Sharona Margolin Halickman

We Don’t Practice Divination

In Parshat Balak (Bamidbar 23:23) Bilam declares: “Ki lo nachash b’Yaakov v’lo kesem b’Yisrael”, “There is no divination in Yaakov and no sorcery in Yisrael.”

In Vayikra 19:26 we are commanded: “You shall not eat over the blood; you shall not indulge in divination and you shall not believe in lucky times.”

Is it true that Jewish people do not practice divination?

On Rosh HaShana, it is customary to conduct a seder with symbolic foods, reciting a symbolic prayer for each food. Apples and honey are sweet tasting and when we eat them we pray for a sweet new year. Pomegranates allude to abundance and we focus on an increase in Israel’s mitzvah performance. Gourds, fenugreek, leeks, beets and dates are specifically mentioned in the Gemara in Kritot 6a as good omens to be eaten on Rosh HaShana.

Can the Rosh HaShana seder be considered to be divination?

According to the Maharsha, the omens at the Rosh HaShana seder are good omens so there is no concern of divination.

The Mordechai states that a “Yehi Ratzon” (“May it be Your will”) blessing should be recited when we eat each food at the Rosh HaShana seder. The Meiri explains that these special blessings prevent the omens from being a form of divination as they are there to help us focus on our prayers.

Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon of JobKatif explains that according to the Maharal, Chayei Adam and the Ramban (Breisheet 21:6), the symbols help us create reality.

When Avraham passed through the Land of Israel, he was setting the scene for the time when B’nai Yisrael would eventually take possession of the land. In Breisheet 12:7, God made the promise to Avram: “To your offspring I will give this land” and then immediately in sentence 8 we see that Avram pitched his tent between Beit El and Ai. This would later be the place that Yehoshua would conquer first in battle (Yehoshua 8) which turned Avraham’s symbolic “camping” into the reality of Jewish possession of the Land of Israel.

According to Rav Rimon, the Rosh HaShana symbols are the opposite of divination. In divination one sees a sign and acts upon it. The simanim of Rosh HaShana on the other hand help create the reality. When we see and do good things we create positive energy. When we eat good things and say the accompanying blessings we are creating a positive atmosphere. This is not considered divination, rather this is doing our part to have kavana (intent) that good things should happen to us.

Rav Rimon’s positive attitude has helped many Israelis who were evacuated from their homes in Gush Katif ten years ago. Instead of lamenting the terrible tragedy that occurred he has helped many of these families find new jobs and start their lives anew. As we are about to commemorate the evacuation of Israelis from their homes during the summer of 2005 we must appreciate our leaders like Rav Rimon who with a positive attitude helped those families move on. After seeing the failure of the plan and the fact that the Gaza strip is now in worse shape than ever we must use a positive attitude to make sure that mistakes like that are not made in the future. We must continue to travel throughout the Land of Israel as Avraham did and show our love and appreciation for it.

About the Author
Sharona holds a BA in Judaic Studies from Stern College and an MS in Jewish Education from Azrieli Graduate School, Yeshiva University. Sharona was the first Congregational Intern and Madricha Ruchanit at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, NY. After making aliya in 2004, Sharona founded Torat Reva Yerushalayim, a non profit organization based in Jerusalem which provides Torah study groups for students of all ages and backgrounds.
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