Halacha for Wednesday 10 Iyar 5782 May 11 2022

Practical Kabbalah

In the previous Halacha, we have mentioned the words of the Tanna in Pirkei Avot who teaches us that it is generally forbidden to use Hashem’s holy names and explained this issue based on the words of several great Poskim.

Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l (in his Sefer Anaf Etz Avot, page 301) quotes an incident which occurred with Hagaon Rabbi Avraham ben Mussa, one of the greatest luminaries of the Sephardic communities of North Africa. Where he resided, there also lived a “Sharif”, the Muslim spiritual leader, who happened to be an avid Jew-hater.

Rabbi Avraham had a G-d-fearing Jewish neighbor who once accidentally passed through the Sharif’s yard; the Sharif immediately pounced on him and killed him. When Rabbi Avraham’s mother heard about the unusual and untimely death of her Jewish neighbor, this caused her great anguish and she began to cry as her son, Rabbi Avraham, returned home from the Bet Midrash. He asked his mother, “Why are you crying?” She then proceeded to tell him what had transpired. When Rabbi Avraham heard this, he told his mother, “I must avenge the death of this righteous Jew.” He then took a piece of paper and wrote a holy name of Hashem on it and he then went and purchased a necklace with many colors and varieties of beads on it. Afterwards, he went next to the Sharif’s home and announced loudly, “Who wants to buy beads?” The Sharif’s housekeeper came out of the yard and told him, “Jew! Do not pass here lest the Sharif kill you like he killed another Jew who had passed here!” Rabbi Avraham replied, “It is good you told me about this. I see you are a good woman; take these beads from me as a gift.” The housekeeper took the beads and as Rabbi Avraham watched her admiring the beads, he told her, “If you take this piece of paper and throw it into your master’s well, I will give you another necklace.” She heeded Rabbi Avraham’s instructions and she took the paper and threw it into the Sharif’s well. True to his word, Rabbi Avraham gave her another necklace.

At that time, the Sharif’s children, grandchildren, and all of his servants were in the house, all together amounting to seventy people. When they drank water drawn from the well, they all died along with the Sharif.

The Sharif would customarily visit the king every morning. The next morning when the king saw that the Sharif was delayed in coming, the king sent two of his servants to the Sharif’s home. When they arrived, they knocked on the door and when no answer was forthcoming, they opened the door and witnessed a terrifying sight: The Sharif along with his entire household lay dead on the floor. The servants ran back to the king to report what they had found. The king quickly gathered all of his ministers and advisors in order to consult with them as to how this could have happened and he put together an investigational board in order to get to the bottom of this bizarre occurrence. After many hours of deliberation, they began to suspect that the Sharif’s entire household had died as a result of poising in house’s main heating oven. They also suspected the Jews had something to do with this. The king summoned the city’s rabbi and proceeded to explain the incident to him as well as requesting him to conduct his own investigation in order to solve the mystery of who killed Sharif and his entire household. The rabbi requested that the king give him thirty days to get to the bottom of this mystery.

The rabbi went to the Bet Midrash where Rabbi Avraham ben Mussa studied as well and since Rabbi Avraham heard that the king had summoned the rabbi in order to investigate the death of the Sharif, he went over to the rabbi and told him what had transpired. The rabbi told him, “It was correct of you to avenge the death of the murdered Jew. Now, run away to a different country before your actions are discovered.” The rabbi gave Rabbi Avraham some money and he then relocated to Tunis, Tunisia and settled there. This is the end of the incident. However, such a story was only appropriate in those times since Hagaon Rabbi Avraham was extremely pious and saintly as well as being a great Mekubal so all of his actions were for the sake of Heaven and to protect the Jewish people.

We must, nevertheless, point out that those who engage in practical Kabbalah in our times as a method of mental meditation and the like, so much so that they even teach non-Jewish men and women Kabbalah, such individuals have no share in the World to Come. Indeed, the great Mekubal, Hagaon Harav Mordechai Sharabi zt”l (who taught Maran zt”l Kabbalah for many years) once exclaimed that there will come a time where the Kabbalah will be stripped like an animal’s carcass in the marketplace. This is what we are seeing happen nowadays unfortunately.

Rabbeinu Chaim Vital writes in his Sha’ar Ruach Ha’Kodesh (page 41a) in the name of the saintly Ari z”l that from the time that we no longer had the ashes of the Red Heifer and were no longer able to purify ourselves from the impurity of deceased people, we no longer have permission to use Hashem’s holy names and one who uses them shall be severely punished. Indeed, Hagaon Harav Yaakov Emdin writes in his notations on Masechet Eruvin (page 43a) that based on what is written in the books of the prophets, even the prophets did not wish to use Hashem’s holy names, for Eliyahu Ha’Navi wandered in the desert for forty days and he did not use Hashem’s name to speed up the way. They did not even dare use Hashem’s names to save themselves from death, for if they would have, Yirmeyahu would have uttered a holy name when he was thrown into the pit.

All of the above applies to mystics in previous generations who were experts in the dialogue of demons usage of Hashem’s names. However, regarding those individuals common nowadays who call themselves “Kabbalists” and involve themselves entirely with giving blessings and fortune telling, it is not even worthwhile for one to waste one’s time on them. Indeed, Maran zt”l would distance such people and instruct his followers not to visit such individuals, for doing so can only cause damage and no gain whatsoever. A certain great Torah scholar told us in the name of his rabbi, Hagaon Harav Ben Zion Abba Shaul zt”l, that the rule is that anyone who takes money for his blessings is a thief, for how can he know that his blessing will be fulfilled. The fact that some tie their merits to the merits of their holy ancestors is also meaningless, for the daughters of the Tamudic sage Rav Nachman were also daughters of a holy individual and everyone thought they were performing wonders, however, they were actually stirring a pot of food with the use of sorcery, as the Gemara (Gittin 45a) recounts.

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