Charlatan Masquerades as Kabbalist

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From time to time one hears tragic stories of master con-artists that masquerade as holy cabbalists who not only chisel people out of their hard earned money and their health, but also make their lives miserable and sad.

One poor soul who had gone to one of these cabbalistic charlatans for help in finding his life-partner was told by him that he must marry a particular girl. Even though he was warned by his good friends to stay away from her since “she wasn’t all there,” the “cabbalist” kept on urging him to get on with the marriage. He told him in no uncertain terms that he would never be successful or achieve true happiness in life unless he marries her. Being very naive and fearful that the words of this cabbalist would actually come true, he finally consented to the marriage. Since then, it was all downhill. His life turned into one of misery and gloom. Despite all the money he had given to the supposed cabbalist for his constant advice, he soon realized that it was a bottomless pit.

Unfortunately, he is only one of the many suckers that have fallen for these big time charlatans who make a career out of ruining other people’s lives with their supposed “cabbalistic” advice. They claim to know your past as well as your future and are experts at fleecing people out of their money as well as their health. They break up good marriages and sometimes prevent proper ones from materializing. They use numerous clever techniques to fool the unwary into believing that they have a special line to Heaven and can cure all your troubles or ills. They’ll sell you all sorts of foolish “cabbalistic charms” with the promise that they will solve all your problems and bring you long life, riches, and everlasting happiness. They’ll even give you a free “red bendel” to wear around your wrist to protect you from all the “evil spirits” that may hound you. For the low fee of only $1,000 they’ll also provide you with a bottle of pure undiluted “holy water” that is guaranteed to bring you instant salvation and lifetime riches.

A story is told about a “cabbalist” who once checked into a five star hotel in Miami which was filled with Jews just before the Pesach holiday season. When he came to the check-in counter, he asked to be given room 1826. The clerk told him that he was very sorry but that room was already occupied and that he would gladly assign him a different room that was even nicer and in fact had a beautiful view of the entire surroundings. However, the “cabbalist” turned down his offer explaining that room number 1826 had mystical meaning and therefore he wanted only that room. He was even willing to compensate the occupier of the room and pay for him to be upgraded to a beautiful room of his own choosing. The clerk said that he would have to call Mr. X down to the check-in counter and he would have to try and convince him to make the change. He could do absolutely nothing without the occupant’s approval. “Very well” replied the cabbalist. “I’m sure that I will be able to convince him to make the change.”

A few minutes later, a large heavy set man came downstairs into the lobby and asked him what he wanted. The cabbalist explained that he was a very holy rabbi and that according to the deep mystical secrets of cabbala it was very important for him to get room number 1826 and that he was willing to have him upgraded to a better and nicer room. The man looked the cabbalist in the eye and replied that he didn’t believe in all the cabbalistic numbering nonsense and that he was unwilling to make any changes. A loud exchange of words now erupted in the hotel lobby and a large crowd of Jews gathered around to find out what’s happening.

The shouting match continued with the man calling the cabbalist all sorts of derogatory names and even threatened to harm him if he didn’t disappear at once. As the cabbalist remained defiant and insisted on making the exchange, the man suddenly raised his hand and swung it down toward the cabalist’s head with all his strength. Amazingly, as it was only a few inches above the cabalist’s head, his hand froze in its place and the man shouted out in agonizing pain. His hand seemed to be paralyzed and he couldn’t move it no matter how hard he tried. “Please, I beg you for forgiveness,” he cried out to the cabbalist. “I’ll do whatever you want. Just please pray that my hand be healed,” he cried out for everyone to hear. After pleading and begging the cabalist for mercy and forgiveness for the rude manner in which he had treated him, the cabbalist finally forgave him and prayed that his hand return to normal. Sure enough, after the cabbalist tied it with a “red bendel,” and said some prayers for him, the hand suddenly got better and he was able to move it as before.

The large crowd who had gathered around and witnessed this miraculous event with their very own eyes were in shock and awe over what they had seen and instantly became his staunch admirers and believers. Each day there were long lines in front of the cabalist’s room and everyone requested his advice and blessings. Along with his advice and blessings he also encouraged them to contribute lots of money for some worthy cause he claimed to be collecting for. The money came pouring in until the cabalist’s suitcase was bursting at the seams.

Upon checking out from the hotel some days later, he made one last stop at the room of Mr. X. He divided all the money with him and thanked him for his magnificent performance. Few would ever know that the two of them were in cahoots with each other and that the entire “miracle” was nothing but a clever charade. The onlookers had fallen for it, hook, line, and sinker. ( I heard the above story from Rabbi Yisroel Belsky.)

Just a few years ago, a well known “cabbalist” rip off artist came up with another original scam. He claimed he could “read” people’s “kesubos” and that any mistakes in them would cause people all sorts of problems. For the right amount of money, he stood ready to make the proper corrections. He advertised his cabbalistic powers in many of the Jewish newspapers and even included testimonials of those he had helped. He soon had a large crowd knocking on his door, waiting in line to be admitted. He milked them for all they were worth and promised that the new kesubos or corrected kesuboswould heal all their aches and pains and other troubles. He succeeded in fooling thousands of people including some rabbis. To put him to the test, I had an unmarried friend of mine call him up for an appointment. He told his gabbi that he had two children in the hospital and that he needed the cabbalist to check out his kesubah. I provided him with a false kesuba in which I had entered his name. I wasn’t shocked or surprised that when he was seen by this “cabbalist” a few weeks later, he supposedly noticed something wrong with the kesubah that indicated that he had two sick children. For the right price he even offered to make the necessary corrections. My friend told him where he could go. Based on this discovery, we soon send him on his merry way. A while later his own gabbi finally left him and told me some of his many shenanigans. But you had better watch out. He is still on the loose trying to ensnare others with his “kesubah scheme.”

Throughout the ages we have suffered greatly from the many false messiahs such as Shabtai Tzvi who posed as great cabbalists and tried to mislead the masses with their supposedly “miraculous” powers and false hopes. It’s time we learn to recognize the holy from the unholy, and the pure from the impure. Only once a year, on Purim, are we permitted to get high and fail to recognize the difference between “Blessed is Mordecai and cursed is Haman,” and give tzedaka to all those that stretch out their hands.