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Two Minutes of Torah

>Two Minutes of Torah: Parashat Vaera (Exodus 6:29-7:18) – Magic or Miracle

>As a child I really loved magic. I would always be transfixed as I watched magicians on television performing tricks which seemed impossible and inexplicable. As a child there was something amazing about these men who could read minds, guess the correct cards, and even saw a woman in half. I believed that the woman was really sliced in half and I believed that she was then magically stuck back together. These men who performed these feats, were magical and mysterious, possessing special powers (or so it seemed), and I was in awe of the way in which they appeared to make the impossible possible, always glued to the television screen when they were on.

As children we watch magic and we enjoy the illusion, without any awareness that there is actually any form of illusion involved. As we get older we slowly realise that the magic is not always all that it seems. The practitioners are still very skilled performers able to trick us into believing, but the belief in a pure magic (for want of a better term) disappears.

In this week’s Torah portion we read about the difference between magic and miracles, as Aaron duels with the magicians of Pharaoh’s court. God tells Moses and Aaron: ‘You shall speak all that I command you; and Aaron your brother shall speak to Pharaoh’ (Exodus 7:2), preparing them for their first encounter with the ruler of Egypt on behalf of God and the Israelites. And God appears to understand that the two brothers will need some form of proof that they really do have Divine backing: ‘When Pharaoh shall speak to you saying; “show a miracle”; then you shall say to Aaron, take your rod and throw it before Pharaoh and it shall become a serpent’ (Exodus 7:9).

We already know that God is about to bring the ten plagues upon Egypt and to part the sea so that the Israelites might cross; and we might feel that God could have begun with a bigger miracle for Aaron. However, it turns out to be perfectly appropriate for the situation.

Aaron did exactly as God had commanded him, and threw down his rod, which became a serpent (Exodus 7:10). But then, ‘the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments; for they threw down every man his rod, and they became serpents’ (Exodus 7:11-12). However, before we begin to doubt the supremacy of God, or spend too long questioning how the Egyptians were able to perform an equivalent miracle, the text tells us: ‘but Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods’ (Exodus 7:12).

This was a society in which there could be a form of duel between sorcerers and magic. In this encounter, while the power remains with Pharaoh and the Egyptians, it is clear that God’s powers are far greater than anything they can create.

In our modern world the link between magic and religion has all but been broken, and we do not think of modern day magicians as having a power over the Divine and supernatural forces. But even modern magic has not forgotten the fact that all real miracles and magic emerged originally from God.

The word that magicians use: ‘Abracadabra’ has at its source the Hebrew abareh kedaber – I will create as it is spoken. This can be seen as a link to God’s very first miracle when the word was created simply by God’s words, ‘God said let there be light, and there was light’ (Genesis 1:3). God’s miracles do not involve any illusion, God is able to speak and the miraculous happens. Every time a magician says ‘Abracadabra’, whether they know it or not, they acknowledge that at its root all magic and miracles originate with God.

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