Tuesday, January 24, 2006

How did the חרטומים turn blood into water?

The answer would seem to be that magic really worked in those days. Now the question becomes why did it stop working?

The answer is that to enable free choice Hashem has to create balance in the world. In a world where there is נבואה there needs to be a counterbalancing force, otherwise belief in Hashem would be coerced. Therefore, magic worked.

We find this idea expressed in a number of other places as well.

The gemara in Shabbos comments that כפה עליהם הר כגיגת by matan torah. The obvious question is didn't they say נעשה ונשמע, meaning that they excepted the Torah willingly? The Meshech Chochma answers that the gemara is meant to be taken allegorically. The revelation when Bnei Yisrael left Egypt, krias yam suf, and matan torah was so great that it was as if Hashem forced them to accept the Torah. The revelation was so great that they could not say no, Hashem's presence in the world and Torah's importance were self understood like the sun is shining. They understood that if they did not accept the Torah the world would be destroyed, not as a threat but as a fact, as reality. In other words, their free choice was taken away by the tremendous revelation.

The Anshei Knesses Hagedola asked Hashem to be mevatel the yetzer hara for avoda zara at the beginning of the second beis hamikdash and Hashem agreed. However, as a consequence, נבואה ended as well. נבואה can not exist in the world without a counterbalancing force.

Likewise, magic cannot exist without a counterbalancing force like נבואה and miracles. Since we don't have these magic doesn't work as well.

This idea also explains how/why Hashem hardened Pharoah's heart. The revelation of the makos took away his free choice, the hardening of his heart restored that balance.


Gandalf said...

Of course, Rambam held differently...

bluke said...

Actually R' Yaakov Kamenetsky in Emes L'Yaakov claims that this is the pshat in the Rambam as well. That when the Rambam wrote that there these things don't exits, work etc. he was talking about in his time.

Manny said...

This actually raises a serious problem for a present-day, rationalist thinker. You have mentioned the common theme that to preserve free will, there had to be an alternative to the revealed truths of H' via Torah, nevuah and nissim, that alternative being magic and avodah zarah. This latter alternative had power in its own right, and was not merely the superstitious prattling of primitive people.

For the last 2000 years or so, after nevuah ceased, there has only been the counterbalancing forces of superstition and mesorah.

So what do we have today? Our "revealed truths" are now essentially those of science. While not necessarily opposed to the religio-mystical, science is based on mechanistic principles for which God is irrelevant. And what is the "counter balancing force" to science (or - perhaps more accurately - scientism)? There is none! Free-choice is much more difficult when the only alternative is emunah p'shutah!

I have occasionally heard the argument that "mesorah" by its very nature is indeed a powerful counterbalance, but I would counter that this is apples and oranges; science has constant and continual revelation, mesorah does not, notwithstanding popular statements implying that God's will is continually being revealed to those engaged in Talmud Torah.

Bill Selliger said...

How do you know that magic doesn't work nowadays? Maybe there's just no one around that knows how to do it?

Shmuel said...

How could Reb Yaakov have written that? Rambam writes that belief in witchcraft "is false, and it is that which idolaters used to fool the peoples of the world so that they would follow after them. It is not proper for Israel who are wise to be draw after this nonsense and to imagine that there is any efficacy in it." (from "Umadua lo Yeresem" by Asher Benzion Buchman in Hakirah, Vol. 2, Fall 2005, p. 18 regarding the dispute on magic between the Rambam and Ramban but with a subtle argument against the banners of Slifkin today). Rambam felt there was no truth in magic for all time, not just in his time. There's nothing in his writings which would suggest Rabbi Kaminetzky's pshat.

gandalf said...

I am aware of what R' Yaakov wrote. It is a tragic and classic example of Charedi revisionism, and demonstrates either intellectual dishonesty or a thorough unfamiliarity with Rambam. Coming from R' Yaakov, one of the most "normal" Gedolim, it is all the more distressing.