by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths
A friend of mine recently returned from visiting his father in Russia. Although his father is a Jew, he has become a “devout” x-ian over the years. His father took my friend to visit his spiritual mentor, wanting to show him why he adopted that religion. The mentor has a reputation for being a “Master of Icons.” He took my friend into his kitchen. The walls were covered with various types of x-ian icons and imagines that are offensive to a Torah-observant Jew. As soon as my friend walked into the room, he felt a very strong physical power come over him. This was not merely an urge. It was a palpable energy that was trying to force him to bow down to those icons! He had to fight hard not to give into the power. He yelled and ran out of the house to escape its pull. What was this power?
A long time ago, I visited a world-famous guru in India.[i] The guru asked a visitor, “Do you like diamonds?” When the visitor said yes, the guru waived his hand and a diamond appeared in his hand! It was not there before he waived his hand. He often does this with precious items, religious symbols, or seemingly anything that he wants to “materialize.” Ashes come out of pictures of this guru when his devotees sing their religious songs in front of them, even many miles away from the guru. What is this power?
A x-ian gently laid his hand upon a stranger who was visiting the church for the first time. The stranger was not even a x-ian. The visitor collapsed, unable to stand. They call this being “slain in the spirit.” Another man in a wheelchair was touched by a “healer.” He jumped out of his wheelchair, walked, and called out, “I haven’t walked in weeks!” What is this power?
Two x-ian proselytizers stopped at a young religious Jew’s house. The Jew wrote about the experience:
“I have no desire to believe in what he's trying to sell me. What kept me curious and not sending him off was the experience he and his follower spoke of...’when the spirit comes over me, it feels so good’ he said. I was curious about this feeling of spirit coming into their body, not about believing anything. I wonder if it's possible to experience what they're talking about without believing what they're talking about... but just to be careful of dangerous spiritual influences. I imagine I should avoid both.”
What is this experience that they are talking about “when the spirit comes over” them? Can you have such an experience without endangering your spiritual path, or your very soul? Should this man be careful about dabbling in such spiritual curiosity? If these are genuine experiences, and not merely sleight-of-hand or group hysteria, why does G-d place such dangerous things before us?
We are told that physical poisons can be rendered harmless by diluting them with water. The dangerous effects of some poisons can be nullified by mixing them with a little more than an equal amount of water. For these poisons, when the majority of the mixture is water, they are rendered harmless. Other, stronger types of poison must have 60 times more water then poison in order to nullify them. Then, there are some poisons that are so strong that it takes 1000 times more water than poison to nullify their harmful effect.
But with idolatry, we are warned that no amount of goodness mixed with the idolatry will nullify its evil effect. This means that even if the idolatry also has 1000 good teachings, (such as “do not steal”), if there is even the slightest bit of idolatry there, the 1000 good teachings or deeds do not nullify the evil effect of that religion or philosophy. It must be completely rejected. So the curious Jew was very wise to say that he should avoid both the belief in that idolatry and investigating the spiritual experiences that come from it.
Early one Shabbos morning, a non-Jewish man approached me at the Kotel with a look of reverence. He spoke serenely, a bit other-worldly. He wanted to know who were the voices talking to him from the “Wall.” “They are saying that bad things are going to happen here,” he said. Are we to believe that G-d was talking to this tourist? Was this a true, wondrous Bas Kol (Voice from Heaven) experience, or was this just another tourist experiencing Jerusalem Syndrome?
Jerusalem Syndrome is a malady that sometimes hospitalizes visitors in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a unique city. Its history and many holy sites are enough to overwhelm visitors’ imaginations. Jerusalem also has a palpable holiness permeating its atmosphere that adds to this feeling. For some reason, some people have difficulty understanding these influences. When they experience this confusion some of them imagine themselves to be a Biblical personality or perhaps a new prophet.
Why does G-d cause this to happen? How are we to distinguish a true prophet from someone who is suffering from this not-so-uncommon psychosis?
The Torah warns us, “If a [false] prophet does a wonder … .”[ii] Can a false prophet do a wonder? Apparently he can, or the Torah would not warn us about this.
Is there really an unclean power in the East that allows that guru to seemingly materialize those objects? The Torah tells us that Abraham gave gifts to the sons he fathered with Keturah, and then he sent them to the East.[iii] Rashi tells us that these gifts were “names of unclean powers.”
When Moshe threw down his staff before Pharaoh, it turned into a snake. This was intended to be a sign that Hashem had sent him. So we see that miraculous deeds and wonders can be used as signs. But then Pharaoh’s magicians threw down their staffs and they too became snakes. So which sign is the one to follow? Moshe’s “snake” ate the magicians’ snakes. So then are we to go with the one who does the greatest wonders?
There are many examples of such mysterious experiences happening within the various religious practices in the world today. With these mystical powers openly demonstrated in so many religions, how is one to choose the proper path to follow? Are these wonders proof that their teachings are correct? Are they the signs and wonders that G-d sends to guide His people to the proper spiritual goal? Surely the people in these religions believe that they are. These are obviously “supernatural” powers, so are these proofs that the spiritual teachings of the ones doing them are proper and should be followed?
(To be continued)
[i] See Coming Back To Earth.
[ii] Deuteronomy 13:2
[iii] Genesis 25:6
BS"D - בסיעתא דשמיא