First of all, I perhaps need to explain why I write what I write here. Really, it seems to clear that with regards to everything that I write on this subject, nothing can really be done now, at least not directly. There are many reasons for this, which I can’t go into here, but really one should understand that the only solution is prayer, Torah, maasim tovim, etc. However, there will come a time when something can be done, just as Shimon ben Shetach did, and so too Eliyahu HaNavi, and others throughout the generations. This is inevitable, because Hashem created the world, and created sorcerers also. He puts all their thoughts in their heads, and He nullifies them or makes them succeed, depending on the merits or lack thereof of the generation. Even though they may fight against Hashem, they can’t win, because the odds are against them… However, with that said, we need to guard ourselves in the meantime and to be in simcha, because the Sitra Achra loves depression and despair. And then when the time comes, we will know what to do.
A bachur yeshiva and sorcerer
My familiarity with this subject began around twenty years. A chavruta of mine related the following incident about his sister, who lived next to a yeshiva in a certain yeshuv. A bachur from the yeshiva took interest in her, and she was speaking to him at the entrance to her home. After this conversation, she closed the door and went into the kitchen. While busy in the kitchen she noticed that the aforementioned bachur went into the yard in front of her home. He buried something in the ground and walked away. After he left, she went into the yard to search for what he buried. In the end, to her shock, she found an amulet buried in the ground with shemot hatumah (impure names – e.g. names of demons). She took this to a kabbalist who worked on nullifying the sorcery of the bachur. Later on, the bachur tried the same stunt, and she took the second amulet to the kabbalilst to nullify it. Needless to say, she didn’t fall in love with the guy and certainly didn’t marry him. What’s a bachur doing with black magic anyways? Wearing a kepa, learning Torah most of the day. It perhaps was almost possible to think that he was a tzaddik. Who would have known really, if he hadn’t been caught red-handed?
“The licentiousness and the sorcery destroyed everything” (Mishnah — Sotah 48a)
Am Yisrael encountered sorcery throughout the generations. Yaakov Avinu’s father-in-law Lavan was the biggest sorcerer in the world. He was under Lavan’s auspices for some 20 years, a period in which he was more or less enslaved, as in brought in the Passover Haggadah, that Lavan wanted to destroy Yaakov completely – this in spite of his having married his two daughters. But Lavan didn’t really have any mercy on his own family either. It’s brought in ancient sources (Targum Yonatan; Tanchuma 12) that Lavan’s “terafim,” a word which commentators have always toiled to understand, were in fact the decapitated “talking heads” of his own firstborn sons. He would use them for divination purposes. As we shall see, this form of divination is far from dead.
In Egypt too, Am Yisrael were enslaved to Pharaoh, the greatest sorcerer in the world at the time. It’s brought in the Zohar that through sorcery, Pharaoh basically insured that Am Yisrael would be eternally enslaved. Thus we say in the Passover Haggadah that if Hashem hadn’t redeemed us from Egypt, we would have been enslaved until this day. Only through Hashem performing a great miracle did he free us from the power of Pharaoh’s sorcery. Also in Egypt, the Jews were sent out to the desert to gather straw to make bricks, and they would make piles of straw to take back to the city. The sorcerers would then create a desert whirlwind which would come and blow their straw away. The punishment for not having enough straw was that they would take the Jewish children and use them in place of bricks. Is it a coincidence that they used children, just like Lavan? Moreover, seemingly the creation of the whirlwind may have been precisely with this aim, as a pretext to take their children and murder them.
Amalek also were known as great sorcerers. It’s brought that the reason that Hashem commanded Am Yisrael to also kill their animals was because the Amalekites would morph themselves into animals to avoid being killed. The Torah gives the unprecedented commandment of not only annihilating the seed of Amalek, but also a negative commandment not to forget to annihilate them. Thus, by just passively not killing Amalek, we’re actually violating a negative commandment. Perhaps not coincidentally, the commandment to kill sorcerers is similarly framed – “Do not allow a sorceress to live” (Shemot 22:17). Really this is because sorcerers are so evil that nothing can really be done with them except to kill them – that’s their Tikkun. Having sold themselves out completely to the Sitra Achra for selfish and nefarious purposes, they’ll stop at nothing, and couldn’t be expected to even have regrets. They’re in the same category of low-life’s like serial killers, except that sorcerers hope and expect not to get caught, even when committing murder, whether physically or through their sorcery, by causing people illness and suffering, bar minan.
The sin of the golden calf was through sorcery. It’s brought in the Zohar, that if Aharon HaKohen had just placed the gold he received on the ground after having received it, it would haven’t turned into the golden calf. This would have been enough to nullify the sorcery. For a similar reason, there is a custom according to the kabbalah to place the natlah on the countertop between having filled it with water and spilling the water on the hands. This is only after sleep, however, when the grasp of the Sitra Achra is at its peak. In any case, in the story of the golden calf we are introduced to the character of the Erev Rav (the Mixed Multitude), led by Bilaam’s two sons Yunus and Yumbrus, who attempt to bring their grandfather Beor back to life by attaching his soul to the calf. In this way they fooled Am Yisrael by having the calf talk and walk about and eat grass. See Shaar Pesukim, Parashat Ki Tisa for more. This is an important point to remember, however: the Erev Rav began by using sorcery, and they continue to control us to this day primarily by means of sorcery…
Incidentally, what happened to Egyptian sorcery? It is known that still in the time of Hazal that sorcery still existed and was still considered very harmful. Thus the saying of Hazal, that demons are common, but not so harmful, but sorcery is harmful, but not so common. It’s brought in Shabbat 104b that a certain Ben Stada (often identified as the Christian messiah, called henceforth Yeshu, an acronym for “may his name and memory be obliterated”) smuggled the secrets of sorcery out of Egypt by carving them into his skin. [Incidentally, this passage was edited out of most versions of the Talmud, for obvious reasons. It is, however, found in the Steinsaltz edition.]. In any case, he succeeded in introducing Egyptian sorcery to the Jewish people in his day, seemingly [if he was Yeshu] the beginning of a religion that would bring darkness to the world for the next 2,000 years. (Even if Ben Stada wasn’t Yeshu, Yeshu himself was, in any case, found guilty of sorcery.) It’s known that their priests would also practice sorcery, only they would call it “white magic,” as if becoming bound to demons and satanic forces could somehow be made clean. This created an entire theme in Western culture. See for instance the Wizard of Oz, with its so-called “good witch” and wicked witch, and the “Wizard of Oz” himself. In fact, the word “wizard” connotes one who practices sorcerer for “benevolent” purposes (for Christian purposes, this often meant harming Jews).
“Don’t give from your seed to be passed to Molech” (Vayikra 18:21). It’s brought that Molech, rather than being a form of idolatry, was in fact a form of sorcery that people would give their children over to in order to pass them through fire. It’s a matter of dispute whether the children would literally be burned to death however. But the Jews in the First Temple period also adopted idolatrous rites of burning their own children outright, something which they learned from the idolatrous nations which the Assyrians had exiled to Israel, or perhaps from other sources as well.
”Rabbi Yochanan said: Why is its named called ‘Keshafim’ – that they contradict the Heavenly Assembly” (Sanhedrin 67b)
It’s brought that there are two types of “sorcery” that were used in Egypt. One is called in scripture “LaTeHeM” – this is the work of demons. The other is called “LaHaTeHeM” – this is the work of sorcery. Really, however, they’re both sorcery, only that one employs demons, by binding them by oaths and the like, and the other uses other methods of sorcery without the employ of demons. Therefore, the use of sorcery is not always dependent on demons.
It’s interesting that Hazal said that licentious and sorcery destroyed everything, as quoted at the beginning of this piece. We’re usually taught that Idolatry, licentiousness, and murder were the cause of the destruction of the First Temple, and that gratuitous hatred and evil gossip destroyed the Second Temple. But nowhere is sorcery mentioned. It’s possible to understand this, that sorcery is really inclusive of all the above sins: Idolatry, as is known; licentiousness, as it’s known that this was also part of their rituals, as Bilaam accomplished his sorcery by raping his donkey. Also sorcerers would often cast spells in order to cause women to fall in love with them, even married women. Likewise, they could and would murder people with their sorcery. And all of this came about through the great, murderous hatred that they had of their fellow man. Spreading evil gossip goes hand-in-hand with the attempts to de-humanize and destroy people in general, as witnessed millennia later with the Nazis, also known for their deep ties with black magic.
In the time of Purim as well, Haman and his wife Zeresh, the greatest sorcerers of their times rose up to destroy the Jewish people. It’s important to point out that these people were far from naïve victims of misunderstanding or misinformation. As is brought in Shaar HaKavanot, on the kavanot of Purim, the entire purpose of Haman was to replace the Jewish people with himself, to essentially hijack the Shechinah (Divine presence), so to speak. This was also the goal of Yeshu, and all anti-semites throughout the generations, who almost inevitably were also sorcerers. Thus, we have the source of “replacement theology” – sorcery itself.
Some 1,500 years later, Rabbi Yehuda HaHasid, a contemporary of the Rambam, wrote the book Sefer Hasidim, which is full of antidotes against sorcery and sorcerers. In a number of places, he discusses how to deal with “damagers” of the public, meaning sorcerers (including Jewish ones) who deliberately cause harm to people.
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov brings in the Aleph-Bet book and in Likutey Moharan that fires are caused by a multitude of sorcery and by the extinguishing of the light of Tzaddikim, for example if a Tzaddik wasn’t eulogized enough.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Lubavitch Chasidut, in his final days was fleeing from Napoleon. On one occasion he forgot a personal item in a place he had fled from and, despite the danger involved, made the effort to return there in order to recover it. When asked why he made such an effort, he replied that if Napoleon had a personal item of his, he can easily locate him through sorcery. Therefore, he had to return to recover it. Napoleon himself attempted to annihilate the Jews spiritually through assimilation. He tried to start a phony Sanhedrin in order to basically erase the Torah from existence, besides his other evil decrees promulgated against the Jews.
To return to the subject of the “terefim” of Lavan. It is brought in Shaar Pesukim, Parashat Vayeitzei, a long drush on the subject of sorcery. In short, the sefirah of Tiferet is divided into three parts: 1. From the throat to the chest; 2. From the chest to the navel; 3. From the navel down to the rest of the torso. Now, the top third is connected to Leah, and the bottom third to Rachel. However, the middle third is, as it were, shared between them. Thus the heels of Leah enter the crown of Rachel, and this place is called the “beit hatoref” because Yesod of Ema ends in the chest of Z”A, and is revealed in the second third of Tiferet. However, this place is the place of yenika of the sitra achra also.
That’s about it for now. Next time, bezrat Hashem, we’ll discuss how this practically applies today.