Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller
This week’s parsha warns us about the prohibition of acting superstitiously. It is forbidden for a Jew to plan his actions or to make decisions based on omens or superstitious happenings. An example illustrating this prohibition is for a person to turn back from a trip because an unlucky animal crossed his path. The Rambam explains that the reason for this mitzvah is to prevent us from acting irrationally and foolishly. In Parshas Shoftim, the Torah warns us against consultation of conjurers and soothsayers and the Torah concludes by saying that we should walk in innocence with Hashem. This implies that seeking the advice or predictions of occult practitioners display a lack of faith.
These Torah admonitions provide us with an insight into the proper way to navigate during our stay in this world. Hashem wants us to focus on the primary cause of the world’s affairs and that is Hashem’s supervision and His guidance. When we attribute things to luck or to superstition, we are implying that things happen out of His control. We are also saying that one can avoid the consequences of improper choice making and that our good choices won’t always yield the desired effect. This undermines the big principle of בחירה – autonomous choice making – which is one of the Torah’s important definitions, what makes man the בחיר היצורים – the pinnacle of Creation.
When we raise children, we need to inculcate them with the right perspective about attribution. When a child gets a good grade, we should guide them in recognizing what they did to earn that grade. It wasn’t luck or that the teacher liked them. It was because they applied themselves. There is a substantial body of research that demonstrates that effective people use this perspective in replicating success and avoiding failure. It is a big predictor in people’s success in general. This belief and life outlook will serve our children very well as they make their way through life.