"Do not allow a witch to survive!" (Ex. 22:17)

Rabbi Yochanan (Sanhedrin 67) relates the term "witch" to the fact that witches deny the existence and function of "Divine messengers" [called "Pamaliah shel Ma'alah"]. The Chinuch describes the substance of such witches (whether male or female) in the following words: "At the time of Creation, G‑d assigned certain activities to everything that has been created; such activities are all meant to benefit the universe".

This is the meaning that each variety of herb came into being in its individual kind, with its individual function. (Genesis 1:12) Each had a spiritual counterpart assigned to it in the "higher" world. This is what Bereshit Rabbah (10:7) means when it says that every herb has its own "mazal" [or constellate force] in Heaven.

This "mazal" instructs the herb to grow. Apart from the mission assigned to each herb individually, each herb performs other activities when it is merged with other species. When such mixing of species, occurs there are aspects which are forbidden to man, because G‑d is aware that the use by man of such mixtures will ultimately be harmful to him. For this reason, Jewish law says that if a mixture of herbs is proven to possess therapeutic qualities, the use of it is not forbidden as something that is considered pagan practice (Shabbat 67).

We have been forbidden to contemplate…doing anything that appears to change what G‑d in His perfection has created….

This means that though the pagans who deny G‑d use this substance as a form of witchcraft, Jews are not therefore automatically forbidden therapeutic use of it. Matters forbidden under the heading of: "for they are the ways of the Amorites" are only forbidden because of the ultimate harm this practice causes to its user.

We need to appreciate also that there is another reason why such mixtures are forbidden, and that is because the power of the mixture is strong enough to neutralize, at least temporarily, the celestial agents directing and supervising their "charge" of each separate respective species which now have been combined.

An example would be the following: When you graft one species on to another, you create a third species. This means that the power of each of the two original species that has now been combined has either been neutralized or destroyed. This is why we have been forbidden to contemplate, though we may actually carry out the deed, doing anything that appears to change what G‑d in His perfection has created.

Perhaps these considerations are at the root of the prohibition of mixing wool and linen, of pairing incompatible animals to perform certain work such as to pull a plough, or of planting different species of seeds too closely together. We will pursue this theme when discussing these various prohibitions. This is also the reason that the Talmud (Sanhedrin 67) states that the name witchcraft implies that these activities deny the agents G‑d has appointed (by performing contrary activity).

Do not think that witchcraft and demonry are one and the same thing….

The expression "Pamaliah" - "messengers" of G‑d - has been chosen carefully, so as not to create the impression that witchcraft canever supersede G‑d's decree even momentarily. After all, it is G‑d who has imbued such a mixture with more potency than that of its constituent parts. The Sages then criticized those constellate powers for allowing successful mixing of the species under their supervision. At any rate, the power of the Pamaliah, agency, has been denied by such action.

Anyone whose mind is on G‑d's "wavelength", so to speak, so that the power of his own merits exceeds that of the Pamaliah that govern these herbs need not be afraid of the negative effects due to the mixing of such species. We find this idea supported by what is related in Shabbat 81, where the Sages refused to seat a gentile lady next to them. The lady, in her anger, invoked witchcraft in order to arrest the motion of the ship on which this incident occurred, whereas Rabbi Chisda invoked the name of G‑d; as a result, the ship resumed its motion. The lady acknowledged G‑d's superior power when dealing with Jews who observe certain modes of proper conduct.

The Rekanati writes that knowledge of what are the circumstances when something of this nature, i.e. contending with those who perform witchcraft, is permissible - is widespread. Do not think that witchcraft and demonry are one and the same thing. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 16) is explicit in identifying the machinations of Pharaoh's magicians i.e. "b'lateihem", as the acts of demons (Ex. 7:22), whereas the Torah refers to "b'lahateihem" (Ex. 7:11) when the meaning is "witchcraft".

This teaches that witchcraft can be performed without resorting to demons, creatures commonly known as destructive agents. This is the way Rashi explains the matter. On occasion even demons perform acts of witchcraft. They are known as the destructive agents since acts of witchcraft, are invariably used destructively.

So far the quote from the Chinuch.