Mysticism – Indolence – Fraud

[From "Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah" – Parashat Ki Tetze 5769 – translated by R. Blumberg]

Question: People avail themselves of all sorts of mystical channels to solve their problems: astrology, praying at the graves of the righteous, reading tea leaves, mystics and miracle workers, energy transfer, battling the evil eye, etc. Is there any truth to these things? People claim that mysticism can solve all your ills, and the fact is that it works! What is certain is that many people are attracted to these things. After all, mystical Torah secrets exist in this world! Not everything is rational in life!

Answer: Our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook, said that not everything people say is true, and that only the fool believes everything. At the same time, you can’t deny everything. Some of it is true. One thing is certain: the spread of such things does enormous damage to mankind (Sichot Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah, Bereshit pp. 310-313). Indeed, the result is great harm, involving man’s becoming accustomed to indolence and idleness, fantasies and illusions, and to distancing himself from hard work. Our Sages taught us the way of the Torah, that “Man is born for toil” (Iyov 5:7), as Ramchal explains in Mesillat Yesharim (Chapter 9). Everything is toil. Even prayer is toil, and not sensory reverie. Even spiritual elevation is toil, and not a free gift of pleasure from a charismatic personality…

In a word, people have created an alternative Torah-bypass route, devoid of toil. There are several ways to tell a fraud, and one way is monetary. A true healer does not seek money from the unfortunate. Rather, his goal is to be benevolent. Quite the contrary, he distributes money to them. You can tell false mysticism when they demand money for holy water, standing bank orders in exchange for rectification of the soul, and even your political vote in exchange for all the blessings of this world and the next.

They’re big experts in “Kabbalah” [Hebrew: “receiving”] and what they receive is money, and usually they hand out no tax receipt, and many of them have been sued by the tax authorities.

Wisdom is generally lacking as well. There’s nothing holy about them, and they carry no approbation from the great halachic authorities. Undoubtedly, people are attracted to this out of curiosity, idleness, or disappointment with science. Obviously, I’m not talking here about blessed scientific curiosity, but about unhealthy curiosity. Magic is always captivating. Without a doubt, science occasionally disappoints us. Certainly, it doesn’t have answers for everything, and there are cracks in its surface. Yet we mustn’t make it out to be worse than it is.

One can have no claims against the child for having a childish mentality, for believing in magic. Yet people have to get over that. They have to grow up and shake off that mentality. Alas the flight from common sense cuts across national and sectarian boundaries.

Does mysticism work? Certainly! This is because 80% of illnesses cure themselves spontaneously. A third of pains disappear with the help of sugar-pills and placebos. To verify the efficacy of a treatment, you need a controlled, random study, being carried out identically in two different places. Certainly the mystical secrets of the Torah really exist, yet none of the things described above fit that category. The secrets of the Torah constitute profound wisdom which deals with the most profound questions: G-d’s rule over the world, the meaning of life, reward and punishment, etc. By contrast, all of this nonsense and fraud is enormously superficial. The problem is not that the practitioners in question are not rational. Certainly there are things that transcend the intellect. Yet none of the things described above are secrets of the Torah. They simply are not Torah, but another pathway, an alternative religion. Instead of serving God, instead of mitzvot, they invent things that are not part of the Torah, and that sometimes diverge from the Torah.

Certainly our Sages mentioned paying visits to the graves of the righteous, yet even the dead admit that this is not the main thing in the Torah. The evil eye is mentioned as well, but not in the shallow meaning that people attribute to it (see Ein Aya, Berachot 20).

Certainly Ruach Ha-Kodesh - Divine intuition - exists, but it does not easily rest upon a person, but only following the protracted journey described in Mesillat Yesharim, consisting of achieving nine distinct spiritual levels, each one higher than the one preceding it: caution, alacrity, wholesomeness, separation from sin, purity, saintliness, humility, the fear of sin, and holiness.

It is well-known that many people believe in astrology, the evil eye and reading tea leaves. Yet we, disciples of Avraham and disciples of Moshe, say, “Have complete faith in Hashem, your G-d” (Devarim 18:13), and gradually, the Torah’s light will spread.