From Where I Stand
By Rabbi Yossy Goldman
You shall be holy.
In a parashah in which we read the golden rule of “Love thy neighbor as thyself” and numerous others, I find it necessary to focus on a commandment that in our own day seems to have been forgotten, much to our own detriment, I fear.
Under the general command to “be holy,” the Torah instructs us not to engage in sorcery, superstition, and other related activities that were practiced by the heathen nations of old. Elsewhere (in Devarim) the Torah includes other practices, such as consulting the dead. Jews are told to be “sincere and wholehearted with Hashem,” to follow the Torah way of life, and, when in doubt, to consult the prophet or the recognized spiritual leaders and Torah authorities of the day. Sorcery, dabbling in the occult, and “crossing over” are serious infractions to be strenuously avoided.
A Jewish grandmother once took her grandson to a séance. After making her magic, the crystal-ball lady claimed she had made contact with the woman’s deceased husband, Chaim. Indeed, they heard a male voice saying how everything was well with him on the other side, and he answered all their questions. Then, little Harry, the grandson, piped up and asked, “Zayde, may I ask you one more question please. When did you learn to speak English so well?”
Whether you believe that those who practice spiritualism are indeed making contact or not makes little difference from the Jewish perspective. Imaginary or real, the Torah forbids it. Even if it is real that doesn’t mean it is right. Not everything that can be done ought to be done. Most people seem to be confused by all of this. They become convinced that if it really is able to happen, then this legitimizes it. Often, it is those who have been bereaved, especially under tragic circumstances, who are anxiously seeking answers and grasping for comfort through these unholy sources.
Unholy, you ask? Yes. You see, there is a fundamental difference between spiritual and holy. Not everything spiritual is necessarily holy, and not everything holy need be spiritual.
Balaam was a heathen prophet (Bamidbar 22–24). He was able to communicate with G‑d. But he was very unholy. He tried to put a curse on the Jewish people that would allow their enemies to destroy them. They had done him no harm. He was a greedy, lustful anti-Semite, far from a holy man. But he was very, very spiritual. Clearly, not everything spiritual is holy.
On the other hand, take money as an example. Money is very, very physical. But if you use it for holy purposes, like charity, it becomes holy. Clearly, not everything holy need be spiritual.
It may be possible to “cross over.” But, in the process, we may be getting ourselves involved with unholy forces. There are forces of darkness out there too. And if we are not dealing with Jewish prophets of old or bona fide holy mystics we may, G‑d forbid, get burned. And, who knows if our connections are not seen as interference. We may well be guilty of disturbing the dead, in which case we would be doing more harm than good.
My brother-in-law, Rabbi Shabsi Alpern, is the Chabad sh’liach in Brazil. Many such practices occur in his community. He once asked the Lubavitcher Rebbe what to tell people about this. The Rebbe answered to tell them that every Jew has a direct connection to G‑d, and we do not require a medium to connect. In fact, why take the circuitous route if you can go direct?
If we want to help the deceased, Judaism has many worthwhile suggestions. Kaddish, tzedakah, and any mitzvah are all good deeds that have positive effects on the soul of a loved one. Torah study, particularly mishnah, is highly recommended.
By all means we should all deepen our spirituality. Study the esoteric side of Torah with reliable, trustworthy teachers to gain an appreciation into Jewish mysticism. But, at all times, remember to be wholesome with Hashem. Don’t dabble in forbidden fields. Be holy—in the way our holy Torah tells us to be. v
Rabbi Yossy Goldman was born in Brooklyn and was sent in 1976 by the Lubavitcher Rebbe as an emissary to serve the Jewish community of Johannesburg, South Africa. He is Senior Rabbi of the Sydenham Shul and president of the South African Rabbinical Association. His sefer “From Where I Stand: Life Messages from the Weekly Torah Reading” was published by Ktav and is available at Jewish book shops or online at www.ktav.com.