A Review Of Supernatural Powers and Whether G-d Has Allowed Us Access To Them for Our Purposes
Fans of Star Wars will always recall the line Obi-Wan uses to describe the Force for Luke as “an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.” The Force, however, granted, certain beings much more than being part of one unifying Force. Generally, Force-sensitive beings were more perceptible than average beings, also having greater athletic abilities, and probably a few other interesting tricks up their sleeves. Force-users was the step above being Force-sensitive, and allowed one who was connected to the Force to use it to their own ends. Jedi preferred using it defensively, whereas a Sith used the Force offensively to further their goals. Depending on how one used their emotions to channel Force powers determine an affiliation with either the Light Side or Dark Side of the Force. While both Jedi and Sith believed in Balance of the Force, they differed in how they were to channel it’s powers to further their philosophy of the Force. On either side, the belief was that corporeal beings could channel the essence of creation and bend it to their will. Some, like Finn in “The Force Awakens”, even believed that simply going on a noble mission meant that the Force would let your side win. Han Solo rightfully corrects him with “That’s Not How the Force Works!”
The truth is that giving anyone access to super power could be a recipe for disaster, so the question is whether or not Jewish philosophy has tackled the issue of super natural powers, and whether or not they have any place with Hashem’s world or impact on our practice.
This issue is actually hotly debated by Jewish scholars from the Middle ages, such as the Rambam, Ramban, Raavad, and Meiri. The final decision of the halacha is very narrow as can be seen from the Shulchan Aruch 179, and the Beis Yossef follows the approach of Maimonides very closely.
For our purposes, we will be examining the Force and Force users through the lens of the Ramban, who opines that the ability to foretell the future is a real ability available to anyone who can harness the mysteries of the stars. Astrology was the real deal to him, and it meant that its wielder could predict and effect future events.
We will be looking at one of the most common Force abilities: foresight. This was famously used by Luke in “A New Hope” to “feel the Force” when blocking the blaster droid on the Falcon or to “use the Force” to drop a torpedo down a very narrow shaft (did Galen Erso know that it would be a Force-user that would ultimately destroy the Death Star? Food for thought…). It was also the way in which the best Jedi Knights could predict how their enemy would attack, which is why Kenobi could stave off just-gone-Dark Anakin for so long without succumbing to the other’s greater power in the Dark side.
Speaking of Anakin, he was one of few Jedi that could see the future, whether it was alerting him to the suffering of his mother on Tatooinne or of his own future self as the cyborg Darth Vader, or Ahsoka seeing visions of Aurra Sing returning to Coruscant. Jedi were light side users that would regularly see visions. As we know, Grand Master Yoda was not a fan of visions, such as when he discourages Luke from leaving Dagoba in the Empire Strikes Back, or dismissing prophecies from Qui-Gon and Mace Windu. His objection is clear: running after ones’ emotions is the path to the Dark Side, which is why Darth Vader was hoping to reach Luke through the Force by harming his friends. However, Yoda is clear to Ahsoka that the vision Ahsoka is seeing is the proper way to use visions through the Force, as a way of preventing further evil or harm.
Halachic Visions in Light of Force Visions
The truth is that the Grand Master isn’t far off from the truth: making use of signs and visions may be an emotional response to your environment, and not be based on absolute faith and trust. The concept of absolute faith and trust in the G-d of Israel is tamim tihiyeh im Hashem Elokecha from Pesachim 113b, quoting Deut. 18:13:
אמר רבה בר בר חנה אמר רבי שמואל בר מרתא אמר רב משום רבי יוסי איש הוצל מניין שאין שואלין בכלדיים שנאמר תמים תהיה עם ה׳ אלהיך
Rabba bar bar Ḥana said that Rabbi Shmuel bar Marta said that Rav said, citing Rabbi Yosei of Hutzal: From where is it derived that one may not consult astrologers? As it is stated: “You shall be wholehearted with the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 18:13). The Torah demands absolute faith in God and acceptance of His justice, without attempting to predict the future.
The Ramban comments on this verse that turning to those that predict the future, such as astrologers, is from a lack of faith and out of fear that the worst may be on the horizon. Instead, after having warned us of the dereliction in consulting sign and omens, the Torah tells us to have perfect faith that Hashem is watching out for us. Further, is the command to listen to the true prophets, the ones who bring us closer to faith in Hashem and turn from our fears of the unknown. In that sense, fear and anger put us on a path to gain control of our destiny, and that path is none other than the Dark Side.
While there is a significant debate about what the Torah prohibits and permits to help us see the future, the moral message is very clear: manipulating this world to predict our outcomes is problematic in the Torah’s view. The Ramban himself opined that soothsayers and necromancers had real power, and that power brought influence. The halacha has no room for those who look to influence the lives of others through their visions. Most notably is the story of Bar Haddayah, who proclaimed himself a soothsayer to the Jewish community of Pumbedissa. He was investigated by two leading scholars: Abaye and Rabbah. The end of the story reveals to us that Bar Haddayah was a classic manipulator, as the Talmud relates that he carried a book that explained how “all dreams follow their expression in real life.” Bar Haddayah was looking to be paid for good dream interpretations, and provide bad omens for those that did not pay him. Ultimately, he is punished for his cruelty.
In conclusion, there is much we can learn from the Torah and Talmud about the seduction to make use of foresight, either through Jedi style combat or through seeing visions of the future. Our point here is to share that one must trust that Hashem is looking out for them, that those who claim to know their future are often selfish manipulators, and that only true faith in the Hashem sustaining and benefiting the entire world – a Force that Binds Us All – holds the true vision of the bright vision to which we can aspire.