Thursday, November 17, 2011

Parshat Chayei Sarah - Superstition

Here is a shiur I gave this week to a group in Katamon. It is similar, but different, to the shiur I gave last night on WebYeshiva

I begin with Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" and look at Eliezer's quest to find a wife for Yitzchak. He asks G-d for a sign to help him find a suitable woman. Is it permissible for Jews to rely on signs and omens? Do we view them as help from G-d, involving Him in our lives, or are they considered forbidden Emorite (idolatrous?) practices?

We look at four different approaches in the Rishonim, grouped geographically. Each has a different answer to that question:
Ashkenaz (Rashi/Tosefot)
Cataolonia (Rabbeinu Nissim)
Spain/Egypt (Rambam)
Provence (Raavad, Radak, Baal HaMaor and Meiri)

And the answer I didn't give in the shiur - what should we do today - here is the Shulchan Aruch:

Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 179:4

בית תינוק ואשה אף על פי שאין ניחוש יש סימן. הגה: ... יש אומרים דאדם מותר לעשות לו סינן בדבר שיבא לעתיד כמו שעשה אליעזר עבד אברהם או יהונתן ויש אוסרין וההולך בתום ובוטח בה' חסד יסובבנו.
A house, a child or a wife, even though they are not divination, can be a sign. [Rema:… Some say that a person is permitted to make for himself a sign for something that will happen in the future, like Eliezer and Yonatan did. Others forbid this. Someone who walks whole-heartedly and trusts in G-d will be surrounded with kindness.

Nedarim 32a
אמר רבי יצחק כל המתמים עצמו הקב"ה מתמים עמו שנאמר (שמואל ב כב) עם חסיד תתחסד עם גבר תמים תתמם ... אמר רבי כל המנחש לו נחש... משום מדה כנגד מדה תני אהבה בריה דרבי זירא כל אדם שאינו מנחש מכניסין אותו במחיצה שאפי' מלאכי השרת אין יכולין ליכנס בתוכה.
Rabbi Yitzchak said: Anyone who acts whole-heartedly G-d acts with him whole-heartedly, as the verse says, “With a kind person He will act kindly; with a whole-hearted person He will act whole-heartedly” (II Shmuel 22:26). Rebbi said: Anyone who divines, is subject to divination… he gets what he deserves. Ahava son of Rebbi Zeira taught: Anyone who does not use divination is brought within a curtain that even the angels are not permitted to enter.

I look forward to your comments.

Here is the audio shiur (and the pdf sheets to download if you want).

Parshat Chayei Sarah - Superstition

(Right click and then 'download as')

Parshat Chayei Sarah - Superstition - source sheet

Your feedback is welcome and appreciated. I would love to continue giving a shiur to this group on a weekly basis, but to do that I would need some kind of sponsorship. If anyone is interested in sponsoring a shiur (either l'ilui nishmat someone, or just for no reason) please contact me.

1 comment:

  1. Those of us who work in computer programming frequently find "roite bindelach" (red strings [tied as bracelets) on the wrists of our Hindu co workers. In their religion it is called "kalava" or "mauli," which translates to "above all." It invokes Brahman (the "above all" of their pantheon, aside from the ultimate unknowable One Deity of whom the gods are but different perceptions), and is worn to ward off evil.

    IMHO, ayin hara was not originally understood in mystical metaphysical-causal terms. Ayin ra is jealousy. Someone who engages in conspicuous consumption or otherwise can be blamed for provoking jealousy in others is abusing what Hashem gave them, and thus should worry about Him revoking the gift.

    Admittedly, I'm jumping from the mishnah's "ayin ra" to adding a hei hayedi'ah, but the similarity is too strong for me to think it's more than just language drift.