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How do segulas work? For example, according to the Zohar, one who reads the Ketores daily will get all sorts of berachos in his financial areas and will become wealthy.

Yet the amount of money one is supposed to make was pre-decreed by God on rosh hashana.

So it seems Segulas are able to add to what was pre-decreed? Can anyone clarify this difficulty?

(I'm asking in a general way especially in financial matters. The whole concept seems to contradict the shaar bitachon, which says to trust God in financial matters and realize that "means are all the same to God and nothing you do will add or subtract in the least")

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Also related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/17209 – msh210 Jan 29 '13 at 19:14
Well asked. The question has always troubled me too. BTW Joseph Karo (1488-1575), author of the Shulkhan Arukh, possessed a maggid that identified itself as the voice of the Mishnah and of the Shekhinah. I was once told that for this reason keeping the Shulchan Oruch was a very powerfeul segulah!! – Avrohom Yitzchok Jan 29 '13 at 20:17
What about "עשר בשביל שתתעשר", which is one (the only?) thing in which we are actually allowed to test G-d? (Taanis 9a) – HodofHod Feb 1 '13 at 8:37
Not to be a party popper, but what is your evidence that segulas work. Setting aside the fact that many of them are completely made up and not back by any source, all the others come from a time of superstitions and mysticism. In the pragmatic realistic Judaism we keep today, there is no place for segulas which were for all terms and purposes just things too keep people at ease and help the faith. In my eyes it is sacrilege to believe in such superstitions seeing as we do not believe miracles still happen and we do not have a sage worthy of making them happen. – Yaakov Pinsky Feb 1 '13 at 9:36

Personally, I think that segulos are psychological aids. It's not that you bake a key in your challah and magically you somehow make more money. Rather, the baking of the key in the challah is supposed to be a symbolic gesture that will convey to you that all parnassah really comes from God. And once that becomes more clear to you, it will help your prayers, and your trust in God, and hence your observance of the mitzvos, which actually is a valid form of gaining this-worldly benefits (see Deut. 11:13).

Now, I will compare this concept to two other phenomena:

  1. Tzitzis. There is a commandment to wear tzitzis on every four-cornered garment with one string of techeles. Why? "וּרְאִיתֶם אֹתוֹ וּזְכַרְתֶּם אֶת-כָּל-מִצְו‍ֹת יְהוָה, וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֹתָם" - "And you will see it and you will remember all the commandments of God, and you will do them". Somehow, wearing these strings will provide a reminder of God's commandments. They are somehow symbolic. They are a psychological aid. I like to think of segulos as extra-biblical tzitzis.
  2. Symbolism of the Prophets. We find this all the time. In order for a prophet to convey a certain message to the people, God would tell them to do something symbolic to help the people understand the message. Isaiah walked around naked and barefoot for days (or maybe years). Jeremiah harnessed himself to a yolk. Ezekiel laid on his side for hundreds of days, and then turned around onto his other side for a few more. Hoshea married a prostitute. Etc., etc. You get the point. Why did they do these things? Why didn't they just tell the people God's message? The answer is obvious. Sometimes you can read something or have something told to you over and over again. But when someone acts it out, when it happens in practice, that's when it really sinks in. Same here. You can read about God's hashgacha and hear lectures about it all day. But the symbolic gestures, when you do something active to show it, sometimes that's what it takes to sink in.

The consequence of this is that segulos only "work" if they are meaningful to you. If you do a segula because you lost a bet, or with skepticism or sarcasm, you're missing the point. You do a segula because you grasp the symbolism. If it's something that turns you off rather than being at all meaningful, it's counter-productive.

I'm not going to claim that this is how everyone has ever understood segulos. There will probably be statements across the vast ocean of Jewish literature that contradict this. Chida (for example) may not have understood segulos like this. But I think that this is a valid approach to them, and perhaps how many people have understood it.

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and l'havdil Melachim 1:22:11 – Double AA Mar 3 '13 at 17:38

Another possibility is that segulot work because they are ma'aseh Satan - the works of the evil inclination. Think of how ingenious the Satan is that he plies unsuspecting pious Jew with promises that by performing this seeming act of devotion he will be granted his wish. This person then abdicates the torah-mandated service of God, putting aside things like torah study time to pursue these smoke-and-mirrors.

UPDATE I have found a list of segulot which come from the torah or chazal and cannot be misconstrued as the work of the Satan

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are you saying the passages in the zohar is ma'seh satan? – ray Mar 25 '13 at 6:56
@R.S. no, I'm saying today's application is. – user2110 Apr 4 '13 at 15:34

I think the segulas are a form of hishtadlut (efforts) in spiritual forces.

One can do hishtadlut using physical means such as going to a doctor and taking medicine. Or one can try using spiritual means. The physical world has underlying spiritual forces which determine what happens. I once read in a book on Rabbi Kaduri that it took him years to find the name of the malach appointed on cancer. He needed this to write kameas.

As for the ketores, the Arizal in Pri Etz Chaim 115 writes a logical explanation based on mystical phenomena that the 11 incenses ascend the 10 sefiros of kedusha from the klipot. see there. The klipos "intercept" shefa (spiritual flow) and therefore by neutralizing some of them more shefa reaches a person and he should get richer, be easier to do teshuva, etc.. All this is just hishtadlut though and as in physical means, there's no guarantee that it will work.

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Did you perhaps mean "raise" (a transitive verb) when you wrote "ascend"? – msh210 Mar 7 '13 at 22:14
dunno the difference. the point is that it raises/ascends the lifeforce of the klipos thereby neutralizing them. see the source. – ray Mar 8 '13 at 6:36
why the downvote? seems to me this site is biased against any kind of mystical sources. just reminder that one who denies the authority of the zohar and the like should be regarded as an apikorus rabbileff.net/shiurim/answers/1000-1249/1106.mp3 – ray Mar 10 '13 at 18:27
I can't speak for the downvoter, but suspect there may have been other reasons for the downvote. Re your final claim, though, see judaism.stackexchange.com/q/23303. – msh210 Mar 10 '13 at 20:01

Pretty sure they don't. I have tried several myself and without any statistical evidence that they do work, I wouldn't rely on anecdotes. Conceptually they also make no sense. Besides the problem you pointed out think about the message they convey: You don't have to be a good person necessarily, just do segulah X and God will be forced to grant you something or other.

If in fact they do (or did) have any basis once upon a time I would assume it was related to other magical practices, you could say, for example that the gemarah's formula to see demons is a "segulah" for seeing demons.

Source: My own experience and logical conjecture.

UPDATE: To illustrate this point I undertook to read a special segulah version of the ketores (provided by the OP) for 40 days. After having successfully completed this experiment and having followed all the instructions provided I can report that I see not one scintilla of any improvement in my life in any way whatsoever. There has been no positive change in any of things I prayed for, either for the Jewish community or myself and my family. Thus I must conclude that segulas (or at least this one) are not efficacious at all and that any success one find by using them is merely coincidence or misperception.

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How can you answer the question by saying segulos don't work if the questioner explicitly quoted the Zohar that said it does work (albeit without a specific location given)? – b a Feb 1 '13 at 17:59
@ba either a) the zohar is wrong, b)the segual used to work but no longer does (as I mention in paragraph 2) or c)the zohar means something else, but without the source that would be hard to know. My $ is on b. – user2110 Feb 1 '13 at 18:11
Do you have any reason to believe something changed? We certainly no longer have pairs, etc., but it seems unlikely for any single thing to no longer work. – b a Feb 1 '13 at 18:43
thank you for the answer but the plain meaning is that segulas work. it's not just the zohar. segulas all over the place in the talmud and all the way up to the chumash in parsha vayetze with the dudaim of Rachel who was a prophetess. To say that it's all just balony and a placebo effect without any source besides personal experience is hard to swallow – ray Feb 2 '13 at 18:05
@R.Sebag No one cares what it sounds like, smacks like, smells like, or seems like. He already explained in multiple ways why it is halachikly ok to say. If you want to keep suggesting otherwise, no one will care, and this discussion will just end. – Double AA Mar 20 '13 at 23:11

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