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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Plague of Blood – Magician’s Imitation

The Torah states that after God turned the water to blood, the Egyptian magicians performed the same feat. But doesn’t the Torah state explicitly that all the water of the kingdom was turned to blood (Exodus 7:19)? What water was left for the magicians to change?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

It’s a very good question. There are several different possible answers:

(1) It’s possible that not all the water in the country turned to blood. There are varying opinions in the Midrash and commentators regarding this – possibly that the water stored in the Egyptians’ utensils did not change, that only the drinkable water was transformed, or that only visible water turned to blood but not water stored in underground aquifers. (This is implicit from the fact that the Egyptians dug alongside the Nile to retrieve drinking water (Exodus 7:24).) There is another opinion in the Midrash that only the Nile itself turned to blood. There was thus available water for the magicians to transform. (See Shemot Rabbah 9:11, R. Sa’adiah Gaon, Ibn Ezra 7:22, R. Bechaye 7:22, Chizkuni 7:20, Ohr HaChaim 7:22.)

(2) Since the Jews were not affected by the plague, the magicians were able to transform the water sold to them by the Jews (Shemot Rabbah 9:9) or retrieved from the Land of Goshen (Targum Yonatan 7:22, Me’am Lo’ez 9:14).

(3) There is a different possible approach that the water turned to blood for only a short time, shortly after reverting to water. Thus, there was water available for the magicians to transform. In fact, as the Torah describes, the main damage caused by the plague was the death of the fish – which ruined the Egyptians’ primary water supply (see espec. v. 21). And further, the witchcraft-practicing Egyptians may have been happy to drink blood, but they couldn't drink foul water (Chizkuni 7:20, see also Da’at Zekainim 7:18).

Pisces the Fish

A recent article mentioned the astrological sign Pisces the fish, saying that: "Pisceans tend to be on the spacey side, slightly out of touch with the physical world." This struck me as somewhat incongruous to Judaism. I realize you're not endorsing horoscopes, but where should we draw the line between legitimate mystical interpretation of "heavenly signs" and dabbling in pagan nonsense?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The line between "heavenly signs" and "pagan nonsense" is quite clear. We cannot indulge in superstition, chance, luck, horoscopes, etc. (Maimonides - Ta'anit 1:3, Avoda Zara 6:1-2 and 11:4-16)

Although a person is born under an astrological influence, the Jewish approach is not to put much stock in astrology. That's because the Talmud states: "ain mazal l'Yisrael" - by elevating oneself spiritually, a Jew can literally change their human nature, and thus are able to override their original astrological pattern.

And yet, the spacey nature of fish is mentioned in the Midrash ("Sifri D'Agadeta" Esther 3). - that Adar being represented with fish,

When Haman drew lots to determine decree the best time to destroy the Jews, he was happy that it fell in the month of Adar (Pisces). He reasoned that when pursuing food, fish are oblivious to dangers. Thus Haman assumed he could kill the Jews without resistance.

However, this is a double-edged sword. Either the fish becomes prey, or it takes others prey. They have a tendency for comeback victories. Esther and Mordechai were oblivious to the dangers of entering the King's palace without invitation, and thus the Jews were saved. The very astrological nature that Haman assumed would bring about the Jews' destruction is what saved them. For example, the gallows prepared by Haman became the tool of his demise. It was a complete turn-around: "VeNohapoch Hu" (Esther 9:1).

Tai Chi

I recently took a class in Tai Chi, which focused a lot on an unseen force flowing in the universe and through the body they call "Chi," which can be focused for health and self-defense. Is this concept consistent with Judaism? Is there any analogous concept in Judaism?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

This concept is not inconsistent with mainstream Jewish ideology, as long as one believes that this force, like all forces in the universe, is created and controlled by God. I personally have been practicing Tai Chi for a couple years, and have experienced the sensation of the energy you describe.

My personal theory is that the word "Chi" is derived from the Hebrew word "Chai" which means life, or life force. This is not surprising, as there is a thesis that all languages are derived from Hebrew, which is the language God used to create the universe. Furthermore, the Torah says that Abraham, at the end of his life, had many children who to whom he gave gifts, then sent them away from his home, as only Isaac would be the father of the Jewish people. The Torah says he sent them eastward, to the land of the East (Genesis 25:6). The "gifts" Abraham endowed them, were certain spiritual secrets of the universe (see Rashi, ad loc).

This is the early source of many of the concepts which later formed the Eastern philosophies and religions. It is therefore not surprising to me that much of Eastern meditation, medicine and thought, revolves around the concept of Chi, based upon Chai.

The Kabbalists explain how the main parts of the body coincide with the different spheres, or "sefiros," each one representing a different expression of spiritual energy emanating from God. This is based upon the concept that every person is a microcosm of the universe, created in the image of God, Who endowed us with the power to affect the entire universe with our actions. The "Chi" referred to in self-defense and healing is not meant to be a spiritual energy, rather a physical energy flowing through the body. It is probably the external manifestation of this spiritual energy flowing through us, giving us great spiritual power.

The concepts of Yin and Yang, sinking back and receiving/ pushing outward and returning, I believe are rooted in one of the deepest Kabbalistic concepts. There is a core concept of our relationship with God called "ratzoh veshov," which translates loosely as desire to get close to God, and at the same time retreat from that closeness. In marriage, which mirrors our relationship with God, each spouse is to give and simultaneously receive. This also connects to the two opposites of loving-kindness (chesed), and strictness (din), which also work hand in hand, despite their apparent dichotomy.

I don't mean to say that one fulfills practicing Judaism by practicing Tai Chi, but I see no contradiction. This is, provided, that no bowing or worshipping to, or worshipping any forces, images, or the room, etc. takes place, which would come under the prohibition of idol worship, completely prohibited by Judaism.