Moshe warns against falling under the influence of the very
people the Israelites will dispossess:
When you have come to the land which Hashem, your G-d, gives you, you shall
not learn to imitate the abominations of those nations. There shall not be
found among you one who passes his son or his daughter through the fire, one
that uses divination (KOSEM KESAMIM), a soothsayer (M’ONEN), or an enchanter (U’MENACHESH),
or a sorcerer (U’MECHASHEF); or a charmer (V’CHOVER CHAVER), or one that
consults a ghost (V’SHOEL OV) or a familiar spirit (V’YID’ONI), or a
necromancer (V’DORESH EL HA’METIM). For it is an abomination to Hashem anyone
who does these; and because of these abominations Hashem, your G-d, is driving
them out before you. You shall be wholehearted with Hashem, your G-d. For
these nations, which you are inheriting, listen to soothsayers and diviners;
but as for you, not so has Hashem, your G-d, given you. A prophet from your
midst, from your brethren, like me, shall Hashem, your G-d, raise for you; to
him shall you listen (Devarim 18:9-15).
Our Sages define each of the terms utilized by others to know the future (see
Sifri 171, 172; Sanhedrin 65b; Rashi; Rambam “Laws of Idolatry”, chapter 11):
One that uses divination (KOSEM KESAMIM) “tells the future” using a wand,
sand, stones or an iron mirror.
A soothsayer (M’ONEN) makes plans depending on astrology or
other “fortuitous” times.
An enchanter (U’MENACHESH) decides how to behave based on random
events, such as one’s bread falling from his mouth, a deer [or a black cat!]
crossing his path, or his staff falling from his hand.
A sorcerer (U’MECHASHEF) effects changes by means of
A charmer (V’CHOVER CHAVER) gathers snakes or scorpions or other
creatures to one place.
One that consults a ghost (V’SHOEL OV) causes the dead to speak
from his bosom, while
A familiar spirit (V’YID’ONI) places a bone of the creature yaddoa in his mouth
which then speaks magically.
A necromancer (V’DORESH EL HA’METIM) starves himself, sleeps in
a graveyard or consults a skull in order for the spirit of the dead to
communicate with him.
The Torah cautions us against dabbling in the occult, because
not so has Hashem, your G-d, given you.
“[Hashem does not permit you] to listen to soothsayers and diviners, for behold,
He has caused the Divine Presence to rest on the prophets and the Urim v’Tumim.”
Hashem has a better way for us to be guided, as Sforno (R.
Ovadia ben Yaakov Sforno, c. 1470-c.1550) says:
“The words of the soothsayers and diviners regarding you will not come true, as
the [Sages] said ‘There is no fortune (mazel) for Israel’” (Shabbat 156a) [This
means that Jews do not subscribe to astrology, as they are ruled only by Hashem].
The practices of enchantment were prohibited previously (Vayikra 18:3, 19:26,
31). The punishment for one that consults a ghost or a familiar spirit is death
by stoning (Vayikra 20:27). The Torah also prescribes the death penalty for a
sorcerer (Shemot 22:17), and the Talmud (Sanhedrin 67a-b) derives that the form
of execution is also stoning. Other forms of witchcraft are punished by lashes (Rambam,
“Laws of Idolatry” 11:4, 7, 9, 10, 13). Ramban adds that not only is being a
necromancer prohibited, but so is consulting one. We are to put our wholehearted
trust in Hashem, and listen to the prophet He will send (verses 16-22).
In discussing the sorcerer the Talmud (Sanhedrin 67a-68a) draws a distinction:
only one who “performs an action” is liable for stoning, not one who “captures
the eyesight” (ochez et ha’einayim), which Rashi explains us sleight-of-hand, an
illusion, where one gives the impression of performing magic but is really doing
nothing. Nevertheless, “capturing the eyesight” is forbidden.
Rambam (Sefer HaMitzvot, Negative Commandment # 32) decries this:
“major type of cunning combined with deftness of hand, until it seems to people
that one is doing that which has no truth to it. This is as we often see: they
take a rope and, placing it in the folds of their garment, produces a snake, or
another throws a ring into the air and then produces it from a member of the
[Therefore, many modern day authorities prohibit magic as a form of
entertainment (see R. Ovadia Yosef (1920- ) in Yabi’a Omer, III; Chochmat Adam
(R. Avraham Danzig, 1748-1820), quoted in Pitchei Teshuva (R. Avraham Tzvi
Hirsch Eisenstadt, 1813-1868) on Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah chapter 179.)]
Rabbi Akiva, in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua, illustrates further:
“Two people can pick cucumbers, but one is exempt and one is liable. The one who
does an action is liable, but the one who ‘captures the eyesight’ is exempt.”
This example is taken from an incident involving Rabbi Akiva
himself and Rabbi Eliezer. As our verse says,
you shall not learn to imitate,
meaning that only learning for the purpose of practicing sorcery is forbidden.
However, a judge must learn about forbidden sorcery in order to judge cases that
might come before him. Accordingly, Rabbi Akiva asked, and Rabbi Eliezer
demonstrated picking cucumbers through sorcery. This type of demonstration is
“The laws of sorcery are similar to the laws of Shabbat, in that certain actions
are liable for stoning, certain ones are exempt from stoning but prohibited, and
some are permitted.”
Abaye’s comparison to the laws of Shabbat is instructive. Throughout the week we
harness the natural forces for creativity, but we refrain from doing so on
Shabbat. Perhaps this is why the passage begins
When you have come to the land which Hashem, your G-d, gives you.
In Israel, where every act of human creativity helps to develop the land, we
need to be reminded all the more that our actions must be defined by holiness.
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
Murder in Rio de Janeiro or in Tel Aviv,
which is worse? Well, the Mishnah teaches: "Whoever destroys one Jewish
soul is considered as if he destroyed an entire world" (Sanhedrin 4:5).
Murder is murder is murder.
Two mitzvot associated with homicide -
arei miklat (cities of refuge) and eglah arufah (a heifer whose neck is
broken) - appear in Parashat Shofetim. If we properly establish cities of
refuge, we can avoid the stain to which the Torah refers: "That innocent
blood be not shed in your land which Hashem your God gives you for an
inheritance"(Devarim 19:10). The parallel verse in Parashat Mas'ei speaks
of the Land as polluted by the innocent blood shed upon it.
Two points are noteworthy. First, the
verses relating to these mitzvot emphasize the impact murder has on the
earth and on the Land. Secondly, both arei miklat and eglah arufah are
practiced only in Eretz Yisrael. Ramban (Vayikra 18:25) points out the
apparent anomaly in that the violation of certain prohibitions relating to
personal conduct and not at all dependent on the land have a catastrophic
effect on the Land itself. Included in this category are sexual
immorality, spilling of innocent blood and idolatry. Ramban explains that
already at the world's creation Hashem placed Eretz Yisrael at the center
of the inhabited earth, even though He, of course, is King of the entire
world. Hashem separated Am Yisrael from all the nations, giving us Eretz
Yisrael - His special portion.
Although true that murder is murder
wherever it is perpetrated, one cannot compare someone who sins in his own
backyard to someone who sins in the King's palace. To inhabit God's Holy
Land is Am Yisrael's privilege, a privilege which also bears challenge and
Rabbi Shalom Kurz
Rabbi Shalom Kurz served as rabbi of Congregation Beth Tefilah in London,
Ontario prior to making aliya with his wife and children in 1992.
Currently he teaches limudei kodesh at the Yeshiva Tichonit Mada'it in
Rishon L'Tzion and serves as rabbi of Kehillat Hagivah in Beit Shemesh.
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Roness , Exec. Dir., Aloh Naaleh,
At the OU Center, 22 Keren HaYesod
Tel.(02) 566-7787 ex. 254