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The Paranormal

by Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum


Library » Philosophy » Miracles | Subscribe | What is RSS?


As a natural cynic employed to preach faith, I often find myself torn between so-called religious principles and my innate skepticism to reported occurrences of supernatural phenomena.

Take miracles, for instance. I love a good Chassidic story of faith, fellowship, and relief from suffering. Throw in a witty word play and a piece of psychology grounded in Torah, and I’m in clover. However, when the story hinges on miraculous interventions, I get uncomfortable. I start wondering about the veracity of the story. How was the evidence compiled? Who witnessed it and reported it? Even if verified, could this be nothing more than coincidence? If the story sounds implausible or too fantastic, is my uncertainty a sign of lack of faith?

The Kotzker Rebbe is quoted to have said that anyone who believes that every miracle story attributed to the Ba’al Shem Tov actually occurred must be a fool. On the other hand, a scoffer who believes that they couldn’t have happened is an atheist.

If I understand this correctly, prophecy does happen. Miracles do occur. Just not every poseur who gets up and starts telling a story needs to be trusted implicitly. Unfortunately, in this world of falsehood people have been known to invent stories, and if you invest money or belief on nothing more that the con-man’s say so – you’re a fool. However, to extrapolate from there that nothing is true, and nothing is sacred, is unnecessarily cynical and leads to apathy and perdition.

If the prophet, man or woman, isn’t a person of character, virtuous and humble, with a personal life lived beyond reproach; then he’s lying or deranged.
And so, I hedge my bets. I believe with a perfect faith that Hashem is true and His Torah is true. I know that nothing on this world happens by chance; every single leaf a’ blowing in the wind forms a vital cog in the divine masterplan. I accept that G-d occasionally chooses to reveal His plan for the world via intermediaries, called prophets. And yet I reserve the right to examine every claim through the lens of my natural suspicion, hoping all the while that this is indeed an instance of inspiration and not deception.

There are con men out there. Religion is the natural playing field of hucksters and frauds looking to make a fast buck on the back of some else’s credulity. As we speak, charlatans are peddling Kabbalah waters and red strings, whispering holy nothings and blessing people for a fee. How can you and I possibly differentiate between the holy and the profane, the profound and the ridiculous?

The Torah way is to examine the messenger before the message. If the prophet, man or woman, isn’t a person of character, virtuous and humble, with a personal life lived beyond reproach; then he’s lying or deranged. G-d doesn’t choose loose men or women to communicate with us, and if a person’s heart and mind aren’t in sync, then he’s no instrument for the divine.

Hashem is constantly sending messages to the world, broadcasting His will and instructions to the faithful. There is nothing wrong with the transmission, just that most of us aren’t tuned in to the right frequency. Only someone who has lived his life on G-d’s terms, forging himself into a channel for Hashem’s will, can concentrate on the message, undistracted by the static of physicality.

By accentuating Torah and Mitzvot, holiness and true spirituality, a real prophet fashions him or herself into the reed, behind whose G-dly music we all long to march.


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Posted by: Gidalyeh, San Marcos, A on Feb 18, 2009

I was once stopped in traffic. I looked in my mirror and saw a car spinning out of control toward me. At the last momnet the car changed direction and went away sparing me injury (it was headed directly for the area of the car I was seated in.) I understand the laws aof physics and motion and cannot expalin what would make the car change directions suddenly as though it were pushed away from the direction it was headed. Was this a miracle or just a coincidence. While we must not blindly declare it as etzbah Elohim we as surely must not dismiss the matter as pure coincidence. I believe miracles happen every day. It just depends on how you view things.
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Plural form of Mitzvah. Commandments of G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
(Pl.: Chassidim; Adj.: Chassidic) A follower of the teachings of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), the founder of "Chassidut." Chassidut emphasizes serving G-d with sincerity and joy, and the importance of connecting to a Rebbe (saintly mentor).
Jewish mysticism. The word Kaballah means "reception," for we cannot physically perceive the Divine, we merely study the mystical truths which were transmitted to us by G-d Himself through His righteous servants.
A Chassidic master. A saintly person who inspires followers to increase their spiritual awareness.
"The Name." Out of respect, we do not explicitly mention G-d's name, unless in the course of prayer. Instead, "Hashem" is substituted.
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.