Magical Studies

For high school graduates choosing their college careers, I mention that Berkeley, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton are among more than two hundred universities that offer courses in Jewish-Studies.

They do not teach Judaism but Judaic-Studies. They also offer ‘Environmental-Studies,’ ‘Gay and Lesbian-Studies,’ ‘Native-American-Studies’ and other hyphenated-studies courses.

But they teach mathematics, not mathematical studies. They teach chemistry, not chemical studies, and physics, not physical studies. They teach engineering rather than engineering studies, and medicine rather than medical studies.

Does the word ‘studies’ hint that it is more about a current academic fad rather than about how the world really works?

Learning how the world really works is really important. It always was important.

How many times do you think magicians are mentioned in the Five Books of Moses? If I didn’t know, my first guess would have been none! What business does magic have in God’s message to mankind? Actually, they are mentioned nine times in the Torah but only in the context of one story—the redemption of Israel from Egypt.

Magicians make their first appearance at the faintest dawn of the redemption; when Pharaoh dreams of strange events that lead to Joseph being rescued from the dungeon. (Genesis 41:8 & 24)

They appear again when Aaron turns his rod into a snake to persuade Pharaoh that he and Moses are God’s representatives. The magicians also transform their rods into snakes, though Aaron’s rod/snake swallows theirs. (Exodus 7:10-12)

When God sends the plagues of Blood and Frogs, the magicians easily emulate those plagues, convincing Pharaoh that the plagues are natural phenomena. (Exodus 7:22 & 8:3)

Then we encounter the first failure of the magicians. They try to emulate the third plague, Lice, but fail. Amazingly, instead of making excuses, they honestly inform their boss, Pharaoh, that this must be the finger of God. (Exodus 8:14-15)

The magicians play no role in the next two plagues and appear for the final time during the sixth plague. They no longer stand before Pharaoh. They have switched their allegiance to Moses—they now know the truth.

The magicians were not able to stand before Moses
because of the boils which were on them and on all Egypt.

(Exodus 9:11)

Here, as the eventual outcome of God’s triumph over Egypt is becoming evident, is the last we hear of magicians.

So who were these magicians and what are we supposed to learn from their inclusion in the account of Israel’s redemption from Egypt?

The Hebrew word for these magicians has the root CH-R-T.

Revealing meaning by reading both forwards and backwards as the Lord’s language does, when we read ‘magicians’ backwards, we have T-R-CH, the Hebrew word for trouble or burden.

How alone will I carry your burden?
(Deuteronomy 1:12)

Ancient Jewish wisdom recorded by Rabbi Nissim, the great Torah transmitter who lived in 14th century Barcelona, explains that the magicians were the cutting-edge scientists of Pharaoh’s day. True scientists help reverse or do away with the troubles and burdens of living. They find ways to help us more easily feed ourselves; they discover medical treatments, and they make machines to help us accomplish our work.

These early scientists appear in the context of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt to teach us an important lesson. They stayed rooted in reality. They were grounded and honest enough to recognize both science’s importance and its limitations.

Similarly, when trying to escape your own Egypt by overcoming the challenges in your own life, don’t seek the latest ‘studies’. Find redemption by seeking God and His Torah. Don’t be seduced by fads, fantasies and schemes. Remain rooted in reality by balancing how the world really works with faith in God and His limitless power.

The Exodus events occupy a large proportion of the Five Books of Moses because they are the prototype for all future redemptions, both national and personal. Each verse yields practical lessons which are applicable to all of us as we confront our own burdens. I present three timeless techniques for triumphing over adversity in my audio CD, Let Me Go. Please acquire this for yourself or others in need of this kind of blessing.

P.S. Business Mensch remains on special sale for another 24 hours.

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