By the CyberRav—Rabbi Rafi Rank
From time to time, we pass a store front shop with a picture of a crystal ball and a big sign that reads something along the lines of “Madam Rosa—Discover your future mate, connect with a loved one long gone, hear what lies in store for you…” or some such verbiage indicating that Madam Rosa has a corner on the future, or the spirit world, the way no one else has. Parashat Shoftim always makes me think of the Madam Rosas in the world because within this portion, we read: “Let no one be found among you…who is an augur, a soothsayer, a diviner, a sorcerer, one who casts spells, or one who consults ghosts or familiar spirits, or one who inquires of the dead” (Deuteronomy 18:10-11). And so in an age of deep superstitions and irrationalism, the Torah, in one fell swoop, places off limits all these foolish attempts of humankind to control the future, determine our fate, or invite the spirit world to in someway direct our lives. Because we are the children of rationalism, we gloss over this passage of the Torah as obvious or even simplistic, but in its biblical setting, these words could not have been more provocative as it sought to upset, if not overturn, the prevailing spirit of the day.
Now, I really don’t want to put Madam Rosa out of business. She probably has kids to feed or a spouse that depends upon her. And so, for purposes of entertainment, visiting Madam Rosa could not be regarded as a sin. It would be a sin only if we took what she had to say seriously, staking our lives on a system that has no rational foundation, and can be justified on the basis of entertainment alone.
A soothsayer is one who allegedly foretells the future. The Hebrew term for soothsayer is me’onen. Rabbi Akivah used to link the term me’onen to the Hebrew term onah or “season,” and explained that the me’onen is one who says such and such a season is the most propitious time for…you fill in the blank—starting a business, finding your true love, negotiating a big deal, and so forth. It’s an interesting interpretation. But what is Rabbi Akivah ultimately teaching us? What he is teaching us is this—do not depend on some soothsayer to tell you when to start doing something that is good. If it’s good, the time to start doing it is right now. Not tomorrow, and not the next day—right now is the time to begin if what you are pursuing will be of benefit to you or to your family or to you community.
During these days when turn our thoughts to an upcoming New Year, what could be a better message. The time for new beginnings is right now.
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