Tuesday, January 31, 2012

parshas hamon and segulah scrooges

Lots of frum websites and blogs have publicized R' Mendele m'Riminov teaching that reading the parshas hamon shenayim mikra v'echad targum today is a segulah for parnasa.  A few thoughts:

1. Trying to offer some rationalization of how the segulah works seems to me to be a waste of time.  A segulah by definition is something whose workings cannot be explained.  After all is said and done about the parsha of mon focusing our bitachon, or whatever other explanation is offered, it's still a mystery as to why this particular parsha on this particular day should have an effect.

2. Parnasa does not mean wealth.  If anything, the parsha of mon teaches us to be satisfied with what we have.  To borrow my wife's words on the topic (link): 
Beyond that, though, the mon came down each day with just enough for that day except on erev Shabbos when the double portion came for the next day). That meant that the Jews in the midbar never had the feeling of security that comes from pas besalo [bread in the basket, on hand for later]. Each day was another challenge in bitachon that Hashem will provide what you need. 
The way the term parnassah  tends to be used today is not that you live day-to-day with bitachon that Hashem will provide but that you are comfortable -- secure in the knowledge that you have a number of baskets filled with bread and whatever else you want on hand. I get the sense that people consider the segulahs for parnassah to be guarantees of a certain standard of living that is quite different from the experience of eating mon.
3. The popularization of segulos always brings out the segulah scrooges who think everything of this sort is illegitimate and feel it is their duty to convince the rest of Klal Yisrael of their point and make fun of the cretin neanderthals among us who would believe in this superstitious magic.  I once gave a shiur and noticed that one of the participants reacted to every other line in the gemara with either a nod of approval or a question on the logic employed.  My 2 cents is that when you sit in judgment of a sevara of  Chazal, you sit in judgment of yourself.  If you think Abaye or Rava's logic is faulty, it means your logic is faulty.   If you think Abayei or Rava got it wrong, it means you got it wrong.  Hillel and R' Akiva, Abeyei and Rava, Rashi and the Rambam's words define what the standard of Torah is -- there is no other external source of any sort against which they can be measured and judged.  Everyone who is a frum Jew understands this.  What some people seem to miss I guess is that R' Mendele m'Riminov is also a standard, a ruler against which other things are measured.  

Now that I provided a great line for the segulah opponents to take out of context, a little clarification.  Of course I don't mean that the opinions of a chassidishe Rebbe living not to long ago carry the same weight as statements of Abayei and Rava.  To put what I mean in another context, I stand as much chance of jumping to the moon as jumping to Jupiter.  Of course I know there is a difference between the moon and Jupiter, but from my perspective of jumping up and down, even with Air Jordans on my feet, they are equally unreachable.    R' Mendele m'Riminov may be the moon, not Jupiter or Alpha Centauri, but it doesn't change the fact that practically speaking, no matter how high I jump, the world he lived in and the Torah he understood may be beyond me.  A segulah is from toras hanistar; it's not like pshat in a Rambam where you can argue as to what makes better or worse sense.  It would be the height of chutzpah to think I can decide whether there is anything to this segulah or not, much less to throw around terms like "darkei emori" to describe it.  If I don't understand, it means my understanding falls short of the mark -- not the other way around.


  1. Anonymous4:09 PM

    Guilty as charged. Although I wouldn't catergorize it as an upshprecher/red string/locheis ahl hamaka idea/YD 179 kind of thing, it really doesn't appeal to me.
    Though I wonder why the Prisha in OC 1 has to tell us that if you say the parshas hamon every single day it's a segula for parnasa, when you could accomplish the same by saying it just that one day.

  2. great unknown4:58 PM

    Anonymous @4:09 PM

    The Prisha didn't know from chassidus.

    This is an appropriated answer from a discussion I once had with a chossid:
    me) What is this tisch about?
    he) It's the Rebbe's yahrzeit.
    m) So? Why the simcha? The minhag used to be to fast on a yahrzeit.
    h) But this is to celebrate the aliyas neshama the Rebbe is having today.
    m) How do you know he is having an aliyas neshama today?
    h) How could you think otherwise?
    m) Well, Rav Yochanan Ben Zakkai was crying before his death, because he didn't know where he would end up [or down].
    h) That's because Rav Yochanan Ben Zakkai didn't know from chassidus.

    This was in the shtiebel of Harav Hagaon Rav Yitzchok Sternhell, a world class posek. When he heard the answer his chossid gave, he covered his face and muttered "Oy".

    I would appreciate some sources on the greatness of R' Mendele; maybe some seforim he wrote, or perushim quoted in his name. While not contesting his greatness, since I have no idea, my anchor is the gemora pesachim at the top of 49b, that puts talmidei chachamim ahead of "anshei ma'ase and tzaddikim."

    Incidentally, one of the problems with segulos such as this is: how do you know it's authentic?

    In any case, I have to order a copy of the ketores in ksav ashuris on klaf. This is another ancient segulah that just showed up in the last few years. But for some reason, many of those saying it every day seem to stuck in the same economic dumps as before - except they are out a substantial sum for purchasing the klaf.

    Forgive the cynicism: it is genetic, and is pathognomonic of being a Litvak.

  3. Anonymous5:32 PM

    You know the answer to all such questions:
    Ah, but if you HADN'T been saying it, oy, you would have been teef in drerd.

    Which, by the way, I heard in the name of Reb Matisyahu Salomon on this parshas Mon thing. Of course, he said it without the cynicism.

  4. great unknown5:51 PM

    There is also an inyan [i.e., ki dvar Hashem baza] of not using pesukim as a segulah, but that's only chazal and poskim.

  5. >>>how do you know it's authentic?

    That was my point -- you trust R' Mendele m'Riminov. If he's not a trustworthy source to you, so be it. You can google his name and discover he's not a nobody and doesn't need my haskama.

    The conversation you recount proves that the world of chassidus has no shortage of am ha'ratzim, but when I think of chassidus I prefer to focus on the likes of the Kozhiglover, for example (the name came to mind because he deals with the specific issue you mention of why the yahrzeit of a tzadik is a celebration when the Rama says to fast; he was a gaon in learning as well as a chossid of the Shem m'Shmuel) or R' Tzadok haKohen or any some of the giants whose capabilities in learning were beyond question and certainly on par with those in the misnagdic world. The derech of the Besh"T drew its share of great talmidei chachamim as well.

  6. The problem I have with your approach, Anonymous, is you seem to assume that you discovered a mefurash Prisha that R' Mendele m'Riminov must have missed -- how smart you are compared to these silly chassidishe Rebbes! I am willing to bet that you would not so easily toss out a R' Akiva Eiger (l'mashal), even if you found a mefurash Prisha against him. I'm not saying to ignore the kashe; I'm simply saying that perhaps it pays to tread a little more lightly when dealing with people who were bigger than you are I. If you would leave a R' Akiva Eiger b'tzarich iyun, not reject it completely, isn't it fair to do the same here?

    But than again, I start with the assumption that folks who R' Elimelech m'Lizensk accepted as talmidim were bigger than I could ever be and deserve my benefit of the doubt, just like R' Akiva Eiger. Unless you buy that assumption, all bets are off. That's what it all boils down to.

  7. Dovid Shlomo6:43 PM

    Nowhere in Rav Menachem Mendel's writings does he mention any such segulah.

    The custom was unknown as well to "Yotzei Rimanov" who were asked about it by the author of a prominent collection of minhagim call Davar b'Ito.

    Furthermore, "Parsas HaMon as segulah" flies in the face of writings on Parshas HaMon from Menachem Mendel's contemporaries, like Ohr HaMeir, who writes of Parshas HaMon in several places.

    Every classic source I know of writes of Parshas HaMon not as a segulah, but as a means of internalizing certain truths.

    In other words, it is NOT an appeal to HASHEM to grant us something, but something WE do (and not through proxies) to train our minds to think in a certain way amd go through life with a certain attitude.

    To say otherwise is a desecration and distortion of EVERY classic source I know of on Parshas HaMon.

  8. Re: Dovid Shlomo

    This is precisely what I meant by asking "how do you know it's authentic?"

    I would assume that if Reb Mendele said it, it deserves respect. But how do you know he said it?

    And the idea of internalizing certain attitudes is also how the Mishna Brurah explains the purpose of being mekavain in "poseach es yadecha..."

  9. Dovid Shlomo7:50 PM

    Re: Great Unknown


    And the idea of internalizing certain attitudes is also how the Mishna Brurah -- and every other mefaresh --explains the purpose of saying Parshas Hamon!

    And, as I said, Reb Menachem Mendel himself never says otherwise!

  10. Anonymous8:40 PM

    maybe an omer of mon was jarred
    (pickled?) not just as an eventual
    museum piece, but also as a
    potentially vital residue in some
    sort of segulah dynamic? (maybe
    too to serve as the heavenly 'luz
    bone' for a million tons of mon
    [if, for example, during the tussle
    gog v'magog, grain becomes scarce or difficult to grow]?)

  11. >>>Every classic source I know of writes of Parshas HaMon not as a segulah, but as a means of internalizing certain truths.

    I may be wrong, but my understanding is that RM"M instituted saying p' hamon this day specifically, as distinct from the minhag of reciting it daily.

    The segulah aspect comes into play because if the goal is just to internalize the idea of bitachon, why this parsha? Why this day? Why not just meditate over it - why read it davka with the targum? (I doubt must people were up to shishi in their shenayim mikra today). The fact that a specific process and procedure "needs" to be followed to attain a goal that at first glance could be accomplished in any other of number of ways is what defies rational explanation.

  12. Dovid Shlomo9:41 PM

    Chaim B.

    I don't understand.

    I wrote that this supposed custom is not found ANYWHERE in his writings, nor was it known to Riminov elders who were questioned about it.

    I wrote as well that the very idea of it being a segulah -- ever -- is contradicted by all that he and his Chasidishe contemporaries wrote on the subject!

  13. Just to add one point, let's not lose sight of the forest for the tree. If you think this segulah does not have a good source, neicha, but it strikes me from reading some of the anti-segulah postings out there that it's not this particular segulah that is the issue -- it's any segulah. The whole idea of a segulah, no matter what the source, is something some people cannot accept as part and parcel of traditional judaism. E.g. are bloggers who attack the minhag of kapparos, citing the mechaber as their authority that it's arkei emori -- never mind the fact that minhag ashkenaz accepted the practice as valid. There are many of examples of this type, all of which I think (if I can speculate a bit) stem from the desire to eliminate anything which transcends logic/rationality from yahadut. The point I am trying to make is that not understanding how something works does not mean it can't/doesn't work.

  14. Dovid Shlomo10:32 PM

    Chaim B.

    The issue (my issue) is that when all the relevant sources (including from 18th century Chassidishe Rebbes) say otherwise, explictly (!), calling it a segulah cheapens it.

  15. great unknown1:28 AM

    It's not just the mechaber: it's based on a Tshuvas HaRashba who says he was shocked when he first saw Jews doing it. It's in the same tshuva where he condemns the "minhag" of nailing a chicken head over the doorway of a house with a newborn baby.

    The issue of kapporos, in any case, can also be an exercise in focus and attitude. [Similar to the idea of a korban invoking the idea that if could be me getting shechted for my aveiros]. And, of course, the zchus of giving the chicken/money to aniyim right before Yom HaKippurim.

    What bothers me most about most segulos, besides their not having a reliable history tracing back to a gadol, is that they are not found in chazal.

    However, my Mother, she should be healthy and strong ad me'ah v'esrim, taught me a segula that always works: saying perek 119 in Tehillos forwards and backwards. It's a segula for cooling of an excessively hot glass of tea.

    And the last comment by Dovid Shlomo is the primary point. It cheapens it and replaces a kesher with the Ribbono Shel Olam with a mechanical exercise.

  16. Bob Miller10:28 AM

    If our reading from a Torah text makes us focus on the important concepts in it, and put our lives and thought more in synch with these concepts, that could be a real help! The nature of that help flows from the subject matter.

  17. I quoted some of these comments on my website. Thank you.

  18. >>>It cheapens it and replaces a kesher with the Ribbono Shel Olam with a mechanical exercise.

    I reject the dichotomy.
    When R' Chaim Volozhiner (a source even a Litvak can respect!) writes that he has a "segulah nifla'ah" (Nefesh haChaim 3:12) to ward away evil -- to always have in mind "ain od milvado" -- do you think me means to replace a kesher with Hashem with some "mechanical exercise," or magical incantation because he uses the dreaded word "segulah," or is the segualah gufa the means to deepen and strengthen that very kesher?

  19. Dovid Shlomo8:12 PM

    Chaim B:

    R' Chaim Volozhiner refers to internalizing "ain od m'lvado" and keeping it in mind always -- not merely reciting it.

    What is claimed in the name of R' Mendel - AND THERE IS NO EVIDENCE HE EVER SAID SUCH A THING! - is that merely SAYING something (one time, no less!) is a segulah.

  20. Anonymous12:10 PM

    Is blogging ever a segulah for anything?

  21. In my experience, blogging is a segula for clarifying thoughts and expanding your horizon, but that totally depends on the quality of the people commenting on the blog.

  22. Anonymous2:59 PM

    Its hard to imagine R Mendele thinking that by chanting some pesukim you will make money. That very well may be a discretion in emunah and thus have a hint of darkei amorei

  23. Anonymous4:33 PM

    I agree with the last anonymous. A lot of things we do have a hint of darkei amorei, like sitting in a sukkah, wearing tefillin, fasting on Yom Kippur, making a bris, and many other things. Except that they're not completely darkei amorei, they're darkei yehudei.

  24. Anonymous6:52 PM

    is the format--shenayim mikra v'echad targum--itself an indication that this section needs to be learned & appreciated, rather than used magically or mechanically? such sense of
    'study' seems underscored by the Sefer haPardes, Divrei Chaim, july 8, 2010 (but then one must ask there, isn't the segulah individual, rather than communal? it's certainly not a preparation for leining, as
    "[s]ome Rishonim understand shenayim mikra",ibid.-- why then by that understanding this particular format?)

  25. >>> is that merely SAYING something (one time, no less!) is a segulah.

    I'm curious how you understand Hashem giving a person reward for eating matzah -- done only one time of year, and you are yotzei even without kavanah? How does that work?

    Does a person get reward for the mitzvah of sefiras ha'omer for just saying numbers, even without understanding the purpose of the count?

    Does a person get reward for blowing shofar once a year, even without understanding the message behind it? Even if he just hears the shofar while passing a shul?

  26. Dovid Shlomo12:17 AM

    Chaim B.:

    I am not challenging R' Menachem Mendel's right to call one thing or another a segulah.

    My point is that everything we know from his writings and from those of his (Chassidishe Rebbe) contemporaries is that Parshat HaMon does not work that way.

    That being the case, why impute to R' Menachem Mendel a position that he clearly opposed -- when we can just as easily attribute to him that which he actually said?

  27. Mike S.4:34 PM

    As one who sometimes speaks and writes against practicing segulos, please allow me to explain my view. I would not insert myself into disputes with the great Mekuballim of history. But when I see how the hamon am who practice these things reacts, it is a different story entirely. When people think of segolos as a way to force Hakadosh Barukh Hu into doing what they want, it is plain avodah zarah. We serve God; not the other way around. The average person thinks of segolos as way of reversing that; they view it as some kind of kishuf to coerce the Almighty, as if it were possible. Perhaps in the time of some of these great masters, it could be taken for granted that the Jews had enough Yirat Shamayim to practice segolos without falling into these idolatrous thoughts. It certainly isn't so today.