Ki Sisa: Witchcraft: Illusion or Reality?

March 1, 2023

Can the forces of darkness actually create something? Is witchcraft a real phenomenon in our times?

A. The History of Witchcraft
Aharon took the gold the Jews had gathered, threw it into the fire and low and behold, out came a calf. Rashi explains that the Egyptian sorcerers did this with their magic (Source 1). Grappling with witchcraft has accompanied the Jewish people since their very beginning.

B. Can the Forces of Darkness Create Something?
Some radical groups attacked Chabad for using the “impure” radio to broadcast Tanya classes.
At a farbrengen, the Rebbe explained that the impure forces have no power to create even the smallest of things, certainly not something like radio, with its immense potential. This is evident from the Talmud’s discussion about the capabilities of sorcerers. (Sources 2-3).

Everything G-d creates is for a positive objective, and it’s up to man to choose how to use it. For example, donkeys were created for positive use. Abraham and Moses used them for mitzvahs, while Balaam used them for negative pursuits.

The same applies to the radio: It was certainly created by G-d for positive uses. The fact that some people use it for the opposite doesn’t contradict our job of using it for good.

C. Does Witchcraft Exist Today?
The power of witchcraft is debated. Maimonides says that sorcery and witchcraft is “nothingness” (Source 4) while Nachmanides believes that it is a real power (Source 5).

A broad rule in Talmudic logic is not to engage in undue debate. This means that it is preferable to interpret differing opinions in a way that their differences aren’t as pronounced. Therefore, since Maimonides and Nachmanides lived during the same period, it’s hard to believe that they argued over a contemporaneous phenomenon. It’s more reasonable to suggest that they both agreed there was no real witchcraft in their time, and their debate was whether in Biblical times it was a real force or not.

In response to a question on this, the Rebbe responded firmly that magic does not exist today, and it is mere illusion and imaginary.



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