Miraculous Remedies and Wonder Working

Cure-Seeking through Blessings and Miraculous Remedies

How should we view the practice some people have of approaching rabbis
with requests for healing, miraculous remedies, and amulets?
At “Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav,” under Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook, there was
no such dealing in the supernatural, and one did not go to request
magical remedies or blessings from rabbis. No doubt, there is a place
for supplication prayers and for receiving the blessings of prominent
Torah scholars; where there is Torah greatness, there is certainly
divine assistance and unique providence. Such providence, though, is
not to be confused with an independent talent for wonder working.
Rather, it results from the spiritual might of the Torah knowledge
which the scholar possesses.

In general, it is possible to say that the more Torah greatness and
perfect faith one possesses, the less need one feels for resorting to
the supernatural; where Torah knowledge is lacking there is a greater
tendency toward wonder working, blessings, miracles, and amulets.
Indeed, it is no coincidence. Man possesses a yearning for the
spiritual, for things that reside beyond his own mundane physical
realm. He harbors a thirst for the living God and for closeness to his
Maker. When one studies Torah and senses that it is the source from
which he quenches his thirst, he no longer feels the need to visit
wonder-workers. He appeals directly to his Creator, the Ultimate
Source of all things. When, though, one lacks Torah knowledge and
faith, one feels the need for conjurers of miracles and wonders.
Because he finds no spiritual sustenance in Torah study, he searches
for it in the miraculous. He does not quite comprehend the
spirituality that exists in Torah greatness. He feels the need for
wonders, powerful spiritual flashes, in order to strengthen his faith.
This is reflected in the words, “Miracles and wonders in the plains of
the children of Ham” – in a place of darkness, lacking genuine Torah
insight, a need for spiritual flashes makes itself felt. One, though,
who is full of Torah, whose Torah study is the great central spiritual
channel through which he becomes filled with a sense of closeness to
God – a person like this feels no need for wonders.

In addition, one must be aware of the fact that the capacity for
spiritual insight exists not only with Torah personages and scholars.
Even non-Jews possess such powers. Such capacities, though, lack
exactness, for what we are dealing with here is not prophecy, but
general insight. While such insight is sometimes accurate, it is
preferable not to become dependent upon it, for it can also cause
damage.

It is told, regarding Rabbi Zusha, one of the giants of Hassidism,
that he had a follower – a Hassid – who sought his advice with regard
to everything related to God’s service, and would even give him
redemptive money as a form of atonement. One time, the Hassid came to
the house of the rabbi and found that the rabbi was out. He asked
Rabbi Zusha’s wife where he had gone and she replied that Rabbi Zusha
had gone to his rabbi, the Maggid of Mezritch. The man was surprised
to hear that Rabbi Zusha, his rabbi, also had a rabbi, and said to
himself, “Why should I go to a disciple when I can go to the rabbi.”
Yet, from the moment he began frequenting the Maggid he experienced
misfortune in all respects. The Hassid went to Rabbi Zusha and asked,
“How is it that when I sought your advice I succeeded, yet when I
sought the advice of your rabbi who is greater than you I encountered
misfortune?” Rabbi Zusha answered, “I will tell you. When you did not
search out the best possible rabbi in order to give him your
redemptive money, God did not make so thorough a check to see if you
are a good and upright person deserving of His blessing. But, when you
searched out the best possible rabbi in order to give him your
redemptive money, God began to inspect you as well, to see if you are
a good and upright person deserving of His blessing.” This tale
contains a profound lesson. A person who has a rabbi who understands
him and guides and councils him in his service of God merits heavenly
blessing. If, though, a person is not truly connected to a rabbi, yet
merely goes to him in order to receive a blessing and displays no
sincere desire to change and improve, God inspects him more closely.

All hardships that befall an individual befall him in order to perfect
him and direct him in his service of God. When a person goes to a
rabbi who does not know him, the rabbi tells him to say a few chapters
from the Book of Psalms, light candles, etc. Perhaps this will be of
some benefit to him, perhaps not, for the rabbi’s advice is just that
– advice. It is not prophecy. This is not the way for a person to deal
with his difficulties. And while it is still best to refrain from
denying this path to a person who does not possess a healthy
connection to the Torah and whose connection to rabbis and blessings
is what fills his entire spiritual world, all the same, a person
should be aware that the main channel for clinging to God is through
the study of Torah and closeness to a rabbi who provides him with
guidance regarding his service of God. This is the path taken by
people of Torah, and it is the healthiest approach to serving God.

Miraculous Remedies and Amulets

Having addressed the practice some people have to request healing and
blessings from rabbis, let us continue and deal with the phenomenon of
miraculous remedies and amulets. It is not advisable to seek out such
supernatural devices, despite the fact that they sometimes contain
concrete solutions to problems. This is not the path that the Torah
has chosen. This path does not appear anywhere in the entire Oral or
Written Tradition. Often, such things are no more than a hoax and a
deception. According to Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, the Rambam, for
instance, the effect of such practices is no more than psychological.
Yet, even if we were to accept their legitimacy, this is not the
correct path. For this reason, the Sages teach us that when
difficulties befall a person he must reflect upon and examine his
ways, to check his behavior, to repair and refine his service of God.
Instead of seeking out short cuts through supernatural and miraculous
solutions, one should make a thorough spiritual mending.

Hassidism thus teaches the following story: A villager hired a tutor
to teach his son Torah. When it became known to the father that this
innocent teacher was in fact a secret mystic, he pleaded with him to
teach him the language of the birds. Initially the teacher refused,
but the father insisted and threatened to make public the fact that he
was a mystic. Finally the teacher gave in, and agreed to teach the
father the language of the birds. After mastering this, the father
would go about listening to the birds. If the man heard the birds say,
“Whoever buys flour today will gain,” he would buy, “Whoever sells
wheat today will gain,” he would sell. And so, in this way, the
villager became wealthy because of the birds. One day he heard the
birds say, “This villager will die in thirty days.” Startled, the
villager turned to the mystic and asked him what to do. “I told you,”
said the mystic, “that you were better off not knowing the language of
the birds. True, if you had remained ignorant of the language of the
birds you would have lost a bit of money here and there, but this
would have served as atonement for you and you would have continued to
live. Now, though, there is no way of escaping your fate.”

This tale too contains a profound message. “Be innocent before God
your Lord” (Deuteronomy 18:13). If trouble befalls a person, it is
actually for his own good. One must deal with it and learn how to
improve his actions. Yet, when one avoids difficulties through the use
of supra-logical actions, this does not mean that he has solved the
true problem. Even when supernatural practices succeed – and quite
often what appears to be success is no more than an illusion – it is
likely that this is only a partial solution. Yet, when one does not
solve the problem from its foundation, it is bound to reawaken and
burst forth from another direction.

In summary, the healthy way of serving God is through studying His
Torah, through adhering to the Torah, and clinging to the Torah
scholars who guide us according to the word of God. The more one grows
in Torah, the less one deals in supernatural devices. Therefore, one
must seek guidance from a rabbi concerning proper service of God. This
relationship becomes the true source of one’s blessing. If a person
confronted with difficulties attempts to bypass them via supernatural
exercises and amulets, he will not solve the true and fundamental
problem, and it may reappear in some other situation.

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