Although this week is B’shalach, I’d like to open with something from Shoftim. There’s a phrase there that may appear to stand out as odd: tamim tihiyeh im Hashem elokecha — “You shall be tamim with Hashem, your God.” (Deut. 18:13) What does that mean?
Well, as R’ Daniel Z. Feldman from YU points out, the term has been used to praise many great ones in the Torah, and he suggests that the verse from Shoftim is a directive that our relationship with Hashem should be “perfect,” in the exclusive sense. We are to have a complete relationship with the Almighty and are forbidden to hedge our bets by worshiping both Him and other forces that exist out there just in case they’re offering something better. R’ Feldman states that this cannot be referring to other gods, because that would be outright avodah zarah, but that it rather refers to one who attempts to mitigate his destiny by consulting astrologers and observing superstition.
R’ Hershel Schachter (R’ Feldman’s rebbe) asserts that Judaism is based on reality and not wild and crazy ideas. Before you attack this statement (we can deal with this point next week) — for the purposes of this discussion, let’s just assume that all the apparently wild and crazy things we do (the list is virtually endless, but suffice it to say that it involves lots of parchment, straps, string, candles, horns, branches, bamboo, more candles, bloody cloths and loads of aluminum foil) are either directly or indirectly resultant of a well established divine revelation at Sinai which we cannot dispute or will not dispute because of good reason. He states that, “in our religion, things have to correspond to reality,” — we have a warning against nichush (Leviticus 19:26), which he describes as a prohibition of superstition.
So it’s odd, R’ Shachter complains, that at the time of the Exodus from Egypt there was so much voodoo and superstition going around, and the Almighty gave us the Torah and included in it multiple prohibitions relating to witchcraft and other absurdities of the gentile nations and 3,000 years later, you’d get the mistaken impression that Jews are the most superstitious of all! For confirmation, just see the featured photograph on the superstition article in Wikipedia.
There is a misguided tradition, potentially developed by Reb Menachem Mendel of Rimanov, that one should recite Parshas Hamon (Exodus 16:4-36) on the Tuesday of this past week (B’shalach) in order to provide a “segula for parnassa” — loosely translated as a “charm for increased wealth.”
How is this to work? It’s certainly not working naturally (b’derech hatevah) — go get a better job for that. Is it supposed to work supernaturally (b’derech neis)? We’re not all praying for miracles, now are we. So this elusive segula concept is neither, which leaves it in the realm of superstition…and the prohibited, just like red strings and amulets.
Now I’m not saying that the recitation of Parshas Hamon is prohibited or even a bad idea — it’s a great one! The Shulchan Aruch (OC 1:5) explains that it’s a good idea to say it every day, explaining that one ought to ponder deeply on its message of recognizing God’s wonders as the source for all blessing in this world. We may take it for granted that meat, fish, eggs, grain and chocolate mints are nourishing, but if we stop and think daily about how God took a non-entity like manna and imbued it with enough sustaining power to nourish the Israelite nation for 40 years in the wilderness, we may come to realize that it is really only the dvar Hashem, the “word of God,” that imbues our food, and by extension, our medicine and our building supplied and our clothing with the natural ability to serve any purpose whatsoever. “B’dvar Hashem shamaim na’asu” — “by the word of God the heavens were created.” (Psalms 33:6)
Too many of us have been raised on the falsehoods of Judaism so that we grow up, wonder how we can have been so silly for so long, and we want to drop it all because all we know is silliness. It’s like this girl I know who’s been dating for so long, and she’s tried everything, and now she doesn’t even bother to date anymore — she just does the segulas, and so she’ll be dead before she get’s married.
And let’s save debate about the initial premise for next week — Yisro.