Genuine Spiritual Aids

[from "Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah" – Parashat Shoftim 5769 – translated by R. Blumberg]

People often times turn to Rabbis asking for "segulot" [spiritual aids or shortcuts] to help the sick. Besides going to the doctor, they look for spiritual tricks, recitation of a particular verse, or an amulet, just so there is some change for the better. Unfortunately, they are searching in vain for something that does not exist.

Some will respond: “Who says? My aunt had no children, she used a 'segulah' and now, thank G-d, there are children around her table.” Yet someone else had a childless aunt who used no "segulah," and children were born to her anyway. The fact is that ten percent of barren couples experience spontaneous cures without knowing the cause.

It is impossible to build one’s life on "segulot!" If someone has financial, health, or family problems, the answer is this: “Repentance, prayer and tzedakah ward off the evil decree!” One should pray to G-d, recite psalms, recite the regular prayers printed in the prayer book with feeling, from start to finish. All of this takes great devotion. And, he should repent! Yet people then ask: “How should one repent? Should one pray at the Western Wall?” Certainly the Western Wall is a holy place, but a person has to repent for his sins, those between man and G-d and those between man and man. He should give tzedakah to the poor, increase his kind acts to everybody, to his friends and neighbors, near and far, and to his parents, his children and his spouse. He should give of his money and his advice, his time and his energy. He should visit the sick, etc...

“Repentance, prayer and charity ward off the evil decree!” These are our spiritual resources, and there is no need to look for all kinds of strange things. Where are all of these strange things mentioned? In the Torah? In the Tanach? In the Mishnah? Is it written that when our great Sages had troubles, they used "segulot," with mezuzot and amulets? Where have we heard of such a thing? Not in the Torah, not in the Mishnah and not in the Talmud. Rather, they prayed and they repented and performed kind deeds. “The iniquity of Eli’s house shall never be purged with sacrifice nor offering.” (Shmuel 1 3:14). The Rabbis ask how is it that Abaye and Rava, who were from the line of Eli, lived long lives? They answer that Rava learned much Torah and performed many kind deeds. “A living Torah and lovingkindness” have the power to ward off a decree as harsh as dying young. Torah learning is certainly a genuine spiritual aid.