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Religion & Mysticism by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz installment three from The Strife & The Spirit

Many stories have been told about this, among them the tale of the rabbi who was discovered to be able to "see" at a distance when he was only a child. When he reached the age of six, his uncle, a tzaddik (righteous person), said to him, "I shall bless you to rid you of this holy spiriy, because it will impair your Jewishness. Then, when you are thirty years of age and want the madregah back, I shall return it to you, with added powers." (Megillat Sefarim, Introduction to Zohar Hai). This shows the double attitude toward the supernatural - respect and suspicion - for if it is not clearly and directly Divine, it is very liable to be abused. There are many stories of people who were granted adreagot in order to "confuse" them, for to those who do not know how to use them, the madregot become a very disturbing factor in real life. Thus there is the story of one who, on returning from his teacher, felt that he was being visited by marvelous higher powers. (This is not so extraordinary when one is immersed in scriptural study and concentration.) The sudden appearance of the gift shook him completely, for he felt it was not of his own choosing nor under his control and could therefore mislead him into an undesirable course; so he stood under a tree in the forest and prayed to G-d to take it from him.

If we thus distinguish prophecy from supernatural power by declaring the former to be Divine and the latter human, it is also correct to add that there is another, inward aspect to the difference. If madregot are human powers or gifts, then, as with all the faculties of man, they are ambivalent - good or bad as circumstances make them. Therefore, the greater the power or talent, the more dangerous, too, with as great a potential for destructive as for constructive action. Such an evaluation of human qualities and spiritual gifts means that there is no way of judging them in terms of good and evil (or anything else for that matter) and that to be kind or cruel, clever or proud, is merely a reaction to a particular context and has no intrinsic value. Thus, for example, kindheartedness, in certain instances, may be a bad quality; cleverness, a sin; pride, a pure and noble impulse; and so on. Everything that is human is, in itself, incapable of having only one meaning, or perhaps any "meaning" at all. The human is that which can take on meaning - it has meaning only in potential, in itself, intrinsically - but which is transparent and without conent or meaning.

In contrast to the lack of intrinsic content on the part of the human, the Divine revelation is qualified by a very definite and fundamental content. This content may be hidden or open, pleasant or hateful to us, as the case may be, but it always has the Divine mark of truth and inner necessity. And the prophet is essentially, by the nature of his being, a messenger of G-d, who has to speak, and his speech, therefore, has content, which is Divine. The prophet is compelled to speak out; the one who possesses supernatural powers does not have to say anything. Prophecy is an expression of a Divine idea and the Divine will; a vision that is not prophecy is an expression of a hidden human force that has no idea or will of its own.

What is the relationship of these mystical powers to religion? One might think that the answer is farily straightforward: Mysticism of this sort has no essential connection with religion, since religion has a Divine content based largely on prophetic revelation, whereas mystical powers are human in origin and have no content of their own. Even though mystical revelations do present manifest matters hidden to the ordinary man, they cannot reveal more than what is already known or create a new content. Remaining as they are, human, they cannot even give meaning to other (higher) contents and are certainly unable to reach the Divine. In this respect, it has been said that the vision of a pillar of fire or a burning bush by Moses may be considered a wondrous experience - but a human experience in the sense of being a trial of G-d.

This is not to say that there is no use for these powers, or that mystical manifestations have no value. They are only worthless in themselves, when they are isolated from all else; but when they are properly understood, they can guide the soul better than any other forces in life. Here, too, as with all else, it is the use and direction of a faculty that determines its value: It may be turned one way to fantasy and empty vision or another way toward G-d. The decisive value lies with conscciousness, the capacity of a person to make the right choice, because anyuone who is gifted with the ability to see more and to act on a wider scale than ordinary people must discriminate continually and must decide where he wants to go. The mystical power is a higher power and is needed by a person on a hegher level, who knows how to use it to the best advantage.

- taken from the Strife of the Spirit, J.Aronson-1988, 176-181


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