Thursday, September 15, 2022

Nature vs supernatural

 Derashas HaRan (12) And it is stated further: "If a bone lodged in his throat, let him bring the same kind, place it on his skull, and say: 'One-one-down; swallow-swallow-down; one-one'; and this is not in the category of 'the ways of the Emorites.' If a fish bone lodged in his throat, let him say: 'You prick as a needle; you are locked up as in cuirass; down-down.'" None of these are dictated by reason, and, according to the view that "this is not in the category of the ways of the Emorites" applies to all of the things listed until the end of the chapter, there are many things among them that would seem to belong in the classes which the Rambam ascribes to the category of witchcraft. Furthermore, the Rambam states in Sefer Hamada (Hilchoth Avodah Zarah 11): "All of these are vain, empty things pursued by ignoramuses, and they have no foundation in fact whatsoever." This statement is to be greatly wondered at, for the sages stated (Chullin 7b) in relation to the woman who tried to get some soil from beneath the feet of R. Chanina [in order to kill him through an incantation pronounced over the soil]: "R. Chanina is different, for he possessed great merit" [the implication being that such things are effective against those who do not possess such merit]. Also, if these things are entirely unfounded in fact, then why did the sages permit some of them and forbid others, when they are all outside the realm of natural cause and effect? And they also permitted [for curative purposes (Sabbath, Ibid)] the egg of a chargol [a king of locust], the tooth of a fox, and the nail from a stake. Now none of these are dictated by reason or by natural cause and effect. The answer: All things act in one of two ways: naturally or phenomenologically. The phenomenological also acts through nature, the difference being that the natural is dictated by reason whereas the phenomenological is accepted by reason but not dictated by it. An example of the natural is the tendency of cold objects to generate cold and of warm objects to generate warmth (whether or not acted upon by the affected bodies). This tendency is dictated by reason. An example of the phenomenological, which is accepted by reason but not dictated by it, is along these lines. It is well known that the perfect properties are found in bodies not given to change and that the imperfect ones are all found in bodies highly susceptible to change. So that the celestial bodies, not being subject to change at all, are the most perfect, and the elements, being the most changeable of things, are the most imperfect. It follows from this that the compound is superior to its simple component elements to the extent that the combination diminishes and repels change. It is for this reason that the most perfect composite will possess the greatest perfection. And there are some composites which acquire perfection in themselves by virtue of the very fact that they are composites, although their component elements remain distinct, and others that acquire it by means of the fusion of elements within the composite. Some composites give rise to the vegetative élan and others to the animal élan, and others, such as man, become predisposed to the acquisition of a human soul — all of these properties and perfections being acquired according to the compositions and natures of the composites.

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