Sunday, January 29, 2006

Parsha Chabura Va'Eira:Understanding Kishuf and Black Magic

This week's shiur was about understanding exactly what kishuf is.

The chumsh tells us that Pharoah’s magicians used kishuf/black magic in order to imitate the mofsim that Moshe did. The question is, is there any meaning to black magic or is it just a bunch of sheker.
There are 2 mehalchim found in the Rishonim/Seforim.

1) The first mehalech is found in Sefer HaChinuch (Mitvah 65), the Ramban (Parshas Shoftim 18:9 ) and the Nefesh HaChaim (Sha’ar 3 Perek 12).
The gemara in Sanhedrin (67b) discusses the idea of kishuf. The gemara says, it is called kishuf because the act of kishuf contradicts ("machish") the events that go on in shamayim (a loose translation of "pamalya shel ma’alah"). The Chinuch explains that HKBH set up the world to run according to the laws of nature. HKBH also created the mazalos and malachim whose job is to control the laws of nature. This is the p’shat that every blade of grass is controlled by a malach. However, it is possible to subvert these laws of nature. The Chinuch describes that one can take two types of mazalos and mix them together to create a third mazal. This new mazal will have certain kochos to enable you to do things against the natural laws of the world. This is the essence of kishuf. The reason HKBH said that it was assur is because usually the kishuf produces a harmful result. Also, using kishuf is considered contradicting the heavens because you are going against the natural order of creation that HKBH set up to run the world. The Ramban in Shoftim (18:9) says the same basic idea although he describes the process a little differently.

The Nefesh HaChaim adds in one important point. The gemara in Sanhedrin (67b) says that the posuk "Ain Od Milvado" teaches us that ultimately one has the koach to nullify kishuf. The Nefesh HaChaim explains that this means that ultimately everything is controlled by HKBH. Kishuf does not give one the ability to go against Hashem. All kishuf is, is a mechanism to use the kochos hatumah that HKBH put in this world. Therefore, by truly believing "Ain Od Milvado" and having emunah shlaima that everything comes from Hahsem, you can defeat the kochos of kishuf.

2) The second mehalach is the Rambam. The Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim (Perek 37) and Hil Avoda Zara (11:16) says that kishuf is sheker and hevel. If one believes in the powers of kishuf you are a fool and a simpleton. According to the Rambam what is the issur of kishuf? The Rambam in Sefer HaMitzvos (Lo Saseh 32) explains that the sorcerers would decieve people by playing sleight of hand tricks. This is called "achizas ha’enayim". One example he brings is where you pretend to take a coin out of someone’s mouth. These slight of hand tricks are assur mid'oreisa and involve an onesh of malkos.
The problem is that the Rambam paskens (Avadah Zara 11:15) that if you perform kishuf then you are chayav misa. This implies there is a difference between kishuf and achizas ha’enayim. The way I understand the Rambam is that if you do an act which people think is witchcraft, (even though you are really deceiving them), then you are chayav misa. However, if you just deceive them by sleight of hand tricks, but you don’t do an act which people associate with kishuf (eg. the example the Rambam brings in Sefer HaMitzvos quoted above) , then you are only chayav malkos.

[Note: There is a whole discussion in the mefarshim and poskim how to understand Shittas HaRambam. A nafka mina l’ma’aseh is whether one is allowed to do magic tricks. The Chachmas Odom (YD 179) is machmir and Rav Moshe (YD 4:13) seems to be meikel. V’ain kan mokom l’ha’arich.]
According to the Rambam, exactly what did Chartumei Mitzrayim do? The Sha’arei Ahron quotes many opinions that it was all achizas einayim (sleight of hand tricks). Among those that hold this way are Rav Sa’adiah Gaon, Abarbanel, Ibn Ezra, and the Malbim. The Malbim has a very interesting pshat on the taninim. Ayin sham.

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