The Man Passage

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The Meshekh Chokhmah (Ex. 12:21) has a long excursus in his commentary to last week’s Torah reading in which he shows his rational, philosophical worldview. The Jewish people are praised for their devoted faith, that they are “ma’aminim benei ma’aminim – believers the children of believers”. But, asks the Meshekh Chokhmah, why is this a specifically Jewish trait? Don’t Gentiles also cling to their ancestral religions (cf. Jer. 2:11; Ta’anis 5b)?

He answers that there are two distinct realms, that of intellect and that of feelings. Jewish beliefs are based on the intellect. Even when people cannot reach the high levels of scholarship needed to attain this knowledge they still believe in the religion of intellect that they received from their ancestors. Other religions, however, are based on feelings and glorifying the physical. They believe in feelings while we believe in intellect. We still utilize our feelings, but in interpersonal commandments that were given to us to ensure that our feelings are kept out of the realm of beliefs.

This complete distinction between intellect and feelings is certainly a modern (as opposed to post-modern) view. As Prof. Yishayahu Leibowitz said about this Meshekh Chokhmah (Seven Years of Discourses on the Weekly Torah Reading, p. 268), the remarkable thing about it is that it is sufficiently philosophically profound that we are able to find problematic aspects of it. (He proceeds to list the three Torah giants of the early to mid twentieth century whom he considered to be deep thinkers [hogei dei’os] — R. Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, R. Avraham Yitzchak Kook and R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik.)

I find telling the contrast between this approach of the Meshekh Chokhmah and that implicit in all the e-mails I’ve received stating that reciting the passage of the man today is a segulah (omen) for making a living (link). Aside from it having no traditional source, this is not the attitude towards God and the Torah that I see in the Meshekh Chokhmah. There is no rational value in reciting the passage, not even the value of following the King of kings’ command because this has not been commanded. Maybe it will strengthen people’s faith in God, like reciting Ashrei every day, but the once-a-year-on-a-special-day element to this practice is hard to square with that fundamental value. Reciting it every day or once a week seems much more appropriate.

From where I’m sitting, this practice seems to lower the important of heartfelt prayer by implying that God answers people who follow certain almost magical formulas rather than pouring out their heart in prayer and following the commands that God has set before them. What is there to lose by saying the passage? Your bearing and your belief system.

I am perfectly willing to say “eilu va-eilu” and leave this segulah as a different approach to Judaism. But I highly doubt that the Meshekh Chokhmah would approve of this segulah.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. He also serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

3 comments

  1. While the citation of Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk is certainly appropriate and of interest, a more telling view is that of the Rambam in his Mishne Torah. There he asserts that someone who recites verses in the belief that it will magically heal is guilty of perverting the torah and will suffer the consequences. The same should be true of reciting verses of the torah with the aim of obtaining income. That is not the intended purpose of the torah. The torah is a book of instruction, not a book of magic.

  2. Daniel Korobkin

    With all due respect, I think this article is way off the mark. There are multiple approaches to tefilla in our tradition, and to relegate tefilla to an exclusive Maimonidean “avodah she-balev” (heartfelt worship) form of ritual is to ignore a plethora of other approaches to tefilla, many which view formal tefilla as a form of spiritual/magical incantation. We pray in Hebrew and advocate that even those who don’t understand Hebrew do the same (Mishneh Berurah). Is this consistent with the author’s thesis? No. We and/or our wives gather regularly to recite Tehillim over specific cholim (sick people), and I have no doubt that the majority of these Tehillim “zoggers” aren’t aware of what they’re saying. Heartfelt prayer? No. Efficacious nonetheless? Apparently so, to a large swath of our people, and not just the “hamon am.” I’m also disappointed in the author (quoting Meshech Chochma) bundling “feelings” and “glorifying the physical” in the same category. That is truly an elite Maimonidean ideal, and ignores the emotional approach to worship and prayer that is so much part of our tradition. As to saying this particular tefilla only once a year, I recommend as such to my congregation in the hopes that they’ll take their daily prayer of “v’ten bracha” more seriously. Too often we say the Shemoneh Esrei by rote, so at least a once a year prayer can help to shake up our patterns and get us to focus a bit better on our daily words. I surely hope the author publishes the flip side to his arguments.

  3. Sholem Hurwitz

    There are, in fact, sources for saying Parashat Haman – albeit not specifically on this day. Shulchan Aruch (OC 1:5) says to say the Parashot of the Akeidah, Man and Ten Commandments et al. every day!

    Interestingly, the Taz, and Mishnah Berurah in his wake, explain that the point is to think about the fact that as we subsisted on the Man in the desert and were completely dependent on God, so too provision for our physical requirements today stems solely from Hashem. This is certainly in line with the “rational” approach of understanding the text and internalizing its significance.

    However, the Tashbetz (256) writes “Yerushalmi (states): Whoever recites Parashat Haman every day is assured that mezonotav (generally, “his livelihood”) will not be limited, and I guarantee this.” (A quick cursory search of the Yerushalmi (Mishnah Berurah says it is Yerushalmi Brachot) did not locate this source.)

    So – saying Parashat Haman on a specific day? Still no source.
    Does the Tashbetz think this works as a “segulah”-type thing? Difficult to say.
    How does he “guarantee” that this ‘works’? Don’t know.

    Clearly, however, the world of “segulot” is alive and kicking, and as R’ Korobkin indicates some of it (or an approach that is not purely the rational one espoused here) may be more than ‘mishegas.’
    This certainly requires further investigation… maybe a blog post on Hirhurim? (nudge, nudge).

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