Magic Tricks – A Display of Dexterity
As a kid, I loved magic. I wanted to be a magician because it was so cool to be able to do things others couldn’t. I read magic books and I bought magic tricks, and even performed a bit in talent shows.
At the end, it turns out I didn’t have the dexterity required for magic. My hands were all thumbs sometimes and though I knew how a lot of tricks worked, I couldn’t parlay them into a smooth show.
Some of you reading this may say that it is prohibited for an observant Jew to perform magic, but it isn’t that simple. Indeed, my grandfather had been a magician in Europe, mostly doing shows for charity work and similar, and it didn’t sit so well with my uncle. He asked Rabbi Moshe Feinstein z”l about it, who maintained that since the whole thing was based on sleight of hand, the ability to move faster than the eye could see, then being able to manipulate items quickly was no different than Naftali ben Yaakov being able to run extremely fast. As long as no one pretended he really had otherworldly powers, no harm was done.
Besides, everyone at the show understands that these are tricks. If they were up close or watched in slow motion, they would most likely see what was really happening.
The Missing Point Creates An Illusion
Though some people watch professional illusionists and think they have actual powers, this is simply untrue. I have seen major illusionist performers and even if I don’t know how they did it, I know they know something I don’t. There’s always some point that isn’t clear to me, but if I knew it, I’d understand exactly how it was done and I might even be able to figure it out if I had enough pieces of the puzzle.
Sometimes, something baffles the public, but years later the secret is revealed and you realize that it made so much sense. Things that seemed incomprehensible, turn out to be just an elaborate ruse, or maybe not such an elaborate one. The bottom line, though, is that when you see a magician do something you can’t explain, you know that somewhere there is a rational explanation for it.
Hashem – The Master Illusionist
The lesson of these illusions, for me, is that there are constantly things we can’t understand. World events, tragedies, madmen coming to power, these are all baffling. Sometimes we see people experiencing good fortune and we can’t understand that either. How did this yokel become so wealthy? How did this woman find a shidduch (marital match) so easily when she’s not a nice person?
However, if we recognize that Hashem (God) is the master of all, including illusions, we know there’s some logical and reasonable explanation behind it all, and perhaps some time in the future we’ll find out the secrets.
Magician’s tricks are based on scientific principles and understanding how the human mind works. The people who develop tricks have a lot of insight and information on how things will look to observers. They exploit these bits of knowledge and create mystifying illusions.
It could very well be that Hashem has a purpose in confusing us. He certainly camouflages His activities in the world so that people can say they are natural phenomena. He uses misdirection so we see the villain as the power behind the evil, instead of seeing that it’s all part of the trick.
It’s All Part of God’s Trick
Just as the performer using illusions wants to push us towards certain perceptions and thoughts, usually so we imagine they have some sort of superhuman power, Hashem uses illusions to do the same thing, making us think humans have the same power as God, something which couldn’t be further from the truth. The real trick, then, is seeing beyond the smoke and mirrors and finding Hashem in the illusions.
It’s seeing the truth, or at least recognizing that the Greatest Showman on Earth or in Heaven is using the various tools at His disposal to make us think in a certain way. Then we can begin to look beneath the surface and see the signs.
The plagues in Egypt were payback for all the Egyptians had done to the Jewish People. Our Sages have given all sorts of rationales and explanations behind how each was precisely geared towards their actions. At the time, though, the people living through it may or may not have understood all the ramifications. The underlying purpose for all of it was for people to recognize that Hashem was behind everything that transpired, just as He is behind everything that happens every day of our lives. When we see something that looks impossible, or take note of the mundane and everyday things in our lives, we should think about the One who designed them all and why, because truly, we live in a magical world.
By Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz
Rabbi Gewirtz (Operation Inspiration) welcomes comments and feedback. Write to him at info@JewishSpeechWriter.com to share your thoughts. You never know when you may be the lamp that enlightens someone else.