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    Magical moments – Va’era

    Who were the Egyptian magicians who figure in this week’s reading?

    Their Hebrew name was chartumim, which led some people to think there was a link with the place name Khartoum, capital of the Sudan. According to that view, the people of Khartoum had a reputation for magic and sorcery.

    This theory is not credible, though the word seems to come from a four-letter root with some connection to ancient Egyptian and Babylonian terminology.

    Rashi thinks the chartumim were able to read the bones of the dead; Ibn Ezra thinks they used astrology in their divination.

    It could be that the root of the word is chet-resh-tet, which means to incise or engrave, and the text is talking about people who claimed to be able to read the signs.

    Coming to our own day, many of us remember children’s parties where so-called magicians could do apparently amazing things that made us gasp. Now we are grown up we know that a great deal of what passed for magic when we were younger relied on illusion of the eyes and manipulation of the mind.

    What a pity it is that people are still taken in by shrewd operators who play on people’s gullibility – and by demagogues who practise mind control and mislead and misinform other people.

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