A very interesting story about
witchcraft is related in the Gemara (Shabat 81b).
Rav Hisda and Rabah bar Rav Huna are
traveling on a boat when they are approached by a woman who wishes to be
seated near them. Sensing something wrong, the two Sages refuse. In
response, the woman utters something under her breath and suddenly the
boats stops, unable to move forward. The Sages aware of the subtle
power unleashed here unleash a force of their own. Together they say a
word and the ship suddenly moves again, the power of the woman was
broken. The Sages were faced by a witch using witchcraft and they
responded by neutralizing her powers by using a holy Name emanating from
While the Gemara does not reveal to us
what this special holy Name is, one of our later Sages, the Ba’al Shem
Tov (SBST, Mishpatim 5) did. In a moment I will reveal the Name, yet
prior to doing so, it is important that we fist understand some
essential aspects about witchcraft and about holy Names.
First and foremost, we must understand
that our Sages not only believed that the powers of witchcraft were (and
are) real, they were also very much well educated in ways of Torah that
can be used to neutralize it. Our Sages were well versed in the ways
and means of both natural and supernatural laws; they were well versed
and experienced in interacting with inter-dimensional beings and forces
that can be unleashed from within the hidden recesses of the human
This knowledge is nothing new. Even in
Biblical times, the Torah speaks of Bilaam who had the power to curse
the nation of Israel. Now, a curse is far more than just a bad wish one
projects onto another. A curse has an actual power to it that can
create the negative results solicited. It was for this reason that
HaShem Himself intervened and sent His Angel to prevent Bilaam from
unleashing this very real and negative power.
Other Biblical examples abound.
Therefore, anyone who claims to truly accept and follow Torah must
acknowledge the reality and danger of these powers. Although some later
Sages were of the opinion that witchcraft was nothing more than a form
of trickery, most other Sages were not so simplistic.
Today, most Rabbis follow in the
philosophical footsteps of the rationalist school of
Eastern Europe and therefore
dismiss and distain anything mystical or mysterious. Not only do these
Rabbis dismiss witchcraft as having any significance, they have gone so
far as to dismiss the value and legitimacy of Torah mysticism, the
Kabbalah. Unfortunately this self-imposed ignorance has created a large
number of Rabbis who cannot understand or deal with spiritual matters or
threats, so much unlike our Sages of old, who were very much experts in
Although a large number of Rabbis today
are unaware of the dangers posed by alternate spiritual realities, not
all our modern day Sages share this ignorance. Those well trained in
the ways of the original Hasidim and in the ways of the old Sephardic
schools have maintained the ancient knowledge and use it today with the
same efficiency and success as was in ancient times.
A detailed exposition about how
witchcraft and other spiritual forces actually operate in a
technological and psychological way is far beyond what I can present in
this limited essay. Suffice it to say that these powers exist and that
they definitely pose a serious threat and danger to us all; and let us
not forget that our holy Torah includes within it all we need to know
and do about how to combat and neutralize these malevolent forces.
In Pirkei Avot (5:25), the Sage Ben Bag
Bag says with regards to the Torah, “Turn it over again and again for
everything is in it.” Torah was never meant to be delegated
exclusively to the realm of religion and philosophy. Torah was meant to
be studied and exposed as being a guide to science and technology,
including all the laws of the physics of the natural, supernatural and
the inner workings of the human mind.
There are numerous forces at work in our
natural universe of which modern science only knows of a few. Every
generation modern science becomes more aware of the subtle forces in
which we live. More and more modern science is beginning to sound like
ancient mysticism. In the not-to-distant future, I predict the two
paths, the ancient and the future will intersect and merge, bringing
upon us a new dawn of civilization. After all, this was always the
purpose of Torah since the beginning.
Therefore, within Torah there have
always existed multiple layers of knowledge just waiting to be
discovered and explored. Many of our Sages of old were very well aware
of these depths of Torah, yet were bound by oaths of secrecy to conceal
this knowledge until such a time when it could be revealed safely, and
then only to those select individuals who could handle it. In every
generation there have been Sages well versed in this secret knowledge.
It is they who were (and are) very much on the forefront of combating
evil in their communities, especially when that evil is disseminating
through the forces of witchcraft and the occult. As Solomon long ago
said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” (Kohelet 1:9).
Rabbi Yisrael ben Eliezer, better known
as the Ba’al Shem Tov was one of the last of the European Sages to be a
master of this ancient knowledge. In his day, he fought long and hard
against significant malevolent forces and worked hard to bring the
secrets of the Torah to the masses in a way and format that the majority
could understand and embrace. This was his mission and the true
underlying purpose of the original Hasidic teachings.
We cannot at this time delve into
Hasidic history to discuss how most of the schools have lost their
original connection to this sacred knowledge. Suffice it for now to
know that while most today are unaware of the ancient teachings, this
does not mean that they have become lost. The teachings are still
available, however due to the great influence of the rationalist school
even most modern Hasidim are unlearned in this sacred field and are thus
most unqualified to deal with spiritual issues.
Although lost to the majority, the
teachings are still well preserved by the minority, and this group
transcends all borders of ethnicity, language and culture. True Sages
still reside amongst the Jewish people, and their identities, like their
powers remain a well-guarded secret.
With all this being said, and the forces
of evil being what they are, we can now discuss one of the teachings of
the Ba’al Shem Tov and learn his comments on the above story related in
the Gemara about how witchcraft is confronted using a holy Name from the
The Ba’al Shem Tov comments that the
Torah verse itself that condemns one who practices witchcraft to death
contains the secret Name that when used properly can neutralize the
witchcraft itself. The Torah (Ex. 22:17) states, “M’kha’shefa Lo
T’hayeh” (a witch shall not live). One who knows how to recite this
verse with the proper intent, devotion and meditations shall break the
powers of witchcraft.
Regardless of the doubts of skeptics,
witchcraft does pose a serious threat to all today and its powers have
been unleashed upon the masses from sources best left unmentioned.
Nonetheless, in order to provide spiritual protection for those who seek
it, I will now discuss in brief how from this verse can be extracted a
powerful holy Name that when used properly and combined with a lifestyle
of holiness and health can protect one from even the most malevolent of
The initial letters (Reshei Tevot) of
the three words of this verse are Mem, Lamed and Tav. These three
letters combine to form a holy Name, pronounced with the vowels as they
appear in the verse itself; shva, holam, shva. When this Name is
combined with the Name Havaya (YKVK) written with the vowels of “pituhei
hotam,” we have a seven-letter combination that can be meditated upon
and projected upon a source of evil, the results being the nullification
of that evil.
This then was the secret of the Ba’al
Shem Tov. He was master at discovering and using these holy forces of
Torah knowledge to combat ignorance and evil. He taught his students
well and his teachings survive to this day and are available to all who
wish to study them in the original Hebrew. The Ba’al Shem Tov is only
one of many who have distributed this sacred knowledge. Other Sages
today still invoke Heavenly powers and are active in protecting the
masses. Yet, regardless of whom they are or what they do, we too can
participate in this holy work, even as the Ba’al Shem Tov taught the
masses to do.
The Ba’al Shem Tov taught us about the
powers of the human mind. While we cannot create physical reality
around us, we can indeed control our perceptions of it within
ourselves. The great power to overcome any malevolent influence already
resides within us. HaShem has given to each of us this latent power.
All we need is the knowledge of Torah to enable us to recognize it.
A holy Name is not magic, neither for
that matter is witchcraft. In reality, there is no such thing as
magic. All there is are technologies of the mind unknown to most
people. These forces are and have been known for millennia to those who
wish to manipulate others and to those who wish to protect others from
such manipulations. One who learns the disciplines and inner workings
of the mind will realize these latent powers. One of good character
will use these innate human powers for good, others of lesser character
will use these powers for selfish gains; this is evil.
The Ba’al Shem Tov therefore taught the
importance of good character and how by trusting in HaShem with
childlike simplicity one can tap these inner powers of the mind and thus
enable them to protect one from any outside source of unconscious
influence. Therefore, the simple initial letters of a verse when
combined with HaShem’s holy Name should be enough of a reminder to
anyone that HaShem is in charge and that He has the power to nullify any
force of evil.
Reciting the Name or the letters is not
the way this spiritual technology works. This is why we do not provide
a formula, a prayer or an invocation. Nullifying influences upon the
mind is performed by a simple mental exercise; verbal recitations have
little or no power in this regards. What you think matters most. What
you say matters little.
The power of the Torah is so profound;
it takes us into the inner most recess of the mind and at the same time
enables us to explore the most outer limits of all reality. One who
learns these lessons well will have embraced the essence of all the
secrets of the Torah regardless of their forms within the teachings of
the Kabbalah or Hasidut.