Among the many laws delineated in Parshat Mishpatim is the prohibition of sorcery. In this week’s Parsha the prohibition is expressed as (22:17): “Mechashefa Lo Techayeh,” generally translated as “you shall not permit a sorceress to live.”
When describing prohibitions that are liable for the death penalty, the Torah usually uses a language of “death” ie “Mot Tamut”, “you shall surely put them to death.” The phrase “Lo Techayeh” is unusual and caught my attention.
Though this may not be the literal interpretation, I think the usage of this phrase can teach us some important lessons about life.
Two of the characteristics of sorcery are that 1) it alleges that it can predict the future and 2) it alleges that it can control events that Judaism believes are within the exclusive purview of God.
When we recall these attributes about sorcery then I think the Torah may be teaching us something relevant for all of us, even in societies in which sorcery is not common:
A life in which we are fixated on the future and trying to predict what will happen next- Lo Techayeh, is not real living. We must never ignore the present, nor take the present for granted as we plan for the future. The present is a gift (that’s why the two words are synonyms) and if we forget this and focus only on the future- there is a distinct possibility that we will never be able to experience that future that we look forward to; for once it’s the present we again look ahead. As my quote in my high school yearbook goes, "Today is the tomorrow we worried about yesterday."
Second, a life in which we believe we can and shall exclusively control our destiny, without making any room for God, is also Lo Techayeh, not a viable life plan. We must do our part, but then we must surrender and admit that we are not in total control. Though this may be difficult for us control freaks at first, in the long run it allows us some freedom, knowing that no matter how much we worry or perseverate over matters we still are not always in control.
In these ways, the prohibition of sorcery in Mishpatim helps us think about what it means to live and not to live and what is the path towards the life worth living.