By Rabbi Yisrael Rosen
Dean of the Zomet Institute
"Take those who attached themselves to Baal Peor... Hang them before G-d, opposite the sun" [Bamidbar 25:4-5].
Abominable False Prophets
Even though it is the turn of our colleague Zevulun Orlev to write this column this week, I cannot remain silent in the face of the mega-"terrorist attack" (as it was called by Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, the Chief Rabbi of Tzefat) and the strong tremors which shook the religious-Torah community in the last few days. So "I took my spear in hand" (see Bamidbar 25:7), and I took my keyboard out of its shield. Can we say that "the plague has stopped" [25:4]? "Opposite the sun" we have been exposed to a leprosy-like malady. A false Mashiach has been exposed in our midst, evil and impure, who captured innocent souls with his Bilam-type wand – mainly young men and women, who believed in his spiritual powers, whose source was the " sitra-achara" (the devil, from "the other side").
This phenomenon of fools who are linked to "masters of false Kabbalah" has even penetrated into the ranks of the religious-nationalistic community. Hallucinatory masters of Kabbalah have risen in the north, in the south, and in the central region, disseminating blessings, charms, and supernatural cures, and they have captured innocent souls inpsychological and spiritual nets based on dependency. And the path is short to extortion ("donations, redemption for the soul") and exploitation of the dependent power of control for the pleasure of the "master of Peor." These men use the exalted language of the Kabbalah, and quite often "their hands are crammed full of money."
Just see how far removed these people are from Shmuel, "the master of the prophets" (Vayikra Rabba 26), who found the lost donkeys and gave Shaul the news about his becoming a king, for a symbolically small sum of money (so that his blessing would involve a concrete object). And we will not go into detail here about the verse which is the source for the practice of giving a gift to a prophet: "And he (Shmuel's assistant) said, here, I have in my hand a quarter of a silver shekel, and I will give it to the holy man, and he will tell us what to do" [Shmuel I 9:8].
Consumers of Blessings and Providers of Mysticism
I know very well that there is a demand for this "merchandise." Many people are in need of an "exalted power" that will help them solve their doubts and will calm them along the pathways of life, and this includes prominent people, such as officials and politicians. I know that not everybody has been given an independent sense of judgement and healthy instincts, and such people flounder back and forth in the world of the Holy One, Blessed be He, looking foran anchor and a compass, with the possibility of depending on a man who is high and mighty, great and awesome. I also know, as a scion of a Chassidic family, that the faith in the holy Tzadik as a "channel" through which one can cling to G-d is one of the mainstays of Chassidut. I am also aware that dependent self-deprecation with respect to the "great man" has also become one of the mainstays of the Lita'i-Mitnagid way of study, and this includes Torah scholars and prominent and pious people. And one of the main elements that I know is that this phenomenon has expanded beyond the original "outer realm" of asking for "sons, a livelihood, and food," health advice and advice about fateful life decisions, and that it has reached as far as the realms of mental health and stretching out a helping hand in times of "downfall" and spiritual suffering.
In view of all the above, I will aim my barbs not towards the consumer public, but rather at the "providers of the material," who mumble sections of the Zohar or are generous in giving out blessings and miracle cures that exude a warm embrace.
The common denominator in all of those whom I am targeting in this article is the fact that they base their message, in reality or in a theatrical manner, on books of Kabbalah and mysticism. Great men of past generations have warned about the dangers of this matter, and the proven fear (see the history of Shabtai Tzvi and his descendants) of grasping hold of the dark side and forces of impurity which were created together with the mouth of Bilam's donkey before the first Shabbat, during twilight. Every new dramatic change in these realms should be suspected on the spot of dragging the participants into realms of "sanctifying sin" and "sinning in the name of heaven," and in going in the direction of idol worship, illicit sex, and extortion. How is this relevant for idol worship? I have always wondered, as you my readers probably have too, how a person can believe in the powers of wood and stone, deify statues of people, and impart them with divine powers. But here we can see it happening with our own eyes: open admiration of these "masters," which is the closest possible thing to real idol worship! They are said to have supernatural powers which have come to them, as it were, from their roots of holiness and prophecy. This is simple idol worship, which can quickly degenerate into such phenomena as illicit sexual encounters.
I ask myself, and I have found neither respite nor a proper answer: What about these people, the "saviors" and the "redeemers" – are they frauds, charlatans, evil-doers and sinners who knowingly play out a false role? Or do they themselves believe that they have spiritual powers, buoyed up on the shoulders of "the voice of the nation, in its evil" [Shemot 32:17]? I tend to think that the second possibility is true, and if so this makes the danger warning even more serious, for it can also make it harder to identify the phenomenon.
I do not have any rational formula to identify these confused or fraudulent people. However, I can suggest a few possible clues: If you see a place where (1) money is pouring out like water, or (2) the area is filled with helperswho wander around aimlessly, or (3) political and government leaders are rummaging around, or (4) there are whispered secrets with women of all ages – get as far away as possible, as if fleeing from a fire. And: (5) the most reliable mark is the question of halacha. If the master is a recognized expert in halacha or a "conventional" Torah scholar (without any tendency to touch on mysticism) – get your blessings from him! If the "master" is ignorant of the halacha (a trait of many "masters" of Kabbalah) – mark him with a big "X" and send him on his way, to purify himself in the sea of revealed Torah, based on halacha.