Utilizing Spiritual Realities (Segulot) – Parts 5 and 6 – The Very Best Spiritual Practices of All

Part 4

There are actually numerous segulot that not only have no risks, but are the ones that our greatest Rabbis and sources have constantly urged us to utilize and practice. The book “Eitzot l’z’chut b’din b’yamim hanora’im – Advice to merit a [positive] judgment on the Days of Awe,” from Rav Chanoch Karrelenstein, discusses many of these exemplary practices that are virtually guaranteed to help us in so many different ways.

Chapter One – “Kol Hama’avir al midotav – Ma’avirin lo al kol p’sha’av” 

Kol HaMa’avir al Midotav – Ma’avirin lo al kol P’sha’av – All that overlook what happened to them – all of their own transgressions are [also] overlooked.” (Rosh Hashanah 17a).

Rashi explains that this person is not medakdeik limdod midah l’metza’arin oto – he is not particular to respond proportionally to someone that caused him pain.

Rabbeinu Chananeil wrote that one will have years added to their life because of this.

Based on the Selichot, we learn that through s’virat hamiddot (breaking or conquering our character traits) we will merit to rachamei Shamayim (mercy from Heaven). And one of the very greatest s’virat hamiddot would be to not respond even if someone degrades us. As it says in Gemara Shabbat 88b – One that is degraded but doesn’t degrade back, one that is insulted but doesn’t insult back, is viewed by the verse (Shofetim 5:31) as possessing incredible strength and power.

The Rambam points out in Hilchot Teshuva (7:3) that the obligation of teshuva (returning from negative behavior) certainly includes working on bad middot. This is very logical since tikun hamiddot (fixing one’s character traits) is the yesod and hakdamah (foundation and introduction) to the entire Torah (Rabeinu Yonah on Avot 3:17 and Sha’arei Kedusha from Rav Chaim Vital 1:2).

Ideally, one should not even be makpid (particular or resentful) in one’s heart, but rather accept this [degradation] with love, and forgive the other person with a full heart and a willing spirit. The Arizal said that if a person would know just how valuable this disgrace was for him, he would [actually] chase after these people in order for them to disparage him. This is [significantly] more beneficial for him than other types of afflictions or fasts.

Hashem establishes the world in the merit of those that hold themselves back in a time of conflict (based on Chulin 89a).

The Zohar (1:106b and 1:54a) wrote similarly that the world is only established in the merit of those that are ma’avir al midotav (overlook what happens to them). Furthermore, they will have a good life in the world to come, merit to be saved from difficulties in this world, and Hashem will relate to them with middat harachamim (the trait of mercy).

To help us to conquer our middot and to restrain ourselves from conflict, we should simply try to think ahead. In a conflict, we generally have two different possibilities. If we lash out at the other person, it may initially feel good but afterwards we will probably regret it. Or we can hold ourselves back, conquer our middot and anger, and keep quiet. While this will be extremely difficult to do initially; in the end, when we have overcome our anger, this will be very sweet. We will feel great that we kept control over ourselves. [Therefore,] by looking ahead it will be much easier to hold ourselves back.

Another insight to help us overlook what happened to us is what the Sefer HaChinuch wrote in terms of the prohibitions of nakima and natira (not to take revenge or bear a grudge). The prohibitions against nakima and natira help us to appreciate that whatever pain or difficulty people cause us, is actually coming to us from heaven; these people were merely the agents carrying it out. What is happening is, therefore, really a function of our own actions and choices, not theirs.

What is the logic of ma’avir al midotav (overlooking what happened to us) resulting in ma’avirin lo al kol p’sha’av (all of our transgressions then being overlooked)?

The Chidah says that this will cause a kaparah (spiritual cleansing) for our transgressions.

The Rambam (Hilchot Teshuva 1:4) explains that some aveirot will only be able to have a complete kaparah once one has undergone yissurim (painful afflictions). The pain of overlooking what happened to us can serve as these yissurim.

And the sefer Torat Asham says that one who is ma’avir al midotav, easily appeased, and neither takes revenge nor bears a grudge, will thereby merit to have miracles and wonders done for him, will be saved, will have his days and years lengthened, his prayers heard, the entire world will be established for him, and he will also merit to acquire Torah. Implied in his words is that this will also help him to deal with pain and yissurim.

Besides all of the help that this will give him in this world, this will also give him a treasure in Olam Haba. The sefer Yesod HaAvodah (3:3:4) wrote –

“A small amount of pain in this world is equal to a thousand times more pain in Olam Haba.”

The yissurim (pain and difficulty) that come from the struggle of tikun v’hitgabrut hamiddot (fixing and controlling our character traits) are considered yissurim that come from the Torah. Through [accepting] these types of yissurim, other yissurim will [then] be held back from us.

It is well known from the Gra (Even Shleima 1:62) that –

“The essential existence of a person is to constantly strengthen himself with s’virat hamiddot (breaking or conquering his character traits). And if not, what then is his life for?”

The Porat Yosef (Lech lecha) also wrote –

“I heard in the name of Rabeinu Sadya Gaon that the essential existence of a person in this world is s’virat hamiddot ra’ot (breaking or conquering one’s negative character traits).

Rav Yechezkel Levenstein told his students that s’virat hamiddot (breaking or conquering one’s character traits) also helps for the illuy neshama (elevation of the soul) for one that had passed away. It is, therefore, clear that both s’virat hamiddot and being ma’avir al midotav, will be a [great] zechut (merit) for life and for all good.

Some Rishonim say that if one does not do teshuva for aveirot bein adam l’chaveiro (transgressions between a person and his friend) through requesting selicha (forgiveness), then he will not be able to gain a kaparah on Yom Kippur even for different aveirot bein adam l’makom (transgressions between a person and G-d). This is actually very logical – how is it possible that Hashem would be ma’avir al midotav (overlooking what this person did against Him) if this person, who is base and physical, will not himself be ma’avir al midotav (overlook what happened to him)?

Based on Baba Metziah 30b, we see that since the Jewish people did not act lifnim m’r’shurat hadin (beyond the letter of the law), Yerushalayim was destroyed. If, however, they would have acted lifnim m’r’shurat hadin, they would have merited to [great] prosperity in Israel.

All s’virat hata’avot (breaking or conquering one’s desires) arouse midat harachamim (the trait of mercy) for a person. And this is even more true for s’virat hamiddot (breaking or conquering one’s character traits), which is s’virat hata’avot of the nefesh, and much more difficult to accomplish.

Some other segulot discussed in Eitzot l’z’chut b’din that our greatest Rabbis and sources have constantly urged us to utilize and practice:

Kol hameracheim al habriot – merachamin alav min haShamayim – All that are merciful towards people – mercy is given to him from Heaven. 

Rabim tzrichim lo – One that is needed by the community.

Chizuk amal haTorah – Strengthening toil in Torah.

Hevei dan es kol ha’adam l’chaf zechut – Judging everyone to the side of merit.

Segulot from Rabbi Dovid Winiarz:

For wealth – Give Maaser (10% of your income to tzedaka). Hashem promises He will then open the windows of Heaven and shower blessings upon you.

The Vilna Gaon wrote that one who keeps his mouth shut in this world [i.e., from speaking negatively] will merit the hidden light of Gan Eden (i.e., for insights in Torah).

To protect you from punishment – Don’t speak lashon hara. Just as you keep your mouth closed about the misdeeds of others, Hashem will force the Prosecuting Angel to keep his mouth closed about you too.

The most guaranteed segulot are what we say in the davening on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – that teshuvatzedaka, and tefillah (prayer) nullify negative decrees.

The Ger Rebbe said that the best segulah would be to fulfill the possuk in Yitro – to strive to be G-d’s treasured people. 

Segulah for shalom bayit – ahavah, savlanut (bearing challenges) and vitur (giving in) (Sanhedrin 7a, Baba Metzia 59a, Vayikra Rabba 9:9).

Segulot from Rav Aviner: 

Rav Chaim Kanievsky was once asked – “How do we know which segulot are true?” His response – “I only know that which is written in the Shulchan Aruch.” Segulot Raboteinu pg. 321.

Belzer Rebbe – Rav Aharon Rokeach – Segulah against traffic accidents – Follow the traffic laws with the strictness of the 10 Commandments, and also give rides to those who need them. In the merit of these kindnesses which he does on the road, he will be saved from bad occurrences (Shut Shevet Ha-Kehati 5:241).

One of the most well-known segulot for a long life is what the verse in Tehillim tells us – “Who is the man that desires life and loves days of seeing good? Let him guard his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking evil.” (Tehillim 34:13-14).

Rav Chaim Kanievski related that someone once came to the Brisker Rav and asked for a bracha that his son should be a Torah scholar and G-d-fearing. The Rav said that a boy will be a Torah scholar based on how much his father learns Torah with him, and he will be G-d-fearing based on how many tears his mother sheds while davening for him (Minchat Todah p. 89).

Rav Yitzchak Zilberstein wrote (U-Piryo Matok – Bereshit, p. 140) a segulah for Shalom Bayit – A husband should help his wife or, more precisely, the two of them should take care of the family’s needs together, since theirs is a shared life. Once, on a Saturday night, the Satmar Rebbe saw that one of his chasidim was the last one still in the Beit Midrash and was folding his talit with great precision. The Rebbe asked him what he was doing. The Chasid said that he saw in various books that care in folding one’s talit is a segulah for shalom bayit. The Rebbe responded – A better segulah is to go home and help your wife wash the dishes. (Others say this in the name of Rav Chaim Shmulevitz, Rosh Yeshivat Mir).

Segulot – Part 6 – Segulot sometimes don’t work, Better Alternatives to Segulot, Proper attitudes, and “Tamim ti’yeh im Hashem Elokecha

Segulot sometimes don’t work

How do we understand that sometimes, even with the use of segulot, what we were hoping would happen may still not actually occur? 

Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld (quoted in Hishtadliyot Ruchniyot – chap. 1, pg. 21) suggested that sometimes the cost for a request to be answered could be greater than its benefit. The example he gives is the [strong] davening that Yitzchak and Rivka did to have children with no more delay. As a result of Eisav and Yaakov being born five years earlier than they would have been without the tefillot, Avraham ultimately needed to lose five years of his life, to avoid seeing Aisav “yotzei l’tarbus ra’ah – going out to a negative life.” While they were certainly correct to daven for children, which they ultimately did receive, when we ourselves don’t get what we desperately want, with or without segulot, we should try to remember that there may be factors beyond our understanding that are blocking our request.

Better Alternatives to Segulot

Rav Irons once said – “We used to be an “am segula” (treasured nation), and now we’ve become am hasegulos – a nation with segulos.”

The method to achieving the greatest degree of success, of course, is simply by learning Torah, doing the mitzvot, and refining one’s character.

Eliyahu haNavi taught his disciples – I call heaven and earth to witness that anyone – man or woman, gentile or Jew, freeman or slave – can have Divine inspiration come upon him. It all depends upon his deeds. (Tanna d’vei Eliyahu Rabbah – chap. 9).

Rav Yaakov Hillel pointed out – Throughout the generations, there have been many holy leaders who reached high levels without knowing kabbalah, and [conversely] there have been many people who dabbled in kabbalah improperly, and achieved nothing but evil.

Proper attitude with segulot

Perhaps the clearest statement about the attitude that we should have with segulot is spelled out by the Mishnah in Rosh Hashanah 3:8. The Mishnah quotes the verse (Shemot 17:11) – “And it happened that when Moshe raised his hand – Yisrael was stronger, and when he lowered his hand – Amalek was stronger.” The Mishnah then asked – “But do the hands of Moshe win the battle or lose the battle?” Rather, the verse comes to say – “As long as Yisrael gazed upward and subjugated their heart to their Father in heaven, they overpowered them [their enemies], but if not, they would fall.”

And similarly, [it quoted the verse] – “Hashem told Moshe – Make yourself a fiery [serpent] and place it on a pole, and it will be that anyone who is bitten will look at it and live.” The Mishnah asked again – “But does a serpent kill and does a serpent give life?” Rather, when Yisrael gazed upward and subjugated their heart to their Father in heaven, they were healed, but if not, they perished.” 

We need to remember that the most that any segulah can ever be is a tool to help us to connect more effectively with Hashem. 

As Rav Berkowitz explained – Any segulah only works (and is therefore permissible) if it helps your kavana (intention to connect with Hashem); whereas treating it merely like a good-luck charm could, G-d forbid, end up approaching avoda zara (idolatry). We need to ask ourselves – Are we looking for something external to change us, or are we willing to put in the effort to change ourselves? 

In addition, Rav Wolbe wrote – We have a tradition from our master, the Chazon Ish, that some prayers are answered more quickly than others, but no prayer returns unanswered. Why then should we seek a blessing through a back door [i.e., with segulot]? The gates of prayer are open before us when we pray from the depths of our heart and with tears. The great men to whom people turn for help [i.e., with segulot] should teach the public to pray, and tell them that – “Hashem will not withhold good from those who walk [with Him] wholeheartedly.” (Tehilim 84:12).

The “flipside” of segulot, and the guiding principle in Judaism, is – “Tamim ti’yeh im Hashem Elokecha – You shall be wholehearted with G-d, your L-rd.” (Devarim 18:13).

Rashi explains that this verse refers to our relationship with Hashem –

[We should] walk with Hashem wholeheartedly, look ahead to Him (i.e., trust what He has in store for us), and not investigate the future. Rather, accept whatever comes upon us wholeheartedly. We will then be with Him, and [among] His portion.

Ohr HaChaim –

Since He commanded us [in the preceding verses] not to engage in negative spiritual activities, He now tells us to be wholehearted. There is no reason to violate any of these [prohibitions] to [try to] know the future or to fix any lack. If you are with Hashem wholeheartedly, then you will not lack anything.

Ramban – 

Dedicate our hearts to Hashem alone since only He knows the future, and He is the power above all powers. There are powers out there but we should not be limited to that. Hashem is the Baal hakochot kulam (Master of all powers). [“Tamim ti’yeh”] not only involves prohibitions, it is also a mitzvat asei (positive obligation).

We shall wholly dedicate our hearts to Him and realize that He alone does everything. He is the one who knows the real truth of every future event, and from Him alone should we inquire about the future, through His prophets or the Urim v’Tumim. We should not inquire of the stargazers, or trust that their words will be fullfilled completely. Rather, if we hear a statement from them, we should say – Hakol biyedei Shamayim (All is in the hands of Heaven), for He is the G-d over all the powers, Who alters the arrangements of the stars and the constellations as He wishes. And we should believe that all that occurs to a person is according to how close he has made himself to the service of Hashem. Therefore, after the Torah prohibits inquiring about future events from a diviner or one that consults with the dead, it states that you should be wholehearted with Hashem in all these matters. This is also the opinion of Onkeles, who translates this verse as – “You shall be complete in the fear of G-d your L-rd,” meaning that you should not be lacking in your fear of Him. The word tamim means whole, as in a keves tamim (whole lamb), meaning with no blemish or anything missing. This verse is a mitzvat asei (positive commandment).

Rav Binyamin Zilber explains that according to the Ramban, G-d’s instruction to Avraham – “Go before Me and be perfectly faithful,” is the first mitzvat asei (positive commandment) [that G-d gave to him]. This means that a person should not try to search out the future and look into horoscopes, for Hashem can change a horoscope from good to bad, and vice versa.

Sefer Chareidim –

The elevated mitzvah of bitachon – to trust in Hashem, is learned from this mitzvah to be tamim (Dev. 18:13). This teaches us that it is a mitzvah to trust in Hashem with all of our heart, and in terms of every aspect of this world.

Rav Hirsch –

Just like tamim with korbanot means a complete animal, with no flaws or blemishes at all to disqualify it, [“tamim ti’yeh”] refers to a complete wholehearted devotion and trust with Hashem with nothing missing at all. The goal of temimut (wholeness) in our relationship with Hashem is a complete surrender of our entire being and a bitul (nullification) of everything besides Hashem – both internally and externally.

Maharal (Be’er HaGolah #2) – 

The notion that being tamim with Hashem would mean not to guard ourselves from danger, and simply to be naive with all of our actions, since Hashem will protect us, is irrational. We are not supposed to rely on miracles. G-d gave man wisdom and knowledge to be able to be an intelligent person with all of his actions, so why shouldn’t he protect himself from harmful things? The Torah commanded us to be tamim with G-d and not to follow after negative spiritual practices, like saying that some times are good for certain activities or similar things. However, to guard oneself from danger, and to think about one’s life situation, is what any intelligent person would do, without using sorcery or magic. This is so obvious that there is no need for any elaboration. Whoever would think this [irresponsible notion] is simply lacking intelligence and is wrong.

I am greatly indebted to the following Rebbeim for providing me with many of the sources that I have presented here: Rabbi Azarya Berzon, Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbi Yehoshua Hartman, Rav Yaakov Hillel, Rabbi Ari Kahn, Rav Chanoch Karrelenstein, zt”l, Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, Rabbi Avram Rothman, Rabbi Ashie Schreier, Rabbi Yaakov Trump, Rabbi Wiederman, Rabbi Dovid Winiarz, zt”l, and Rabbi Josh Yuter.

This should be l’zechut ul’illuy nishmat Ruchama Rivka, a”h, bat Asher Zevulun

More articles on this and related topics can be found on the Jewish Clarity web site.