Let My People Know

"The difference between religion and magic"

Torah study is not some wonder device that automatically enables one to attain to Godliness. 

In fact, there are all sorts of ladders to Heaven.

No one of them will, of itself, get one there. 

Many a person, climbing to the skies and performing one mitzva after another, finds that he is not arriving. 

And, in the other direction, even without conscious effort to be holy, a Jew will be moving just by performing mitzvot at one level or another. 

He is seldom, if ever, neutral.

The good deed and the right thought are often present, even without piety. 

In other words, there is the problem of the spiritual power of human action, with or without intention. 

And it is the same question as that posed by the attempt to explain the difference between religion and magic.

Magic is almost completely mechanical. With all the trimmings, its basis is merely a matter of using the correct formulas and incantations. 

The result is automatic, irrespective of who performs it, just so long as it is the right combination of forces and formulas. 

In more than one sense, magic is also like natural science in its dependence on its belief in the proper formulas. And all too often, modern psychologists resort to the use of the appropriate verbal formulae to deal with difficult situations. 

In certain ways, there is a similarity between the one who rubs the magic lantern to release the demon and the one who pulls the trigger to kill at a distance. 

The action is effective irrespective of the doer; it is essentially mechanical. 

As such it differs from the religious act where everything depends on the relation between the doer, the action, and God.
To be sure, there does exist the world of things and essential mechanicalness.
The religious is the other side, what we may call the realm of the true nature of life. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From "The Way of the Soul and Torah" in The Candle of God by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz