by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths
(Part 1 here.)
The first half of this article sited a number of examples of mysterious powers found within the various religious practices in the world today. These powers raise a number of questions. For instance, why does G-d allow these powers to exist, and with these mystical powers openly demonstrated in so many religions, how is one to choose the proper path to follow?
That we can even ask these questions shows us the very reason why G-d has allowed these unclean powers to exist. He wants us to have free will. This is an essential principle in creation. The spiritual reward is commensurate with the spiritual effort. If there would be no free will, we would be like angels merely doing what we were programmed to do. If there were no mystical signs in those other religions, who would chase after those extremely foolish beliefs that surround those wonders?
They teach such things as, “Bow down to the Sun and Moon,” “There are millions of gods today, and this idol is one of them,” “The father of this person was not a man. It was a ghost.”
Without those magical signs and fantastic promises that these followers claim, not even the most foolish person would ever believe in those religions. So G-d allows such magic to exist to let each of us choose our own spiritual path.
If all of the obvious goodness came only from following the Torah, no one would ever stray to those foolish religions.
This explains why G-d allows such powers to exist, but how are we to know which path to follow? How do we know that normative Judaism, which is often taught to be so strict and so detail-oriented with very little of these types of mystical experiences, is what we should be following? And when there is an apparent miracle in someone’s life, how do we know that it was a genuine wonder and not just coincidence, or something from the “other side” (the unclean powers) like these other religions demonstrate?
One question to ask is what happens to the one who is credited for having done the miracle? If the credit for the wonder is attributed to the “wonder-worker,” even as a “humble servant,” then there is something wrong there. If the “miracle” strengthens the ego of the “wonder-worker,” and the wonder shows how special he is, then certainly something is wrong there.
When there is no question except that the wonder came from and is attributed to G-d, then it may very well have been a true wonder. If after the experience the attention is focused on the Infinite One and not on the person who “brought” it or on the one who received it, then it may have been a truly holy experience. Did the experience strengthen your awe of the One Infinite Being, or did it increase your appreciation of a wonder-worker, or of a spirit?
Given all this, still, there also have been known to be righteous, Jewish wonder-workers. In our generation alone there were three of the greatest wonder-workers who ever existed in the history of the Jewish people. The Baba Sali, Rav Kaduri and the Lubavitcher Rebbe were all instrumental in bringing about amazing wonders. These wonders certainly brought a lot of attention to them, especially from their followers. So still we have to ask, how are we to identify the miraculous intercession from G-d and mere magic?
There are also wonders brought about from the improper use of the Kabbalah. This is called “Practical Kabbalah.” But there is a strong prohibition against using these arts. How do we know if the wonder came about from G-d’s miraculous intersession or the work of a crafty student of the Kabbalah?
In fact, many of the sages have warned us not to follow any of these signs at all. Not the miracles and certainly not the voices, even if they actually come from Heaven.[i] “The Torah was not given to the Heavens,” they say. “It was given to us here on earth.” According to this strong opinion, a voice from Heaven or a wonder cannot decide anything for us today. So how are we to guide our lives?
The average person is not experienced enough to be able to discern a clean power from an unclean power. To understand the true underlying nature of the experience we must look and see what comes from and surrounds the wonders. See where the wonders lead. Would following the teachings of the one who “brought” the wonder lead to your having a normal Jewish life, a Jewish family and Jewish descendants?
G-d’s miracles come to help us and to strengthen our belief in Him and in His Torah. They will never take us away from this. He gave us His Torah thousands of years ago, and those of us who have kept it over the years have continued on as Jews. Those who have left it have disappeared from the Jewish people within one or two generations.
Following other spiritual beliefs will not lead to this essential goal. Even if those other religions were spiritually moral paths, which they are not, following them would mean that your children or grandchildren will intermarry and their children will be removed from the roles of the Jewish people. After all, if you believe like they do, and act like they do, there is no reason not to marry like they do.
[i] Gemora Baba Metsia chap 8
BS"D - בסיעתא דשמיא