Superstition is defined as a supernatural causality. It means that walking under a ladder is bad luck. It means that if a black cat crosses one’s path, it is a sign of impending danger.
Every culture has its own collection of superstitions. In China, when someone wants to admire a beautiful child, they say to the parents “what an ugly child you have”. In Yiddish-speaking society, when complimenting someone, it was usually accompanied by a “ken aineh hora”… bli ayin ha ra… no evil eye.
Some Jews believe that in looking upon a person who they feel may be unpleasant, they silently make the “bli ayin ha ra” invocation, and they seek by all possibilities to avoid that person.
Most superstitions are not based upon pragmatic thinking; simply put, they are old-wives’ tales.
Yet for many, superstitions are based upon known events and fear of future repetitions.
Such is my case. My one and only superstition is the ninth of any month. I will not travel on the ninth. I avoid being in crowds on the ninth. I fear dying on the ninth. And these superstitions are based upon actual events in my life.
My 3 month old sister died on the 9th of the month. My 6 week old brother died on the 9th of the month. Of course these deaths were in a time before penicillin had been invented.
My beloved paternal grandfather died on the 9th of the month. My dear father died on the 9th of the month. These 9ths occurred in both the Hebrew and the secular calendars. I long considered them to be a family curse.
But nevertheless, the 9th of each month holds a special fear for me. Once I had an opportunity to fly from Tel-Aviv to New York on the 9th of a month at a lower fare. The fare would be considerably increased the next day, the 10th. I chose to pay the extra fare on the 10th and avoided the flight on the 9th.
Some people may consider this irrational, but I believe that there is an invisible power called by the Germans, “schicksal”, fate or destiny. Yiddish-speaking Jews say it is “bashert”, meant to be.
I have no hesitation of walking under a ladder, of being crossed in a path by a black cat, I don’t say “poo poo” when someone offers a complimentary remark. I live a normal life as a Jewish meshugganeh, avoiding only any perceived dangers on the 9th day of a month. I have even instructed my doctor that if I am in danger of death, to please keep me on life-support until after the 9th day of the month. I want to be the one who breaks the curse.
I am often surprised by the number of people whom I know or meet who have their own superstitions. They are intelligent and rational individuals and yet there is one or more particular fears which affect their lives.
If I were more of a clear-thinking man I would consider the 9th day a blessing…a blessing of life. In the Haggadah of Pesach there is a hymn of life’s events called “Echad Mi Yodaya”…who knows one.
It enumerates from one to thirteen the beliefs and attributes which Jews hold to be divine. The 9th verse asks “Tisha mi yodaya? Tisha ani yodaya. Tisha yarchai laida”… who knows 9? I know 9. Nine is the number of months before giving birth.
So, I am spiritually encouraged and fear diminished by the concluding line: “Echad Elohenu she ba shamayim u’ba aretz”… Our God is One in heaven and on earth.
Perhaps next month, I’ll venture out to do something different on the 9th and will say “poo-poo” to bobbe-meises (superstitons told by old wives).