim and Tzadikim, the rabbanim and poskim, the spreaders of Torah, those whose righteousness is known to all.

That having been said, it is known that certain women - and this means only certain ones, not every one who claims to be - do have a Mesorah about dealing with ayin horah. I know that recently Rav Elyashev sent someone to one of these women. I also heard that Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld's wife used to be into this, too. However, all this means is that if Rav Elyashev or someone else like him endorses one of these women, you can rely on him. There are many, many fakers out there. And tumah-users.

Generally, the only prohibition involved with such things is the prohibition to be naive and foolish. These palmists and such are bogus. I know some of them first hand, and believe me, they have no more idea of who you are than anyone else who meets you for the first time, but they have tricks to tell you things that will probably sound like they know stuff when they really haven’t got a clue.

This includes lots of the "Kabbalistic" ones as well. Someone once came to me all excited because he was freaked out by some supposed Kabbalah guy who reads "names". You give him your name and he tells you about you. So this guy gave him his daughter's name - Zahava-something-bas-someone. And the name-reader asked him "If she's named after Golda, why do you call her Zahava?"

This was in fact the case, and Zahava's father was so impressed he was shaking.

So I explained to him that in Europe, it is known that people used Yiddish names such as Golda, Faiga, Gittle, but in America, and more so in Israel today, due largely to the influence of Zionism, people often Hebraesize (is there such a word?) those names to Zahava, Tzipora, Tova. So when this guy saw a semi-chassidishe Hungarian couple with a daughter named Zahava, he figured she’s probably named after a Hungarian or Romanian grandmother or something, who was probably named Golda. Especially since he asked them basic family information beforehand, such as where they came from, etc. It doesn’t take a rocket scientists - or a real name reader - to figure this out.

Of course, there really is a Chochmah in palm reading, and there are seforim written on it (many are reprinted by Bakal Publishers in Eretz Yisroel), but it’s easy for some imposter to impersonate them.

My advice is to stay away from these people, the majority of them are fake, and the odds are you will not be able to tell the fake ones from the real. Therefore, you can get misinformation, just adding to your confusion, not diminishing from it.


Even if what a Kabbalist said is true, this kind of stuff is not for us to judge. The Gemora relates how King Chizkiyah was punished for not having children, because he was told that his children would be evil. The Gemora says this is not an excuse because "hani kivshei d'rachmana" - these mysteries of Hashem - are not our business. Hashem told us to get married and have children. The soothsayers' predictions are not a factor in our decision.

The odds are, though that the Kabbalist is a phony. People who say such things are not presumed legitimate until proven so. And most of them are illegitimate.

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The astrology that you have today in the papers and magazines is bogus. Forget it.

There is such a thing as Mazel, which has to do with the stars and the constellations, but (a) it does not affect Bechirah, only such things that are not dependent on free will anyway, such as money and general circumstances. But it does not affect your being good or bad. And (b) none of this applies to Jews anyway. Ain mazal l'yisroel. Jews can overcome their Mazal by their actions.

The contemporary astrologers tried to mimic our "Mazel" concept (the weird dates for each astrological sign are supposed to approximate the Jewish lunar months of the year, since each lunar month has a different mazel), but it is pure 100% Haki balash (i.e. bogus).

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Fakers can make miracles, and they have, as it says in Devarim, a false prophet can bring you miracles and signs and then tell you to do the wrong thing. Hashem does not say that the miracle was fake - it was not! - rather, Hashem says, "Do not listen to that prophet or that seer, for G-d is testing you"

And it is not at all required that the false prophet purposely create the miracle to test you. It could be that the "prophet" believes that he is real. But the fact that he is telling you to do the wrong thing exposes him as fake.

We only listen to a prophet who is established as a righteous person and worthy of prophecy by virtue of his holiness. Then and only then, if he says prophecies and makes miracles we trust him.

But not all miracles come from people as "signs". Some miracles just happen "min hashamayim." But even when such a miracle happens, it is also no proof of G-d's opinion on the matter. There too, miracles can happen to test you. We know of such miracles all over Tanach. At the Egel, the Jews saw a vision of Moshe Rabbeinu dead on Har Sinai, which led them to make the Egel. The vision was miraculous, but they should not have believed what they saw. Later, the Egel itself came out of the kiln as if it were a live entity, Chazal say. Dancing and animated. A real miracle, which led them to believe that the Egel had power. But all these miracles were made "to test you". This is because the job of the Yetzer Horah is to create Nisyonos. A miracle, as the posuk says, can sometimes be a Nisayon too. Sometimes the Yetzer Horah brings that Nisayon by way of a false prophet and sometimes it comes without one.

If we know that we followed the Torah, did a Mitzvah, were Moser Nefesh for Hashem, or the like, and then we merit a miracle, that is reason to celebrate; but we do not use miracles as proof of what Hashem wants. It could very possibly be proof of what the Yetzer Horah wants.

The only proof we have of what Hashem wants is what the Torah says.

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There is power in Ayin Horah. If someone is jealous of your necklace it can theoretically harm the necklace; see Rabbeinu Yonah on Avos 2:15.
The way Ayin Horah works is our lives are all spiritually linked to each other, and if someone's existence - or something about someone - disturbs you and you want to see some bad befall them (which is what an Ayin Horah is, like when someone for instance is jealous and therefore begrudges you your necklace and wishes you wouldn't have it) you can cause the other person to be susceptible to damage.
When a person does not care to help his friend in trouble that is also a type of Ayin Horah, because it means that his friend's life is not important to him.
The way to prevent Ayin Horah is to come across as someone who is more concerned about others than about yourself, and that prevents people form being jealous of you, since they know that you are not flaunting what you have over them.
If you're interested in learning a bit about Ayin Horah, may I suggest Michtav M'Eliyahu (vol. 4 p.5).
So it is possible that an Ayin Horah can harm your necklace, but I would suggest eliminating natural causes first.
The main thing is not to go flaunting things like necklaces, and that should keep you reasonably safe from Ayin Horahs.

Rabeinu Yonah in Pirkei Avos (2:15) says that an Ayin Horah not only harms the person on the receiving end of it, but the jealousy eats up the one who gives it as well. But that's definitely not the traditional pshat in the Gemora. Tosfos asks on the spot if 99% of people die because of Ayin Horah, why then didn't the Bnei Efraim who were immune to Ayin Horah live longer than their peers? Tosfos clearly understood the Gemora to mean that 99% of people die as victims of Ayin Horah.

Bli ayin horah helps but not completely. It doesn't help against the green-with-envy neighbor of yours that can't "fargin" (Yiddish word with no decent translation; It's like the opposite of "begrudge") you what you have (that means they begrudge you for having it). Ayin hora only harms you if you CARE about it. Don't rely on this. You can convince yourself that you don't care but you really do. The Seforim say that the solution to Ayin Horah is not to be ostentatious and to always be humble, and giving. Solutions such as those, which are based on good Midos and spiritual growth are the best.

Telling people about an illness does not bring an Ayin Horah. Ayin Horah comes from telling people something that may make them jealous.

The Rishonim, and the entire body of Mesorah down to us today - as well as the Zohar and Sefer Hakanah and Sefer Hapliah - clearly understand ayin horah to mean that if I begrudge you something, that can damage your thing. Even if you don’t know about my attitude and even if you are not a human being (only fish are immune). This is not understandable by psychological means - especially since the seforim already have explained it to be a reality of its own.
There is no reason to assume the Rishonim had or didn't have any more or less of a mesorah here than anywhere else. And the fact that the world believes in it superstitiously does not weigh in the equation since the world believed and believes superstitiously in horoscopes, mazalos, palm reading, face-reading, angels, demons, omens, and various other things which are real, meaning, they do exist, or at least did, somewhere, sometime, and they took that reality and twisted it without understanding anything about it in reality, and made it into a superstition. Happens all the time.
In the bottom line, both shitos are equally valid, and there we have no reason - or right - to attribute the worlds of any of these rishonim to any course other than the usual Torah sources.
One can chas v'sholom argue the other way too, if one wanted to - that the Rambam's shitoh came form the rationalists and philosophers who did not believe in any supernatural phenomenon. And since the Rambam has already been said by the GRA to have been influenced by these sources, would that "tip the scale" in the opposite direction?
Cholilah. The GRA did not say any such thing IN THIS CASE, and by trying to psychoanalyze the Rambam you would be merely invalidating the validity and authority and holiness of the worlds of a Rishon for no reason except your own speculation which is beyond the bounds of acceptable reason. The same thing applies the other way as well

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The symbols and words such as an eye in a hand or an amulet - if they are for real according to the Torah - are not more or less "other gods" than, say, a burglar alarm or fireproof walls.
There are physical forces in the world, which, although totally controlled by G-d, do run according to the patterns of nature that He created. Therefore, if you have fireproof walls in your home, it doesn't mean those walls are gods but rather a simple way we live life according to the nature that G-d created.
So too there are spiritual forces in the world -- not gods, but kind of a nature, where instead of physical effects and reactions due to certain physical substances and actions, it is a reaction based on non-physical substances and actions. The effect is a natural one, pre-programmed in the world as part of its nature, but triggered by actions and items that are not physical, but spiritual. It has to do with angels rather than chemicals, for instance, but angels, like chemicals, are merely passive natural things in the world, with no will of their own, and only respond to the stimuli that they encounter. And their response is predictable and pre-programmed.
It is that nature that items such ayin horah affect, and it is the rules of that part of nature that they are following.

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Some seemingly superstitious claims about bringing good and bad luck are true and some aren't. Each one has to be judged individually. Not stepping over a Jew originates in the Gemora Sanhedrin 7b, and Megilah 27b, but there's nothing stated about not growing.

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