Shabbos 67 Pesukim as charms revisited 

A few daf ago, we discussed the idea of amulets and the apparent protective powers attributed to them by Chazal.

We noted that this seems to contradict the general mitzva of תמים תהיה עם אלוקיך, a commandment to pray and seek salvation only directly through Hashem himself, and not by means of magic or other supernatural means.

We also noted that it seems to go against the serious prohibition of saying pesukim to heal a wound or other ailment , as mentioned in the last perek of Sanhedrin.

In a related sugya in Shvuos 15b, we are told that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi used to say certain pesukim before going to bed at night (apparently to protect him.)  The Gemara asks how he could do this, seeing that one is not allowed to use words of Torah to heal, and answers that although healing is forbidden, using them as preemptive protection is permitted.

This could explain why using amulets with pesukim in them is permitted for protection, if there is reason to believe that they work.

The Rambam  also allows this, despite his belief that there is no power in such things,  possibly as he sees psychological benefit for those who do believe in them, or because he believes the requirement that it be an amulet that has proven itself 3 times reduces the group of amulets that may be worn to a null set.

On this daf, we are told, amongst other seemingly bizarre incantations, that Rabbi Yochanan advise someone with a severe type of fever to follow the following procedure:

  1. Take a blade made entirely of iron and find a thorn bush.
  2. Mark the thorn bush by tying a strand of hair around it.
  3. On the first day, cut a notch in the bush with the blade and say the verse “and an angel of Hashem appeared to him” (the verse  in Shmos 3 describing Hashem’s first revelation to Moshe in the burning Bush)
  4. On the second day, cut another notch, and say the passuk ” and Moshe said, I shall turn aside and see.” (all these pesukim are in the same episode)
  5. On the third day, cut another notch, and say the passuk “and Hashem saw that he had turned around to look “

Rav Acha then suggested to Rav Ash (generations later) that he should say on the last day the passuk “and he said, do not approach”, indicating that the fever should leave him alone.

It then continues to describe what should happen when the fever leaves him (which is apparently achieved by the previous steps.)

Without going into the issue of symbolism in these kind of sugyos ( the continuation of the sugya does indeed indicate that the symbolism is used to teach a vital lesson in humility)  , it is clear that this seems to contradict what we have learn that it is certainly forbidden to use pesukim as cures.

There are several approaches to resolving this in the Rishonim, among them

  1. Tosfos and the Rosh take the approach that if a danger to like is involved, like a severe fever, even healing is allowed , as all sins other than 3 are permitted to save a life .

This answer is difficult in that it assumes that such an action indeed can save a life, otherwise what is  the heter of pikuach nefesh? No one would suggest that its permitted to break shabbos for the sake of pikuach nefesh to make a treatment that is known not to work!

While it is possible that these Rishonim indeed take the approach that such things do work, but are simply forbidden, this would not work for the Rambam’s approach!

  1. The Meiri, who generally takes a similar “rationalist” approach to the Rambam , takes the view that the prohibition does not apply when other actions are taken for the cure and the pesukim just accompany them, perhaps because he sees them as simply a form of prayer in such a context, something the Rambam indeed says regarding using pesukim for protection, but notably not regarding saving life .
  2. It could be   possible, that as seems to be the way of the Rambam, he simply does not regard this sugya as authoritative given that it contradicts the axiomatic  sugyos on the subject, and simply chooses to leave it out of the halacha . This takes us into a long and controversial subject, which is out of the scope of this post.

These posts are intended to raise issues and stimulate further research and discussion on contemporary topics related to the daf. They are not intended as psak halacha.

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