Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “Judaism recognizes different forms and levels of prophecy, magic, and mystical power.”


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

In Judaism there is nothing extraordinary or unacceptable about extrasensory experience.

It is quite natural for people to have the capacity to rise above the usual human level of functioning and to reach a higher spiritual consciousness.

Judaism even recognizes different forms and levels of this capacity, such as prophecy, magic, and mystical power. 

The attitude toward each of these various forms, however, is very different.

Prophecy in Judaism is a basic source of religious knowledge, and the prophet is a person on the highest level of being.

On the other hand, magic is strictly forbidden, on pain of death.

What interests us here is the attitude Judaism takes toward the superhuman capacity for the mystical experience—that which is still very individual and fairly common and which does not properly belong to either prophecy or magic. 

A story in the Talmud aptly illustrates this.

Once, Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa went to study Torah with Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai.

Rabbi Yochanan’s son fell ill and Rabbi Chanina asked for mercy for him, and he lived.

Rabbi Yochanan said, “If Yochanan had beaten his head and held his legs all day long, he would not have been noticed.”

His wife then asked him, “And is Chanina greater than you?”

To this he replied, “No, except that he is like a slave before the King and I am like a prince before the King” (Berachot 34b).

From this it can be seen that in the encounter between the two types—Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, the great sage, the superior personality, and Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa, gifted with the supernatural faculty for healing and for other extraordinary things—Rabbi Yochanan is by no means able to do what Rabbi Chanina does so easily.

This does not mean that Rabbi Chanina is greater than Rabbi Yochanan.

He is merely gifted with a certain talent or capacity to make contact with God, which makes it possible for him to perform these miracles.

It does not make him “a prince before the King”; he remains “a slave before the King” (which may even be the nature of his extraordinary power).

In other words, there is an evaluation here of the essence of the mysterious power to exceed the limits of nature.

Admitting that it is truly a marvelous power, it is not considered one that necessarily makes the bearer of it superior to ordinary mortals. 

–Rabbi Asdin Steinsaltz

From”Religion and Mystical Powers in The Strife of the Spirit

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