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HARRY POTTER AND THE MAGIC OF TORAH

by Rabbi David Zauderer   
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

With all the hoopla and fascination surrrounding the latest addition to the Harry Potter series, you would think that all this supernatural stuff about wizards, Hogwarts, and strange freaky things like The Letters From No One and Quidditch, were something new!Well,I have to tell you that I just picked up a book in which I found described some of the strangest, almost magical, supernatural things -- just the type of stuff you'd expect to find in a Harry Potter adventure. In it, you'll read about a totally red cow whose ashes have the ability to purify those who have come in contact with the dead, a mysterious roving rock that provides water whenever you hit it or talk to it, a copper serpent on a flagpole that cures people who were bitten by a serpent merely by looking at it -- only this book is well over 3000 years old!

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With all the hoopla and fascination surrrounding the latest addition to the Harry Potter series, you would think that all this supernatural stuff about wizards, Hogwarts, and strange freaky things like The Letters From No One and Quidditch, were something new! Well, I have to tell you that I just picked up a book in which I found described some of the strangest, almost magical, supernatural things – just the type of stuff you’d expect to find in a Harry Potter adventure. In it, you’ll read about a totally red cow whose ashes have the ability to purify those who have come in contact with the dead, a mysterious roving rock that provides water whenever you hit it or talk to it, a copper serpent on a flagpole that cures people who were bitten by a serpent merely by looking at it – only this book is well over 3000 years old!

            That’s right, it’s the Torah. The best-selling book of all time (until Harry Potter came along!) mentions all of these supernatural occurrences in the book of Numbers which we complete this week. The red heifer was the cow which G-d instructed Moses to burn and sprinkle its ashes on a person who became spiritually impure through contact with a dead person (Numbers 19:1-22). The mysterious rock was that which accompanied the Jews and provided them with fresh water for 40 years in the desert until they reached the land of Israel. And it was this rock which Moses was commanded by G-d to talk to it, and miraculously bring forth water (ibid. 20:1-14).

            The copper serpent was wrapped around a tall flagpole for all the Jews to see, so that those who were bitten by the serpents that G-d sent to punish them, could be magically healed by staring at the copper serpent (ibid 21:4-10). (Incidentally, this biblical story is likely the source for the well-known symbol of healing that one finds on every ambulance and hospital wall – a serpent wrapped around a pole.)

            We all understand the great curiosity and fascination that children (and adults) of all ages have with magic, wizards, and the occult – not to mention that it makes for big bucks if you write a best-selling series about these things! But, what troubles me, is why does the Torah seem to record so many miraculous and supernatural events? What is really the point of telling us about a magical rock which followed our ancestors wherever they journeyed?

            Rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, the Torah is supposed to be the repository of G-d’s truth, the very basis of our entire religion, a very serious work indeed. G-d wasn’t just trying to get on top of the New York Times best-sellers list! So, granted, all this sea-splitting, manna-dropping, and serpent-staring makes for a riveting read, but what really is the purpose of the Torah recording all those strange, otherworldly events? And it is especially troubling when you consider that, for the better part of our history, we have not experienced such supernatural events, and have always thought of Judaism as a down-to-earth religion, which doesn’t rely on “magic” or other “freaky” things in order to impress us of its truth and relevance.

 

G-D AND THE MASK OF NATURE

            The Torah teaches that the Hebrew language differs significantly from all other languages in that it was actually created by G-d, whereas all other languages were made up by Man, and are, by definition, arbitrary. (This explains why, in the English language, you drive on the parkway and park in the driveway; you play at a recital and recite at a play; when you send something by car it’s called a shipment, when you send it by ship it’s called a cargo!) Consequently, in the Hebrew language, when two different concepts are expressed by the same Hebrew word, there has to be a connection between them – otherwise, G-d could have chosen to use two different Hebrew words.

            It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word for nature and the Hebrew word for being submerged beneath the surface, are one and the same – teva. The Hebrew word for miracle and the Hebrew word for flagpole are also the same – nes (ibid. 21:8). Also, the Hebrew word olam means both “the world” and “concealment”.

            So where am I going with all this? The great medieval commentaries explain that the entire purpose of the overt miracles that the Jewish people experienced in the desert, and that were subsequently recorded in the Torah for us to read about and study, was in order that we should realize that, ultimately, everything that happens in this world, including all of nature, is an expression of G-d’s will, and that G-d is very much a part of our lives.

            During those 40 years, our ancestors experienced all different kinds of supernatural miracles, such as a moving rock providing them with water and a copper serpent healing them from serpent bites, in order to pound into their collective conscience the idea that it is G-d’s will which ultimately makes things happen, and that even after they enter the land of Israel, and begin to live a more “normal” existence, they should never forget that it is G-d’s hand behind nature and everything that happens to us on earth.

            Teva means nature, but it also means submerged, because G-d is hiding, so to speak, just beneath the surface. When we witness something as awesome as a child being born, we must realize the obvious hand of the Almighty in this “natural” miracle.

            But G-d knows that it is not easy for Man to see through the mask of teva – to see Him submerged below the surface. The olam, the world that He created for us to enjoy, also conceals His Divine presence, making it difficult for us to see G-d in nature and in our daily lives.

            Therefore, G-d performed various miracles and other “supernatural” events in the presence of the entire Jewish nation, and then had them recorded in His Torah. These miracles, known as a nes, are G-d’s way of sticking His hand above the surface of nature, waving at us from atop a tall pole, saying, “Hello, everybody, remember me? I am the one who gave you all the things you enjoy in nature – the beautiful sunsets, the ability to see them, the wonderful families you have, everything – but I had to perform this supernatural miracle so as to remind you that I am always there for you, just beneath the surface.”

            So, to set the record straight, Judaism doesn’t rely on miracles – the stuff which our religion consists of is the day-to-day recognition of G-d’s being a part of our natural lives. But, for example, when “You-Know-Who” sends 39 Scud missiles over densely populated areas in Israel, damaging 3,991 apartments and residential buildings, and hitting 17 schools, causing thousands to abandon their homes and causing millions of dollars worth of damage – and only one Jew dies as an indirect result of a missile, this miracle serves as a reminder that even when Saddam is no longer a threat, and we are back to our everyday existence, G-d is right there with us, just beneath the surface, waiting for us to let Him in to our lives. And, as they would say at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, that is a very important lesson for us Muggles to understand and incorporate in our own lives.

Read a sidebar to this article by Rabbi Zauderer entitled Hormin Munster And The Legends Of The Talmud.

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Rabbi David Zauderer is a card-carrying member of the Atlanta Scholars Kollel.

You are invited to read more Parshat Mattot & Masei articles.

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