Mikeitz – Something Bad in our Bloodline

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Many years ago, a wise rebbe of mine, addressing instances of financial finagling by some members of the tribe, explained that  the forefathers of us Jews whom we revere are Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, and we are to strive to emulate their rectitude and integrity. But, he continued, our bloodline also includes the cheater Lavan. And sometimes, regrettably, his genes, so to speak, can express themselves in some Jews’ inclinations, and even behavior.

At the end of the parsha, Yosef, still “undercover” as the Egyptian viceroy, plants a royal goblet in Binyamin’s knapsack. When the chalice, which Yosef indicates was used for telling the future, is “found” there, he says to his brothers, “Don’t you know that a person like me practices divination?”

Divination, or kishuf, is forbidden by the Torah. Yosef received his ability to interpret dreams directly from Heaven, not through any magical means. And that is clearly why he avoids lying outright, not claiming that he himself uses the goblet for divination purposes but, rather, that it is so used by “a person like me” – referring to Par’oh, not himself.

The halachos of what constitutes kishuf are complex. There are occasions when an omen may be taken seriously but, generally speaking, acting on the “revelation” of an omen, or relying on seemingly magical means to make one’s plans, constitutes a forbidden act. 

There are, unfortunately, practices that have found footholds in some otherwise observant Jewish circles that seem clearly to be straddling, if not crossing, the line between legitimate “omen recognizing” and outright, forbidden occultism. I won’t venture into citing particular practices. As the same wise rebbe quoted above would say about controversial things, “Go ask your local Orthodox rabbi.” But when faced with the option of utilizing a seemingly questionable segulah, one needs to weigh the possibility that doing so may be an issur d’Oraysa, a Torah prohibition.

Back in parshas Vayeitzei, we find Lavan telling Yaakov, that “I have learned by divination that Hashem has blessed me on your account” (Beraishis 30:27).

Once again, Lavan is in our ancestry. But we have free will, and are charged to do our best to squelch whatever inclinations we may have that are born of that ancestor’s influence.

© 2023 Rabbi Avi Shafran

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