Right Under Your Nose
by Rabbi S. Binyomin Ginsberg
Dean, Torah Academy, Minneapolis, Minnesota

I must begin by making it very clear that I am a firm believer in the effectiveness of segulos. I have tried some in the past and will continue using them in the future. The sources of many of our commonly practiced segulos are found in many sifrei kodesh. I am making this clear statement of faith in advance, because I can see how my message might be confused with my belief in the power of segulos.
Having said this, I think that it is important to take some time and reflect on how we view segulos and make sure that they don’t contradict some other part of Yiddishkeit. Specifically, I think that our children can become very confused by segulos and that can potentially be a source of dangerous questions of kefirah and the like.
Assume for a moment that I - as a child - hear about a segulah for parnassah. I share that segulah with my parents and they thank me. My father tells me that he already tried the segulah. It obviously didn’t work, as there is still no parnassah. Now what? What goes through the mind of that child? It can become the source of many questions - questions, sadly, that won’t be answered, because they will remain in the mind of the child. Most children are afraid to ask these questions, because they are concerned that it will appear as though they are lacking in emunah.
Therefore, we must be proactive in addressing this issue with our children. Let us open up a dialogue with them and discuss what we know - and what we don’t know - about segulos and how they function.
Since the area of shidduchim remains one of our huge crises these days, I will use segulos in this area as an illustration. The following is a short list of some of the more common segulos that people use to merit finding a shidduch:
• Daven for forty consecutive days at the Kosel.
• Daven at the kever of Yonasan ben Uziel in Amukah.
• Daven for a friend who also needs a shidduch.
• Collect pieces of the plates broken at the tena’im of others.
• Say the entire Shir Hashirim for forty consecutive days.
• Say certain perokim of Tehillim on a daily basis.
• Say the entire Sefer Tehillim at chatzos on Purim night.
• Say the Shiras Hayom at certain times with great kavana.
• Learn the halachos of lashon hara.
• Get brachos from gedolim.
Now let us analyze this. I, for one, was not aware of this list as a bochur, but boruch Hashem I was successful in finding a shidduch without most of the above. On the other hand, I am sure that there are some singles who have done everything on the list and more, and yet are still single.
It begs the question: What are segulos and how do they work?
There are many commonly practiced segulos that many people take very seriously and we have little knowledge of their effectiveness.
One of the best words of advice I ever heard about this topic was that segulos are okay as long as they are not approached with more seriousness than our mitzvos.
As I was preparing this article, I was reminded of a conversation I had with my rebbi, the Nesivos Shalom zt”l, on one of my trips to Eretz Yisroel. It was before Pesach and he was discussing the manner in which a husband should speak to his wife. He shared how troubling it is when a husband comes home from a day in kollel and does an inspection of his wife’s Pesach cleaning. He shared how, at times, the husband can transgress many clear lavin in the way he addresses his wife about a crumb that was not properly removed. By doing this, the husband transgresses far more than if the crumb would remain in the house during Pesach.
I share this in response to what I heard was the reaction of a husband who discovered that his wife didn’t prepare the commonly used shlissel challah on a certain Shabbos of the year. Any potential benefits of such a challah went out the window as a result of the husband addressing the wife in a demeaning manner.
The bottom line is that we are not to lose focus of what is primary and what is “extra.” For the purpose of this article, I would take the liberty of labeling mitzvos as the main thing and segulos as the extras.
Let us take a look at a proven segulah to find a lost object. I will be the first to give money to the tzedakah of Rabi Meir Baal Hanes and say the words that go along with that. I have no problem doing that - for two reasons. First, I am not transgressing anything in the process. Second, I will not lose my belief in Hashem and I will not lose my respect for Rabi Meir if I am not successful in finding what was lost.
My biggest concerns with segulos as of late are:
• They are the basis for developing a lack of emunah.
• They can get in the way of the performance of mitzvos.
• They have the potential of cheapening Yiddishkeit.
• They have the potential of minimizing our cognizance of the prescribed method for getting what we need or want - tefillah! Our mesorah for getting what we want is tefillah, because through tefillah we develop a relationship with Hashem. Unfortunately, we lose that opportunity with segulos.
As was said before, the greatest risk we have with segulos is the potential confusion our children can experience. I think that we can help our children by sharing, at their level, the point made by the Ran about how segulos work. He compares segulos to medicine. He speaks about one difference between the two and one similarity they have. The Ran says that medicine works on a physical level, while segulos works on a meta-physical level. That is how they differ. They are alike in that just as there are no guarantees that medicine will work for all patients, so too with segulos. There are no guarantees that segulos will work.
A child once asked me to explain how wearing a red string on one’s hand works to prevent an ayin hara. I stopped myself from responding with what was really on the tip of my tongue. I was going to tell him that when he explains how an ayin hara works, I would explain how the red string works. My response was obviously different. As long as we share a response that is honest and doesn’t cause more confusion, we are doing a good job.
If you are still puzzled by the title of this article, allow me to explain. One of the points to consider as we examine segulos is the question of whether we are possibly ignoring any clearly promised assurances from Hashem for receiving certain results, such as yeshuos and brachos. Are we searching too far for certain results when we have them right under our noses?
This reminded me of a popular story that is worth repeating in this context, as it will hopefully give us the right perspective on segulos as well.
There was once a poor Yid who lived in the city of Prague. One night, he dreamt that he should journey to Vienna. There, at the base of a bridge leading to the king’s palace, he would find a buried treasure.
Night after night the dream recurred until, leaving his family behind, he traveled to Vienna to claim his fortune. The bridge, however, was heavily guarded. The watchful eyes of the king’s soldiers afforded little opportunity to retrieve the treasure. Every day the poor Yid spent hours pacing back and forth across the bridge waiting for his chance.
After two weeks, one of the guards grabbed him by the lapels of his coat and demanded gruffly, “Jew! What are you plotting? Why do you keep returning to this place day after day?” Frustrated and anxious, he blurted out the story of his dream. When he finished, the soldier, who had been containing his mirth, broke into uncontrollable laughter.
The poor Yid looked on in astonishment, not knowing what to make of the man’s attitude. Finally, the king’s guard caught his breath. He stopped laughing long enough to say, “What a foolish Jew you are believing in dreams. Why, if I let my life be guided by visions, I would be well on my way to the city of Prague. For just last night I dreamt that a poor Jew in that city has, buried in his cellar, a treasure which awaits discovery.”
The poor Yid immediately returned home. He dug in his cellar and found the fortune. Upon reflection, he thought, “The treasure was always in my possession. Yet, I had to travel to Vienna to know of its existence.”
We may indeed merit the yeshuos and results we want through tefillah and the other hanhagos that Hashem prescribed.