N - The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic and Mysticism: Second Edition (2016)

The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic and Mysticism: Second Edition (2016)



Naamah: (58608). “Lovely/Pleasant.” One of the four Queens of the Demons. She dwells in thesea. In one strand of the tradition, she is the daughter of Tubal-Cain mentioned in Genesis 4:22, who copulated with angels (6:4) producing demonic children. In another, she is the wife of Noah (Book of Jasher 5:15). In later Jewish tradition she is the mother of Asmodeus, a succubus, one of the consorts of Samael, who seduces sleeping men. She and Lilith had intercourse with Adam in order to bear demon children. Once aroused by her, even if a man has sex with his wife instead, any children from that conception will be inclined toward her (Tanh. Chukkat; MhG Gen. 4:22; Zohar I:9b, 19b, 55a; Zohar III:76b-77a).

Naaman: Aramean general in the Bible who receives a miraculous cure of his leprosy fromElisha. The cure is affected when Naaman immerses himself in the Jordan at Elisha’s direction (2 Kings 5; Git. 57b; Sanh. 107b).

Nachash: (58610). “Serpent.” SEE SERPENT.

Nachman of Bratzlav: Chasidic master, Kabbalist, and messianic figure (Ukrainian, ca. 19th century). Great grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, the charismatic and eccentric Nachman developed a devoted circle of followers. He was most famous for his intricate and enigmatic parables. He was a controversial figure in his lifetime. After his death, his followers attributed many miracles to him. To this day his followers are often referred to as the “dead Chasids,” because they never found a living spiritual leader worthy to succeed Nachman.

Nachmanides: Bible commentator, ethicist, and mystic (Spanish, ca. 14th century). While he revealed very little of an explicit esoteric nature in most of his writings, his commentary on the Torah is considered a classic of Kabbalistic literature.

Nachum Ish Gam Zu: Mishnaic Sage (ca. 1st-2nd century). He was the archetypal cheerful soul in the face of adversity. He was so sensitive a soul that at one point he cursed himself with blindness for causing the death of a person (Tan. 21a). Crippled and cripplingly poor, his merit kept his decrepit house from collapsing until he was moved out of it. Elijah wrought miracles in order to save him from Roman wrath (Sanh. 108b-109a).

Nadav and Abihu: The sons of Aaron the High priest who are struck down by God when they introduce “alien fire” into the sanctuary of the tabernacle (Lev. 11). The Talmud offers a number of theories as to the exact nature of their transgression, but the topic continues to be speculated upon to this day. According to the Zohar, the souls of these two men were rooted in Cain, but they were unable to overcome damage in this root soul, so at their death they transmigrated into their nephew Pinchas, who performed a Tikkun for their error by defending Israel against idolatrous worship in a decisive action (Zohar II:57b; III:217a).

Naftali Bacharach: Kabbalist (German, ca. 17th century). He is the author of Emek ha-Melech (“Valley of the King”), a work notable for its demonologies, especially regarding Lilith.

Naftali Katz of Poznan: Kabbalist and Baal Shem (Polish, ca. 17th-18th century). A well-known wunder-rabbi, he performed numerous feats, including raising someone from the dead.

Nagaf, Sagaf, and Agaf: (58624). Three destructive angels, usually mentioned together, found in medieval texts. Noting that each demon's name ends with the letter payh, it is taught that reciting prayers in the liturgy that have no final payh letters in the words can neutralize their powers.1

1. Kanarfogel, Peering through the Lattices, 155-56, 156n.


Name, the Book of the: A 13th-century treatise on the secret power of the divine names written by Eleazar of Worms. Besides being one of the most comprehensive works on the magico-mystical nature of God’s name, it is also intriguing in that it reveals the actual process of esoteric transmission from master to disciple, a ritual that involves passing on the teaching while being immersed in water. SEE NAMES OF GOD.

Name, Hebrew: (58628). In Hebrew thought, a name is part of the defining essence of a person, and as such is a source of power and influence over that person (Ber. 7b; Yoma 83b; SCh 244). Like Native Americans, biblical parents often named their children after omens or circumstances surrounding their birth (Gen. 26, 30; 1 Sam. 1). Many Hebrew names also incorporate full or abridged names of God, like Uriel (God is my light) or Yeshayahu, (YHVH is my salvation).

God changes the names of biblical heroes to mark spiritual transformation: Abram and Sarai have the letter hay (from the Tetragrammaton) added to their names, making them Abraham and Sarah. Jacob’s name is completely changed to Israel (One who struggles with God), which also incorporates a divine name within it.

Every Jewish child is given a Hebrew name, usually a name separate and distinct from that which serves as his or her “legal” name. It is one’s Hebrew name that is used when one participates in synagogue rituals or lifecycle events.

It is considered bad luck among Ashkenazi Jews to name a child after a living relative. Often newborns are not given a name until the ritual circumcision or ritual naming, in order to disorient the Angel of Death and prevent Death from finding the infant. It is believed changing the name of an ill or dying child likewise will confuse Death (R.H. 16b; 245, 247). These name change customs are still practiced to this day in some circles.

It is bad luck for two people with the same name to live in the same town (SCh 224, 447). It is also an ill omen for a man to marry a woman with the same name as his mother (Testament of Rabbi Judah [SCh] 23). Jewish dream interpretation also finds ominous meaning in names. Thus if one sees a cat (Arabic:shunra) in a dream, it signifiesshinui ra (Hebrew: “a change for the worse”). 1

The ability to recall one’s Hebrew name is the first test the soul undergoes after Death. Therefore, some Jewish sects are emphatic about children learning and memorizing their names. Chasidic Jews learn to conclude their dailyprayers using a biblical verse that begins with the first initial and ends with the last initial of their names, in order that the soul will be able to respond with its name when summoned to judgment.

Angels’ names are the key to accessing their divine powers. Angel-summoning texts began appearing in Greco-Roman times that provide long lists of angelic names. According to one book, the Chronicles ofChanameel, the book’s namesake actually shielded Jerusalem from the Babylonians, using his knowledge of angelic names to call down heavenly hosts in the city’s defense and so thwarting the will of God. That continued until God changed the names of all the angels—sort of like changing a PIN number and password—undermining Chanameel’s efforts.

The names of the Righteous also possess power, and they are sometimes incorporated into amulets and spells of protection. SEE ANGEL; CHIBBUT HA-KEVER; DEATH; DUMAH; HEBREW AND HEBREW ALPHABET; LANGUAGE.

1. Fishbane, “Aspects of Jewish Magic in the Ancient Rabbinic Period.”

Names of God: “By the word ‘YHVH,’ were the heavens made” (Ps. 33:6). The ancients believed that a name conveyed something of the essence of the person who bore it. More than that, a person’s name was an avenue to the power of and power over that person. The same assumptions apply to God and God’s names. God’s name coexisted with God prior to Creation (PdRE 3). This world and the next were made using the first letters of the Tetragrammaton (Men. 29b; Gen. R. 12:10). God’s name is a stand-in for God’s presence; God blessed Abraham, Sarah, and Jacob by adding elements of the divine name to their names (Gen. 17:5, 15, 32:29). To know the names of God is to be able to access divine power (Gen. R. 12:10; PdRE 40; SCh 471, 484).

The study of these divine names is a central science of Jewish mysticism. These names are used as maps to divine nature, as tools of meditation, and as sources of supernatural power that can be harnessed by the adept. Later Kabbalists went so far as to diagram divine names to better accept their power.

Over the centuries, Jews have identified many names, titles, and epithets for God. The Bible contains fourteen names (though Midrash ha-Gadol Genesis 46:8, claims to find seventy), most of them based on the root Hebrew word (586331alef-lamed-hay) for deity: Elohim, 58637, 58635El, Eloha (God); 58639El Shaddai (God of Mountains/Breasts); 58641El Elyon (Most High God); 58645Eloha Yisrael (the God of Israel); 58648El Olam (Eternal God); 58650El Roi (God of Vision); 58654El Brit (God of the Covenant); 58652Adonai (My Lord); 58656Koneh (Creator); 58660Melech (King); 58658Av (Father/Source); and of course, 58662YHVH, the Tetragrammaton. The Sages teach that each name represents a different divine attribute: Elohim is the “name” of God’s justice; Adonai signifies God’s compassion, etc. Naturally, one must choose the right name for the right circumstance when one invokes God’s assistance.

Rabbinic tradition adds more names for God, such asha-Makom (“The Place [of the World]/Omnipresent One”),Shekhinah (“The Indwelling”),Ha-Kadosh Baruch Hu (“TheBlessed Holy One”),Ribbono shel Olam (“Master of the Universe”), and Ha-Rachaman (“The Compassionate One”). Mystics added further to the list with terms such as Ein Sof (“Without End”), Atika de-Atika (“The Most Ancient”), and Temira de-Temira (“The Most Hidden”).1

Aside from these names and epithets for God, Jews also found names for God by abbreviating certain power phrases. Thus words from a phrase in the prayer book,Atah gibor l’olam Adonai … (“You are eternally powerful, Adonai”) becomes Agla. The rabbinic superlativeHa-Kadosh Baruch Hu becomesHakabah. Names so constructed pop up in different contexts, but for the interests of this book, are most notably used for theurgic or magical purposes in amulets.

Then there are some truly esoteric names—names that are present in the Bible, but recognizable only by occult tradition. These include the following:

✵ The eight-letter name of God, which consists of merging the letters of the Tetragrammaton with the letters of the title “Adonai.” This combination name makes a limited appearance in esoteric writings.

✵ The twelve-letter name of God is derived from the Priestly Blessing (Num. 7:6-9). One version is simply a combination of the three times YHVH is repeated in the blessing. A more complex version is really the twelve-word name of God. In Sefer Raziel, twelve divine names are made out of permutations of four letters of the Tetragrammaton.

✵ The fourteen-letter name of God, which appears on the back of a mezuzah parchment, is one revealed by temurah, or letter substitution of the phrase Adonai Eloheinu Adonai that appears as part of the Sh’ma (Deut. 6:4).

✵ The twenty-two-letter name of God corresponds to the twenty-two letters that make up the alphabet, though this name is not constructed from the complete alphabet. It appears in many Kabbalistic texts, in incantations and on amulets. It also appears in an acrostic prayer in some prayer books. Here the name is revealed by the technique of temurah applied to the first five Hebrew words of the Priestly Blessing, which are (translated) “Adonai bless you and guard you, [Adonai] cause illumination …” It is this source text that makes the name particularly appealing for protective spells and charms.

✵ The forty-two-letter name of God, which is the name Kabbalists most associate with the theurgic power of Creation, is derived entirely from the first chapter of Genesis. It is woven into the Jewish prayer book as an acrostic prayer, Ana B’choach. Tzeruf and gematria techniques applied to this name yield several angelic names and phrases of power and protection.

✵ The seventy-two-word name of God is also a significant tool in performing rituals of power. Books likeSefer ha-Malbush and an unpublished manuscript labeled Techilat ha-Yetzirah are devoted to explaining the significance and power of this particular name. Its proper use fills one with the Holy Spirit, grants power over angels and demons , and gives clairvoyant sight. The seventy-two-word name is derived from Exodus 14:19-21, which describes the angel that cursed and battled againstPharaoh’s army and the parting of the sea by Moses. Each of these three verses consists ofseventy-two letters. Tzeruf hermeneutics yields a name of seventy-two three-letter words. Using permutations of the seventy-two-word name of God in the proper state of mind can also result in a minor revelation, called a Bat Kol (Gen. R. 44:19; S of S R. 2:2; Zohar II:132b; Zohar III:150b;Pardes Rimmonim 27:2).2

✵ Finally, there is an esoteric tradition that the Torah text, in its entirety, is actually one long name of God. This is one reason why aSefer Torah is sometimes employed in protective rituals, such as invoking supernatural assistance for a woman in childbirth, or exorcising a demon.3

According toShi’ur Qomah (SQ), the heart of God is inscribed with seventy names.SQ provides a list of those names, which includes many familiar names and titles, but also many novel names not previously appearing in biblical or rabbinic sources.SQ also teaches that every limb of God has a divine name. One should perhaps understand the text to be saying that every such name is a limb of God—the shape of the Godhead in actuality consists purely of the many divine names.

The theurgic attitude of Jewish mystics toward divine names can be misinterpreted. It seems at times they view the names of God as separate from God Himself. It is more accurate to say that Jewish mystics view the names as “access codes” that allow them to tap certain aspects of divine power (Mid. Teh. 3.2). To invoke God’s name in the world means you can invoke God’s presence—if you are in the appropriate moral and spiritual condition. Moseskilled the Egyptian taskmaster with God’s name (Ex. R. 1:29), Solomon subdued demons (Git. 68b), and Sages can make life (Sanh. 107b).

That is the “religious” view. By contrast, the purely magical view is that, like the power of the atom, God’s names are imbued with power intrinsic unto themselves, and anyone, saint or sinner, righteous or wicked, can make use of the power of the names by means of sorcery. The only thing that really matters is simply the technical knowledge of how to activate their power.


Amulet with divine names

This, in fact, is the attitude of medieval magicians, Jewish and gentile, whose interest in divine names focused on the quest for power, ignoring the theology of divine unity that grounds all Jewish theurgy. As can be imagined, many Jewish authorities found such belief appalling and regarded the magic assumptions on which such practice are based to utterly contradict fundamental teachings of Judaism. Still, consistency is not a notable virtue of the human mind, and even some religiously educated Jews have accepted the premise that the power of God and the power of God’s names are in some way separate phenomena. This is exemplified by Rabbi Eliezer’s comments in Midrash Tehillim 3:2 that if people only knew the proper order in which to read the Torah, they would be able to perform countless miracles

Because of their potential for both power and abuse, the names of God are treated with great care in Jewish tradition, and there are many rules governing the speaking, writing, and disposal of objects containing divine names. Seven of God’s names need to be treated with special care when written: El, Elohim, Adonai, YHVH, Ehyeh-asher-Ehyeh, Shaddai, and Tzevaot. The power inherent in the names meant that they had to be protected from falling into irresponsible hands. Thus, for example, the Talmud places limits on who could be taught the twelve- and forty-two-letter names of God (Kid. 71a; A.Z. 17b). SEE AMULET; EXPLICIT NAME OF GOD; HEBREW AND HEBREW ALPHABET;LANGUAGE; MAGIC; SEGULAH Or Segulot.

1. Dr. Samuel Cohen identifies some 120 names, titles, and figurative terms for God in his “The Name of God: a Study in Rabbinic Theology,” 602.

2. Ibid., 592-98; Singer, The Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. 9, 160-65; also see F. Levine, “Holy Letters: The Names of God,” Practical Kabbalah & Related Folklore, accessed 2015, http://kabbalah.fayelevine.com/letters/pk011.php.

3. Dan, The Heart and the Fountain, 101-5.

Names of Impurity: (58679/Shemot Tumah). A mysterious power that the Talmud reports Abraham bequeathed to the gentile children of his concubines (Sanh. 91a). The concept may have its roots in Zechariah 13:2, where the “impurity of the land” derives from the names of idols. These children of Abraham became the fabledChildren of the East, the masters of magic and astrology . This story is offered as an explanation for why non-Jews are able to perform efficacious magic. RaSHI identifies shemot tumah as knowledge of witchcraft and demonology. Later sages relate this term to some of the techniques used in exorcism (Minchat Eliyahu).

NaRaNChay: (58681). Acronym for the human soul. Lurianic Kabbalah modifies the traditional tri-part theory of the soul, declaring it to actually have five levels:nefesh, ruach, neshamah, chayyah, and yechidah.

Nasargiel: (58683). The angelic guardian of Gehenna (Gedulat Moshe;LOTJ 312).

Nathan of Gaza: Prophet and publicist forShabbatai Tzvi (Israel, ca. 17th century), he experienced numerous maggid possessions and mystical vision, including the one that led him first to Tzvi.

Nations: (58688). In Jewish mythic imagination, the peoples of the world are represented by a symbolic seventy nations (Gen. 10-11). Every nation of the world has its own language (Shab. 88b) and own princely angel to be its celestial advocate (Dan. 10:20; Jubilees 15:31-32; Tanh. Re’eh 8; PdRE 24; Zohar I:146b). These angels will, in parallel with their mortal counterparts, form alliances, conspire, and/or fight one another. Most often, rabbinic literature portrays them involved in efforts to discredit, overthrow, or thwart Israel (MdRI Shirata 2; Gen. R. 56; Ex. R. 21:5; Zohar I:86a).

In biblical thought, Israel is apportioned to God directly (Deut. 32; Isa. 44:6). In various rabbinic texts, however, angelic guardians of the Jewish people start to appear, such as Michael, or the eponymous angel, Israel.

Sevenprophets were appointed to the nations to give them the message of monotheism (Lev. R. 2:9). These nations first emerged in the aftermath of theTower of Babel debacle.

At Sukkot, seventy bulls were sacrificed in theTemple for the sake of each of the gentile nations (Suk. 55b; Lam. R. 1:23; PdRK 28:9).

Any gentile can become a Jew, but the Holy Spirit can rest upon a gentile as it can upon a Jew, depending on his (or her) deeds (TdE 48). Those gentiles who engage in the study of Torah are held to be spiritually equal to a High priest of Israel (B.K. 38a; Ex. R. 19:4). The pious of all nations will have a portion in the World to Come (T. Sanh. 12; MT, Teshuvah 3.5). The Zohar, on the other hand, takes a more negative view of the nations and believes that the souls of non-Jews derive from the left side of the sefirotic tree , and therefore they are under the sway of the demonic (Zohar I:131b).

Natronai, Mar Rav: Scholar and communal leader (Iraqi, ca. 9th century). According to legend, heteleported between Iraq and Spain to teach Torah to the Jews of Iberia (Otzer ha-Geonim).

Nature: At first appearances, the Bible presents a view of nature that is radically de-spiritualized compared to that of the Israelites’ Pagan contemporaries.1 There is God, who is the animating spirit of the world, but who stands “above” and “outside” Creation. Yet in fact, the Bible stubbornly refuses to radically divorce God from nature. Even in the famousKedushah prayer of the angels in Isaiah 6, the very moment when the Bible affirms God’s radical “otherness” and transcendence from Creation, the serafim simultaneously declare,Melo kol ha-aretz kevodo, “His glory fills the whole Earth” (i.e., the world is an extension of God). This belief that God is simultaneously in and beyond the world is fundamental to Judaism (Jer. 23:34; Tanh. Naso 6).

Taking the biblical position one step further, Jewish mystics affirm what philosophers of religion callpanentheism, the belief that the universe iswithin God, even though the universe is not equal to God (Etz Chayyim 2). The natural world, the Kabbalists like to say, is like a wave in the ocean. It is both part of the ocean, yet distinguishable from it. Thus Moses Cordovero writes in his classic work of systematic Kabbalah, Pardes Rimmonim, “The essence of divinity is found in every single thing, nothing but It exists … It exists in each existent.”

Midrashic imagination ascribes the orderly workings of nature to the power of genius or animating angels, which oversee the function of all natural phenomena (Ps. 104:4). Thus there are named angels, likeBaradiel (Hail of God) andBarakiel (Lightning of God) that control all these natural forces.

Rationalist Jewish philosophy, following the course of Western thought, especially “natural law” arguments, has argued for a radically decentralized universe. This is a direction utterly rejected, however, by Jewish mysticism to this day.2

1. E. Wiggerman, “The Mythological Foundations of Nature,” in Natural Phenomenon, D. J. W. Meijer, ed. (Amsterdam: North Holland Press, 1992), 289-293.

2. Cohen and Mendes-Flohr, Contemporary Jewish Religious Thought, 663-77.

Navel: Mount Zion is the “navel of the world” (theAxis Mundi) (Sanh. 37a; Tanh. Vayikra 18.23).

Nazirite: (58709). An ancient Israelite institution in which a layperson could deepen his dedication to God, either temporarily or permanently. Becoming a nazirite simply involved taking a vow to become one, but maintaining the status of nazirite required that one abstain fromwine, grow one’s hair uncut, and avoid all contact with corpses.

Most people would become a nazirite for a specified limited duration of time after taking the vow. The judge Samson and theprophet Samuel, however, are examples of two individuals who were nazirites from birth to Death. Both possessed paranormal powers—extraordinary strength in the case of Samson, divinatory and clairvoyant powers in the case of Samuel. No such powers are credited to the temporary nazirite. The popular cliché ofJesus with long hair may have its origins as a Byzantine visual pun on “Nazareth/Nazirite.”

Nebuchadnezzar: This king of ancient Babylon who destroyed Jerusalem (2 Kings), the Rabbis claim, was a descendant of the union between Solomon and theQueen of Sheba. Another tradition identifies him as the direct descendant ofNimrod. He was a mythic figure to the Rabbis, a kind of world-striding witch-king who rode alion with asnake as a bridle (PdRE 11; Shab. 149b-150a; Meg. 11a-11b). God finally decided to humble the king and turned Nebuchadnezzar into a monstrous animal (Chronicles of Jeremeel).

Nechemiah: The Jewish governor of Persian Judah (Book of Nehemiah) is not famed for miraculous feats, but the Talmud claims he was conceived via a miracle (Sanh. 37b-38a).

Nechemiah ben Hushiel: The given name of the Messiah ben Joseph, the precursor to the Messiah ben David (Sefer Zerubbabel).

Nechiah: (58701). “Cleanliness of Yah.” The spirit of prosperity. The Talmud claims maintaining a clean home ensures the presence of this spirit (Pes. 111b). SEE UNCLEAN SPIRITS OR IMPURE SPIRITS.

Nechunyiah ben ha-Kanah: Mishnaic Sage (ca. 2nd century). Along withIshmael ben Elisha,Akiba, andSimon bar Yochai, Nechunyiah is one of the “big four” mystics of the Talmudic era. He appears repeatedly inHechalot texts. He is the purported author of the esoteric prayerAna B’choach andSefer ha-Bahir.

Necromancer and Necromancy: (58716/Yeddioni, also Doresh ha-Metim; Baal Ov). The mantic practice of consulting dead spirits. It is a form of divination that is harshly condemned by the Bible (Deut. 18:10-12). That being said, it was clearly quite attractive to Israelites (Isa. 8:19-22, 19:3). The roots of this enthusiasm may go back before the rise of Israelite monotheism, to a time when the Israelites venerated their dead and consulted with ancestral spirits, or may have been introduced later through the cultural influence of Mesopotmia.1 The story of the woman of Endor (1 Sam. 28) is the only narrative account of a necromancer in Scriptures:

And Saul inquired of Adonai, but Adonai did not answer him, either by dreams or by Urim or by prophets. Then Saul said to his courtiers, “Find me a woman who consults ghosts, so that I can go to her and inquire through her.” (1 Sam. 28:6-7)

The Sages themselves believed that the dead could hear what goes on “behind the curtain” of heaven and therefore ghosts have access to paranormal information (PdRE 34).


Summoning the dead by E. M. Lilien

According to the Talmud, there are two methods for achieving communion with the dead: by the use of a medium, who would be possessed by a ghost, or by having a dead soul speak through a skull (Sanh. 65b; Ber. 59a; Shab. 152b-153a). Both of these practices are explicitly condemned by rabbinic tradition.

On the other hand, beneficent ghosts who address the living via dreams or other unsolicited means are to be heeded. And even though trying to induce ghostly voices or making offerings to the dead is forbidden, some Kabbalists did in fact practice incubation, sleeping at the graveside of a great sage or holy person in the hopes that the person’s spirit would possess them. Isaac Luria is a signal case of someone who actively pursued communion withibburim, benevolent dead spirits, by means of a technique he calledyichudim. As is the case with so many other paranormal practices, the demarcation line between what can be considered permitted and prohibited forms of communication with the dead can become blurred. Contemporary Chasidism and other Jewish pietists still occasionally observe the practice of incubation. SEE BAAL OV; IBBUR; MEDIUM; XENOGLOSSIA AND AUTOMATIC WRITING.

1. Schmidt, Israel’s Beneficent Dead.

Nefesh, Nefesh Behemit: (58725). “Animal Soul/Life Energy.” nefesh is the fundamental vitality animating all sentient life. This is the lowest part of the triad structure of the human soul, the higher souls beingruach andneshamah. After Death, the nefesh is the part of the soul that remains in the world, able to commune with the living (Zohar I:224b; III:70b). Kabbalists teach that the interest of demons in human affairs results from the demonic need to feed upon this energy.

Nehushtan: (58723/Nechushtan). This bronze image of a serpent was made by Moses at the instruction of God in order to miraculously cure wounds from,saraf serpent bites (Num. 21:4-9). Its name,Nechushtan, is a double pun—a word play on both “serpent” (Nachash) and “bronze” (Nechoshet). It may have had wings, a common motif in the ancient Near East. It was preserved in theTemple until KingHezekiah decided to destroy it after it had become an object of idolatrous worship (2 Kings 18:4). Given its remarkable story, post-biblical sources devote very little commentary to the serpent, virtually none of what does exist pursues esoteric interpretations.Nachmanides derives a principle akin to sympathetic magic from the story: like cures like.

Nekudim: (58746). “Spots.” The Lurianic book Eitz Chayyim interprets the “spotted” sheep in the Jacob saga (Gen. 31:10-12) to be a cosmic allegory that alludes to the “world of spots,” a primordial period when the sefirot were disconnected from one another, preventing the proper flow of divine emanations to one another. This is equated with the condition of tohu, chaos, described in Genesis 1:2.

Nephilim: (58744). “Giants.” SEE GIANTS

Neshamah: (58742). The “highest” part of the triad composition of the human soul, the neshamah is the divine, indestructible aspect of the spirit, the seat of intellect.

Neshiyya/Nashia: The place of forgetfulness. This strange zone of the lower worlds is the home to pygmies (Sitrei Torah,Zohar I:253b-254a).

Netzach: (58739. “Endurance/Victory.” The seventh sefirah, it is thespeculum through which Prophecy flows. It is personified in Moses. Like its counterpartHod, it is rarely the subject of kabbalistic inquiry, and the commentary on Netzach is perhaps the least developed in the esoteric tradition.

New Jerusalem: Also known as 11Q18, this document found among the Dead Sea Scrolls describes the eschatological battle between Israel and the nations, and the colossal dimensions of messianic Jerusalem.

New Moon: (58753/Rosh Chodesh). The new moon marks the beginning of a Hebrew month (Ex. 21:1) and, historically, it was determined by the independent report of two witnesses to rabbinic authorities (PdRE 7; Sanh. 37a). It is greeted with prayer and ceremony (Num. 10:10). The Midrash compares the Jewish people to the moon. Like the moon, the Jewish people often find themselves outshone by more powerful nations and empires (which the Midrash compares to the sun) who have dominated the people Israel. Like the moon, Jews wax and wane in fortune. Yet like the moon, we always return; and visible or not, we are always strong spiritually (Gen. R. 6:2).

According to the Talmud (Meg. 22b), the new moon is a holiday of rest exclusively for women. The rationale for this is found in the events surrounding the golden calf incident:

Aaron argued with himself, saying: If I say to Israel, Give ye to me gold and silver, they will bring it immediately; but behold I will say to them, Give ye to me the earrings of your wives and of your sons, and forthwith the matter will fail, as it is said, “And Aaron said to them, Break off the golden rings.” The women heard (this), but they were unwilling to give their earrings to their husbands; but they said to them, “Ye desire to make a graven image of a molten image without any power in it to deliver.” [For this] the Blessed Holy One gave the women their reward in this world and the world to come. What reward did He give them in this world? That they should observe the new moons more than the men, and what reward will He give them in the world to come? They are destined to be renewed like the new moons, as it is said: Who satisfies thy years with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle. (PdRE 45)

According to esoteric tradition, correctly performing the new moon rituals protects one from dying in the month that follows. In tractate Sanhedrin, the Sages offer a protective ritual to be performed at the beginning of each month:Kiddush l’vanah, the sanctification of blessing of the new moon (Sanh. 42a). The ritual can be performed from the third evening after the appearance of the new moon until the fifteenth day, but only if the moon is visible. The ritual is done outside, and one performing the rite must be presentable and in a good mood (S of S R. 20:2). Blessing the moon invites the presence of theShekhinah.

In some places, the ritual grew more elaborate over time. In medieval Europe, the ritual ofKiddush L’vanah consisted ofdancing or jumping and reciting the following incantations at the moon: “Just as I dance toward you but cannot touch you, so shall theYetzer ha-a not touch me.” Participants also flapped the corners of their clothing in a gesture intended to shake off bad luck.1 Then the person was to declare it asiman tov, a “good sign,” three times. This writer has never observed anything like this at a contemporaryKiddush L’vanah ceremony, though others report it is still done. SEE ASTROLOGY; GOLDEN CALF; MOON.

1. Roth, Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 12, 291.

New Year: (58768/Rosh ha-Shanah). According to the Talmud, there are actually four “new years” in the Jewish calendar: the New Year for kings and counting the months (1 Nisan), the New Year for the world and calculating the years (1 Tishrei), the New Year for tithing cattle (1 Elul), and the New Year for tithing trees (Shev. 15). SEE ROSH HASHANAH.

Nicanor: According to the Talmud, Nicanor was a pious individual who commissioned ornamental doors for theTemple, which he then had specially built in Egypt. While on their way via boat to Israel, a storm forced the crew to throw the metals doors overboard. Nicanor insisted on going overboard with his gifts. Miraculously, the metal door Nicanor clung to floated and bore him to Jaffa. When the ship arrived in port, the other door miraculously floated to the surface of the harbor (Yoma 38a). Eventually they were both installed as Nicanor intended and were thereafter known as “The doors of Nicanor” (Sefer Yuhasin). SEE GATE; MEZUZAH.


Niddui: (58780). A type of temporary excommunication, it could be used to exorcise adybbuk (SA, Yoreh Deah, 334;Zafnat Pa’aneah). SEE EXORCISM; GET.

Niflaot Maharal: “Wonders of the Maharal.” A collection of fantastic tales about RabbiJudah Loew of Prague, including his golem adventures. It was written by Judah Rosenberg, though it is presented as if it were written by the Maharal’s son.

Night: (58762/Lilah). The Sages compare night to life in this world and dawn to the World to Come (PdRE 34). It is at night, when the Body is at rest, that the soul is liberated. According to the Sages, during sleep the soul ascends to heaven to give an account of its deeds before it is returned to the body, purified (Odeh la El prayer).

Night is the time when the demonic is most active. The Zohar identifies the period of nightfall tomidnight as the time when the forces of theSitra Achra are ascendant. After midnight, the wall between the celestial and terrestrial worlds becomes permeable and the water of Eden infuse new life into the sublunary world and evil recedes; this is the time when it is most propitious to rise from bed and study Torah. SEE DARKNESS; DEMONS; SLEEP.

Nimrod: Described in Genesis as a “mighty hunter” (Gen. 10:8-12), the Sages describe Nimrod as the archetypal wicked king. As a young man, Nimrod made his reputation as a hunter by supernatural means: he possessed the garments of Adam, which gave him the power to subdue any animal (PdRE 24). Apparently, the garments gave him the ability to sway people also:

Rabbi Eleazar said: “Nimrod used to entice people into idolatrous worship by means of those garments, which enabled him to conquer the world and proclaim himself its ruler, so that people offered him worship. He was called ‘Nimrod,’ for the reason that he rebelled [marad] against the most high King above, against the higher angels and against the lower angels.” (Zohar I:73b)

He later claimed the throne of Cush by feat of arms. In other versions, Nimrod is the king of Shinar who initiated theTower of Babel project (Chul. 89a; Pes. 94a-b) and had himself worshipped as a god (A.Z. 53b).

When his court diviners told him of the pending birth of Abraham, he sought to kill the child. In the end Nimrod killed 70,000 infant boys in his quest to slay the newborn Abraham (Ma’asei Avraham Avenu). Abraham’s father, Terach, hid his son with the help of the angel Gabriel. Nimrod continued to persecute Abraham as an adult:

Nimrod called Abraham and commanded him to worship Fire. Abraham said to him, “So let’s worship water since water has the power to extinguish fire.” “Right,” said Nimrod, “We should worship water.” “In that case, we should worship the clouds, since they carry water.” “Yes, we should worship the clouds.” “Then we should worship the wind, since it drives the clouds across the sky.” “Yes, we should worship the wind [the wordruach also means “spirit,” a key to the next point of the argument]” “But,” said Abraham, “humans have the power to rule over the spirit. Should we worship human beings?” “You’re playing with words,” cried Nimrod. “I worship only fire, and I am going to throw you into a huge furnace. Let the God you worship come along and save you from it!” (Mid. Bereshit 38.13) 1


Young Nimrod

When the patriarch refused to renounce the one God, Nimrod had him thrown into a furnace (Gen R. 38:13, 42:5) but Abraham walked away from the inferno unharmed. Nimrod was finally slain byEsau (another mighty hunter) in a struggle to possess the awesome garments of Adam:

Nimrod was seeking to slay him [Esau] on account of the garment which had belonged to Adam, for whenever he put it on and went out into the field, all the beasts and birds in the world would come and flock around him. (Gen. R. 65:16. Also Gen. R. 63:13; PdRE 24)

1. A. Ben Yakov, “Abraham Smashes the Idols,” AZAMRA, accessed 2008, http://www.azamra.org/Earth/mount-03.html.

Nine Who Entered Paradise Alive: According toDerekh Eretz Zuta 1, there have been nine worthies who will attain Paradise without tasting Death: Enoch, Elijah, the Messiah,Hiram,Ebed Melech,Batya, Jaabez (son of Judah the Prince),Joshua ben Levi, andSerach bat Asher.

Nippur: Archaeological site in Iraq that yielded the greatest horde of incantation bowls (forty) now in the possession of modern scholars.

Nishmat Chayyim: “The soul of Life.” Tract composed byManasseh ben Israel containing references to reincarnation, demons, spiritual possession, and many other occult beliefs.

Nistarot shel Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai: “The Mysteries of Rabbi Simon bar Yochai.” A medieval book that details the supernal secrets that Bar Yochai plumbed during the twelve years he hid in a cave with his son.

Nitzotzot: (58792). “Sparks.” According to Lurianic Kabbalah , nitzotzot (pl.) are fragments of divine force orlight, dispersed into the created universe by thebreaking of the vessels, the cataclysmic collapse of the primeval divine order. These sparks, the creative “word” of God, are contained in everything, but are shrouded from our sight by “husks” or “shells” of profane reality. Humans must now reveal these sparks, which are concealed in every aspect of Creation, and restore them to God (Zohar I:4a). This Tikkun (“rectification” or “cosmic repair project”) is achieved by the proper theurgic performance of all the commandments, both moral and ritual.1 SEE KELIPOT; LURIA, ISAAC;MITZVOT; THEURGY.

1. Green, Jewish Spirituality, vol. 2, 65-70.

Noah: “Comforter.” When God decided to undo Creation and release the waters of the abyss, the Holy Blessed One chose Noah as the man who would build an ark and save specimens of all avian and terrestrial creatures (Gen. 6-9).

According to I Enoch, Noah was totally white, perhaps indicating he was an albino. He came out of the womb white as snow, eyes shining, and already circumcised (AdRN 2). A precocious newborn, he even got up and walked away from his midwife. He invented many of the essential tools of civilization (Tanh. Bereshit 5, 11). Through his three sons, Noah is considered the second father of all humanity.

He also possessed a magical book (Jubilees 10). The introduction to Sefer ha-Razim also claims that it was passed down through generations of biblical figures, including Moses and Solomon. It also claims that it was by the power of that book that Noah built the Ark, fed the animals, and survived all the hazards of the great Flood.

Some creatures that were meant to be exterminated by the Flood survived. The giants, for example, survived because one of them, Og, clung to the exterior of Noah’s Ark. The interior of the Ark was illuminated by the tzohar, the glowing stone filled with the light of Creation that Noah had inherited from Adam (Gen. R. 31).

After the Flood, Noah planted the first vine and taught himself how to makewine. Noah immediately became drunk from his innovative beverage, and his sonHam “uncovers his nakedness” while he was besotted. The Midrash elaborates on this cryptic expression by explaining that Satan seduced Noah into planting the vine and Ham either raped or castrated his father (PdRE 23). Noah then cursed Ham and his descendants for the offense (Gen. 9).

Besides Sefer ha-Razim, Noah is sometimes associated with another book, the Book of Noah , a manual of healings based on what the angel Gabriel taught him about combating demonically induced illness (Jubilees 10).

In both the Zohar (I:254b) and Lurianic thought, Noah failed to lead his generation to repentance. As a result, his soul was reincarnated as moss.

Noah, Book of: A number of books have been designated “Book of Noah.” Within Jewish apocalyptic, Midrashic, and magical literature, there is a continuing tradition that Noah had a book of magical incantations, which has sometimes been identified with Raziel or Sefer ha-Razim. Another candidate is the magico-medical bookSefer Asaf ha-Rofe.

A fragmentary text found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, 1Q19, has been offered as a candidate for an ancient “Book of Noah.” It is closely related to the Enochean textual tradition.

Another DSS fragment, 4Q534, is an alternative candidate for the magicallost book, given that it appears to be a kind of horoscopes of Noah. SEE FLOOD, THE; GIANTS, BOOK OF; NOAH.

Nocturnal Emission: The Sages regarded the spontaneous emission of semen triggered by erotic dreams as a sign of demonic attack. The succubae Lilith andNaaman are the demons traditionally credited with such nighttime molestations. They seduce men in their sleep and extract their sperm in order to procreate demonic offspring (Nigei bnei Adam, “harmful sons of Adam”). In commentaries to the Zohar, it is even taught that Lilith lurks around the bed during normal intercourse between men and women and gathers any stray droplets of semen. To counter this possibility, there are a number of post-coital incantations that can be recited.

In a related matter, Jewish mysticism finds masturbation to be a grave offense for precisely the same reason: the spilling of semen outside of coitus allows demons to procreate. (Tanh. B. Bereshit 26; Gen. R. 20:11; Eruv. 18b; Zohar I:55a, 57a; Zohar II:231b; Zohar III:76b). SEE BANIM SHOVAVIM; NIGHT; SEX; SLEEP.

Nogah: (58803). “Glowing Light/Glimmer.”Nogah is a Kabbalistic term referring to the divine energy that allows what we mortals term “evil” to persist in the universe. In keeping with Jewish monotheism, the Zohar teaches that all things emanate from God, including theSitra Achra, the demonic. Evil has its purpose in God’s creation also. Because of this spiritual reality, even the most evil things have aklipah nogah (“a glowing husk”), a mix of evil and divine energy. Kabbalah teaches that the Righteous can learn to recognize and harmlessly release anynogah and return it to its divine source. This can usually be achieved by means of Tikkun, redeeming or transforming some evil thing or situation into something good (Etz Chayyim 47:5; Tanya chapters 1, 38).

North: (58812/Tzafon). North is the direction signifyingGevurah, the divine emanation of severity (Bahir 162-163; Zohar I:14b, 77a). It is also the direction linked with impurity, from which evil emanates (Jer. 1:14; Ezek. 8; Mid. Konen 2:30). Later Midrashic collections suggest that God somehow left the “north side” of Creation incomplete, a situation that allows the demonic to enter the world (PdRE 3). In the Zohar, Lilith, the mother of demons , is also called the “Northerner.”

Northerner, the: Another title for Lilith. SEE NORTH

Notarikon: Greek, “Combination.” This is a hermeneutic technique involving dividing words or merging adjacent words in the Torah to yield concealed messages. To give a famous example, by dividing the first word of Genesis, Bereshit, into two words,bara shit, the exegete reveals the Aramaic phrase, “He [God] created six.” Six what? Six things, crucial to God’s plan of Creation, which had to exist in the mind of God before the universe was formed. These six things are: the Torah, the Throne of Glory, the Patriarchs, the people Israel, the Temple, and the name of the Messiah.

Notarikons can also be acronyms that reveal Names of God. Thus it is taught that the final letters of the first five verses of Genesis form the divine nameTZaMaRCHaD (Shab. 105a, 12:5; MdRI Bo 8). SEE ENCRYPTION.; SIX PRIMORDIAL THINGS; TEMURAH; TZERUF/Tzerufim

Nukva: (58819). “Feminine.” This term is usually used in reference to the feminine aspects of thePartzufim.

Numbers: The practice of gematria, or the spiritual interpretation of numbers, is an important hermeneutic technique for understanding sacred Scripture and tapping theurgic powers. Important symbolic and/or sacred numbers:

1—One indicates unity, divinity, and wholeness, as exemplified by God.

3—Three signifies completeness and stability, as represented by the three Patriarchs and the three pilgrimage festivals—Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot (1 Kings 17:21; Dan. 6:10).

3+1—This is a number cluster that signals the fulfillment of God’s plans (Am. 1; Dan. 7:25).

4—Four is a recurrent number in both exoteric and esoteric Jewish traditions. The Passover Seder is particularly structured around fours: the Four Questions, the Four Sons, and four cups ofwine. There are four cardinaldirections and there are fourMatriarchs. Four is also a common factor in esoteric interpretations: four angels surround the Throne of Glory, there arefour kingdoms of the eschaton, and the famous four Sages who enter Paradise.

5—There arefive books of Moses, and five divisions to the psalms. Magical/mystical texts are also sometimes separated into divisions of five. Five is the number of protection, as symbolized in the chamsa, the talismanic hand.

7—Seven is one of the greatest power numbers in Judaism, representing Creation, good fortune, and blessing. The Hebrew word for “luck,” gad, equals seven in gematria. The other Hebrew word for luck, mazal, equals seventy-seven. The Bible is replete with things grouped in sevens. Besides the Creation and the exalted status of the Sabbath, the seventh day, there are seven laws of Noah and seven Patriarchs and Matriarchs. Several Jewish holidays are seven days long, and priestly ordination takes seven days. The Land of Israel was allowed to lie fallow one year in seven. The menorah in the Temple has seven branches. The prophet Zechariah describes a strange celestial stone with seven eyes (chapter 4). This emphasis on seven continues post-biblically with seven Wedding blessings, seven circuits performed about a groom, and seven days of mourning after the Death of a close relative. Events, prayers, and esoteric observances that involve multiples of seven are also common. Entities both natural (gold) and supernatural (angels) are often grouped by sevens (I Enoch 20; II Enoch 19).

Seven is a factor in many occult elements and events. The first verse of the Torah consists of seven words and seven is the recurrent number in Pharaoh’s divinatory dreams in Genesis. The walls of Jericho fall after the Israelites encircle it seven times. In the Zohar , the seven lower sefirot are those aspects of God that are present inAsiyah, our world of action. Seven is also the preferred number in spells, magic squares, amulets, and the like (Gen. 7:2; 1 Kings 18:43; Deut. 16:9; Pes. 54a; Sot. 10b).

8—Eight is the number of completion. The tabernacle was dedicated in an eight-day ceremony. Male children are circumcised on the eighth day (Gen. 17). Chanukah is an eight-day holiday.

10—Ten is a symbol of good luck and power: there areTen Commandments, God requires ten righteous individuals in Sodom to avert divine punishment, and ten men constitute aminyan (“a spiritual community”) (Gen 18, 24:10; Ex. 26:1; Dan. 7:7-24).

12—Twelve represents totality, wholeness, and the completion of God’s purpose. There are twelve tribes of Israel (ten of which must be restored), twelve months in the year and twelve houses of the zodiac (Gen. 27:20, 25:16; Ex. 24:4, 25:27; Ezek. 43:16; Yoma 75b, 77b; Tan. 25a; Chul. 95).

18—Eighteen is the value of the Hebrew letters Chet andYud, which together spell the wordchai, life. For this reason, eighteen is considered the luckiest number. God is mentioned eighteen times in both Psalm 29 and the Song of the Sea (Ex. 15:1-21), giving these verses special protective power.

24—The number twenty-four symbolizes abundance. At its prime, Jerusalem once had twenty-four dream interpreters you could consult, twenty-four main thoroughfares with twenty-four side-streets leading to twenty-four alleys each containing twenty-four houses (Lam. R. 1).

32—According to Sefer Yetzirah, thirty-two is the number of the “Wonderful ways of wisdom,” the number of organizing principles that underlie the universe. These are the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet plus the decimal numbers that form the basis for the sefirotic tree.

40—Forty appears many times in the Bible, usually designating a time of radical transition or transformation. Among the most famous examples are these: It rained for forty days and fortynights during the Flood (Gen. 7). Exodus records that Moses spent forty days on Mount Sinai with God. Forty is the number of years the Israelites were required to wander in the wilderness until they were allowed to enter Canaan. Corporeal punishment in the Torah involved forty lashes. Elijah fasted for forty days prior to receiving his revelation on Mount Horeb. Multiples of forty are also common: forty thousand men rallied to Barak in the book of Judges. The Talmud also reports wondrous phenomena occurring in units of forty. It also appears in mystical texts, usually as an element of purification. Thus theBook of the Great Name advises its readers to abstain from sleeping in one’s own bed for forty days and nights after using the book, mimicking the time Moses spent away from camp while he received the Ten Commandments (Gen. 7; Ex. 24; 1 Sam. 17:16; 1 Kings 19:8; Git. 39b, 40a; Sot. 34a).

70—This number symbolizes the world. There are seventy nations in the world, seventy languages, and seventy princely angels. The Greek translation of the Bible, the first to make it available to the gentile, was done by seventy Jewish scholars, who, though working separately, produced seventy identical translations.

Finally, it is important to note that odd numbers are lucky; even numbers (especiallypairs) are bad luck.

Numbers Rabbah: A Midrash on the biblical book of Numbers, it preserves several esoteric traditions.

Nun: (58837). Fourteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, it has the vocalic value of “n” and the numeric value of fifty. It is one of the five letters that have a sofit, or end-form when it appears as the last letter of a word. Then it takes the shape of a long tail. Nun signifies faithfulness, light, submission and rest (the regular bent shape), and uprightness and action (ˆ, the long sofit form). Mysteriously, the traditional text of the Torah includes two inverted nuns (Num. 10:35-36) that appear in a passage describing the transport of the Ark of the Covenant. Several esoteric explanations have been offered for this curiosity.1

1. Munk, The Wisdom of the Hebrew Alphabet, 151-58.

Nuriel: (58835). “Fire of God.” Angel of beauty and passion (Cairo Geniza T-S K 1.73; Zohar II:42).

Nut: (58833/Egoz). A nut is an important esoteric symbol in Judaism, representing concealed secrets. The “garden of nuts” mentioned in Song of Songs (6:11) becomes the focus of considerable mystical speculation. Some understand it as a symbol of the secret Torah concealed beneath the plain sense of the words. Others see it as illustrating the spiritual reality of the divine sparks trapped in husks ofevil that characterize the lower worlds (Zohar I:44b; Zohar II:15b;Etz Chayyim). Eleazar of Worms understood it as a symbol of the divine chariot.1

It is customary to abstain from eating nuts in the weeks leading up to the High Holidays, supposedly because the gematria value of egoz is the same as chet, the word for sin (Mappah, Orech Chayyim 583:2), which only works with the Aramaic-flavored spelling of chet, 588391

1. Wolfson, Along the Path, 2.