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 “Yeshiva 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 room for supplication prayers and receiving the blessings of prominent Torah scholars; where there is Torah greatness, there is certainly Divine assistance and unique providence. Such providence, however, 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 complete faith one possesses, the less need one feels to resort to the supernatural; where Torah knowledge is lacking there is a greater tendency toward wonder-working, blessings, miracles, and amulets. This is quite evident, and 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 which quenches his thirst, he no longer feels the need to visit wonder-workers. He appeals directly to his Creator, the ultimate source of all. 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 lands of the children of Ham” – in a place of darkness, lacking genuine Torah insight, a need for spiritual flashes makes itself felt. A person 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, 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 he was not at home. He asked Rabbi Zusha’s wife where he had gone and she replied that he had gone to visit his rabbi, the Maggid of Mezritch. The man was surprised to hear that Rabbi Zusha, his rabbi, also had a rabbi. He said to himself, “Why should I go to a disciple when I can go to the rabbi himself?” 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 your redemptive money, God did not make such a thorough 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 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, 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 a person are meant to perfect 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 for him, maybe 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 best not to deny such a 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, nevertheless, one should be aware that the main channel for clinging to God is through the study of Torah and closeness to a rabbi who provides guidance in 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 of some people 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 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 profit,” he would buy, “Whoever sells wheat today will profit,” he would sell. And thus, the villager became wealthy as a result of the birds. One day he heard the birds say, “This villager will die in thirty days.” Startled, he 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 wo
uld have lost a bit of money here and there, but this would have served as atonement for your sins, and you would have continued to live. Now, though, there is no way of escaping your fate.”
This tale also 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 supernatural measures, this does not mean that he has solved the true problem. Even when supernatural practices do succeed – and quite often what appears to be success is no more than an illusion – it is likely to be 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, adhering to its laws, and clinging to 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 by means of supernatural exercises and amulets, he will not solve the true and fundamental problem, and it possibly will reappear in some other situation.