What does Judaism say about the existence of black magic? Is this a real power or just an illusion?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
The Torah accepts that magic and sorcery do exist. Along with nature's normal way of functioning, God also created a way for humans to manipulate it - by the means of magic. Although God does not permit mankind to use sorcery, He had to allow this deviant path to exist in order to give mankind an element of choice. Otherwise we would lack the unique spiritual trait of free will.
However, the Torah prohibits the practice of sorcery, fortune-telling, and divination -- via chance, necromancy, cards, or other fortune-telling paraphernalia. (Exodus 22:17; Leviticus 19:26,31; Deuteronomy 18:10-11)
Maimonides writes that it is forbidden to perform acts and claim that they are done through supernatural forces, because this is what the idol-worshippers used to do -- to bring "compelling proof" for their idol worship, via magic and fortune-telling. (Laws of Idolatry 11:16)
According to Rabbi A.Y. Kook ("Da'at Kohen" 69), it is forbidden to perform magic or fortune-telling. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein also discouraged doing magic tricks, but wrote that it would be permitted if the magician informed people of how the trick was performed beforehand.
To learn more, read "Faith and Folly" by Rabbi Yaakov Hillel (Feldheim.com).
We had a discussion in our class in religious school if it's right to ask God to help us with everyday activities, like getting to school safely, doing well on a test, getting a summer job, or getting over a common cold. Some kids felt it's improper; God has bigger things to worry about. They feel that somebody should only pray for things like someone seriously ill, people who lost their homes, or to protect Israel from terrorists.
I thought that it's okay to ask God for anything, but don't know what to answer the others who said it's disrespectful to go to a great King for little things. Is there a correct answer for this or should everyone just do what they think is right?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
The great tzaddikim, pious Jews of old, were known to constantly beseech God's intervention in every aspect of their lives. One writes that this is what sets aside the Jewish nation; that we are constantly praying for success in all we do!
Your friends are correct in their claim that the subjects of a great king would not approach him for what seem to be trivial matters. (I once approached a very powerful, wealthy Jew to use his influence to take care of a relatively small issue. His response was: "Rabbi, you don't use a cannon to kill a mosquito!")
Judaism, however, sides with you when it comes to approaching God. This is based on a couple of ideas. Firstly, from God's perspective there's no difference between a big or small matter. The level of God's interaction is the same whether it's to cure a common cold or a more serious illness. Nachmanides (12th century Spain), in his classic commentary to the Torah, says there's no difference, from God's perspective, between splitting the sea and curing a cold. It's only from our perception that it seems different, since for us one action is outside the laws of nature and one is working within. Nachmanides explains that "nature" is simply what God has allowed us to get used to; "miracles" are events we're not used to, but for God Himself miracles and nature are all the same.
Secondly, Judaism believes that God already is involved in the small events of our lives. This is a corollary of the first idea: Nachmanides writes that it is the very foundation of our Torah that all that transpires in our lives, big or small, is the Hand of God.
Since even the relatively small, insignificant things in our lives transpire with God's involvement, it would certainly follow that there's nothing disrespectful in asking Him to have success in those very matters. On the contrary, by praying for success you are showing the Al-mighty that you believe in His involvement, that God's Hand is with you throughout your daily activities. There is no greater honor to God than that!
Another, deeper aspect of this is based upon our relationship with God. God told the Jewish people before receiving the Torah, "You are children to the Lord your God." We, as Jews, are to have a loving relationship with God like children. A love relationship is built on the small things, not on large gifts. Imagine a great a powerful king sitting on his throne, protected by his honor guards, with world leaders standing in line to ask the king's favor. Just then a small boy walks by the guards and through the crowd of dignitaries and asks the king for a lollypop; the king doesn't rebuke the boy; instead he smiles, hands him the candy and gives him a hug. Who is that boy?! How dare he bother the king for a measly lollypop?! Nobody asks that question because, obviously, he's the king's son!
I’ve been married now for almost a year and my wife is starting to get impatient. He says that I’m selfish and don’t know how to give. I see that in many ways she is right. I grew up in a very privileged lifestyle, where everything was provided on a silver platter. I was always on the receiving end.
Now I’m afraid my marriage won’t survive if I don’t change my approach. Please help.
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
The "need to give" is a basic part of human nature.
Imagine being born into great wealth and given a monthly allowance of $10,000. You'd never have to work a day in your life. You could play golf, go shopping, travel, lie on the beach. Everything easy, everything given to you. Sounds like "the good life," doesn't it?!
Actually, it's not. Because after awhile, a person would get tired of "taking" all the time. He'd feel worthless and irrelevant. Feelings begin to take hold: What's my contribution? What can I do to help?
The Talmud says there are four types of people "who are considered dead even while they are alive." The common denominator of these people is that (due to circumstantial limitations) they are unable to give.
Giving is the foundation of any relationship. When two people are focused on giving to one another, then the relationship flows in two directions – connecting, linking and forging the bond. But when both are focused on taking, then the dynamic is pulling in opposite directions – creating strain and tension.
In Israel, the Dead Sea is famous as the lowest point on planet Earth (396 meters below sea level). That means water flows into the Dead Sea but no water ever flows out. This inability to "give" is why it's called the Dead Sea. (It’s no coincidence that Sodom – the paradigm of selfishness – is located next to the Dead Sea.)
So in practicality, how do you become a "giver?" The answer is simple: Start giving. Some people say "I can only give to someone that I love." This is incorrect. The Hebrew word for "give" is hav. It is the same root as ahava, which means "love." The Jewish idea is that giving is what leads to love. When you give to another, you invest part of yourself. The recipient then become more precious to you. This is why parents love their children most of all; it is their greatest investment.
So my advice is to start giving. Flowers, washing dishes, a glass of tea, a concerned phone call. Before long, these acts of giving will turn you into a genuine giver!