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

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


Ra’aya Meheimna: “Faithful shepherd.” A subsection of the Zohar devoted to the mystical rationales for the divine commandments.

Raba bar Joseph (Rava): Talmudic Sage, demonologist, and theurgist (ca. 4th century). He believed fervently in the paranormal power of the Righteous. According to the Talmud, he created a golem. He first did this with the help of Rabbi Zeira. On the second occasion, Zeira disapproved of his actions and destroyed Raba’s golem:

Raba stated: If they wish, the righteous could create a world. Raba created a man and he sent it to Rabi Zeira. Rabi Zeira spoke with it and it did not respond. Rabi Zeira then stated, “You are created by my colleague, return to your dust.” (Sanh. 65b)

He saw the workings of demons in all kinds of human misery (Ber. 6a). He was also a master of dream interpretation (Ber. 56a-56b; Chul. 133a). Like other famous sages, his death was marked by paranormal events (M.K. 28a).

Rabbah bar bar Channah: Storyteller (ca. 3rd century). A kind of Jewish Baron Munchausen, Bar Channah told tall tales of his travels, mostly sea journeys that are filled with demons , fantastic feats, mysterious locales (Ber. 53b; Zev. 113b), and giant animals:

Rabbah b. Bar Hana further stated: I saw a frog the size of the Fort of Hagronia. (What is the size of the Fort of Hagronia?—Sixty houses.) There came a snake and swallowed the frog. Then came a raven and swallowed the snake, and perched on a tree. Imagine how strong was the tree. R. Papa b. Samuel said: Had I not been there I would not have believed it.

Rabbah b. Bar Hana further stated: Once we were traveling on board a ship and saw a fish in whose nostrils a parasite had entered. Thereupon, the water cast up the fish and threw it upon the shore. Sixty towns were destroyed thereby, sixty towns ate therefrom, and sixty towns salted [the remnants] thereof, and from one of its eyeballs three hundred kegs of oil were filled. On returning after twelve calendar months we saw that they were cutting rafters from its skeleton and proceeding to rebuild those towns.

Rabbah b. Bar Hana further stated: Once we were traveling on board a ship and saw a fish whose back was covered with sand out of which grew grass. Thinking it was dry land we went up and baked, and cooked, upon its back. When, however, its back was heated it turned, and had not the ship been nearby we should have been drowned.

Rabbah b. Bar Hana further stated: We traveled once on board a ship. And the ship sailed between one fin of the fish and the other for three days and three nights; it [was swimming] upwards and we [were floating] downwards. And if you think the ship did not sail fast enough, R. Dimi, when he came, stated that it covered sixty parasangs in the time it takes to warm a kettle of water. When a horseman shot an arrow [the ship] outstripped it. And R. Ashi said: That was one of the small sea monsters which have [only] two fins … (B.B. 73a-73b)

He once heard the voice of Korach emanating from the place where the Earth swallowed him up (Yoma 39b; EY ad loc).

Rabbah bar Nachmani: Talmudic Sage (ca. 3rd-4th century). His Death was the occasion for a series of paranormal events:

A royal officer was sent [to arrest him] him … He was then brought before him, and he led him into a chamber and locked the door upon him [to keep him there as a prisoner]. But he [Rabbah] prayed, whereupon the wall fell down, and he fled to Agama; there he sat upon the trunk of a [fallen] palm and studied. Now, they were disputing in the Heavenly Academy thus: If the bright spot preceded the white hair, he is unclean; if the reverse, he is clean. If [the order is] in doubt—the Blessed Holy One ruled, He is clean; whilst the entire Heavenly Academy maintained, He is unclean. Who shall decide it? said they—Rabbah b. Nahmani [i.e., it’s time for him to die and join us] … and angel was sent for him, but the Angel of Death could not approach him, because he did not interrupt his studies [even for a moment]. In the meantime, a wind blew and caused a rustling in the bushes [distracting him from his studies and the Angel claimed him] … As he was dying, he exclaimed, “Clean, clean!” [agreeing with God in the dispute], when a Heavenly Voice cried out, “Happy art thou, O Rabbah b. Nahmani, whose body is pure and whose soul had departed in purity!” A missive fell from Heaven in Pumbeditha, “Rabbah b. Nahmani has been summoned by the Heavenly Academy.” So Abaye and Raba and all the scholars went forth to attend on him [at his burial] … and then there fell [another] a missive from Heaven, “Return in peace to your homes.” On the day that he died a hurricane lifted an Arab who was riding a camel, and transported him from one bank of the River Papa to the other. “What does this portend?” he exclaimed. “Rabbah b. Nahmani has died,” he was told. (B.M. 86a; also see Nega. 4:11)

Rabbah ben Abuha: Talmudic Sage (ca. 3rd century). After encountering Elijah, he ascended to the Garden of Eden while still alive. When he returned to Earth, all of his clothing bore the fragrance of Eden, a scent so enchanting that he made a fortune by selling his garments (B.M. 114a-b).

Rabbi and Sage: (59344/Rabbi, also Rav; Rov; Chacham). “Master/Teacher/Wise [one].” The office of the rabbinate is not a biblical institution, though it has its prototype in the biblical figure of the sage. The title begins being used in the first centuries of the Common Era. The first Rabbis (or “Sages” with a capital “S,” also known as Chazal) envisioned their authority as analogous to that of the biblical shofet (judge). As such, the Talmudic Sages believed they had the biblical authority to lead the people, wage war, interpret and adjudicate the commandments found in the Torah, and administer all its sanctions, including capital punishment. This was based on the belief that the divinely established system of transmitting authority through s’michah, “laying of hands/ordination,” continued uninterrupted from Moses and Joshua (Deut. 34:9; M. Avot 1:1) until their own day. Since around the 3rd century CE, the Sages lost confidence in the reliability of this chain of transmission and all rabbis ordained since that time have been regarded as having far less authority.

Rachamim: (59357). “Compassion.” Another title for the sefirah of Tiferet. SEE SEFIROT.

Rachel: One of the four Matriarchs of the Jewish people, she was the beloved second wife of Jacob and mother of Joseph and Benjamin. In the Bible, Rachel’s magical activities are limited to the use of mandrake as a fertility enhancer (Gen. 30). She stole the terafim of her father, Laban. The Rabbis conclude her death shortly after that incident was punishment for dabbling with these idols (Gen. R. 74:5, 74:9; PdRE 36).

Because of her own struggle with barrenness, after her death Rachel came to be the spiritual intercessor of choice for Jewish women having trouble with childbirth. Her tomb outside of Bethlehem is a popular destination for Jewish pilgrims. Sometimes a red cord will be unwound around the shrine as part of the supplications for Rachel’s intercession.1 SEE ANCESTORS; FERTILITY; PATRIARCHS AND MATRIARCHS

1. Roth, Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 13, 1486-90.

Rachel Aberlin ha-Ashkenazit: Visionary and oneiromancer (Greco-Turkish, ca. 16th century). Chayyim Vital admired her sensitivity to paranormal apparitions, angels, and ghost (Sefer ha-Hezyonot).

Ragshiel: (59339). The angel of dreams, he is sometimes equated with the Baal ha-Chalom/Sar ha-Chalom. He can be summoned to answer dream questions (Synopse #502-07). SEE DIVINATION; INCUBATION; MERKAVAH.

Rahab: The prostitute living in Jericho who assisted Joshua and the Israelite spies prior to their siege of the city (book of Joshua). She was so beautiful the mere mention of her name inflamed men’s desire (Meg. 14b- 15a). After the siege, she converted to Judaism and married Joshua. priests and prophets, including, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Huldah, were descended from her (Sifrei Num. 78; Tan. 5b; Deut. R. 2:19; Yalkut Josh. 10).

Rahatiel: (59342). “Channel of God.” Angel who governs the course of the stars and circles the Throne of Glory (Zohar III:3a).

Rahav: (59355). A cosmic sea monster first mentioned in the biblical book of Isaiah (51:9; Ps. 89:10; Job 26:12). Talmud called him the Prince of the Sea, echoing the Canaanite name for their sea God, “Prince River.” God slew him when he refused to help in creating the Earth. The oceans conceal the lethal stink of his carcass, which is why sea water smells so strange (B.B. 74b; Tan.10a). Rahav may be an alternative name for Leviathan, though some sources treat them as two different entities.

Rain: (59373). “Greater is the falling of rain than the giving of Torah, for the giving of Torah was a joy to Israel, but the falling of rain is a joy for all the world” (Mid. Teh. 117:1). A critical force in the life of the world, rain is the focus of many Jewish myths, prayers, and theurgic rituals. According to the Bible, God is the sender of rain and may withhold it as punishment for idolatry, bloodshed, and lawlessness (Deut. 11). Rain is also an omen of divine favor. For example, the Sages interpret rain at a funeral as a sign of the righteousness of the deceased (Sanh. 47a).

An entire tractate of the Talmud, Ta’anit, is effectively dedicated to the topic of rain, and includes many miraculous tales (9a-9b, 23a-b, 25a). One of the powers of a Righteous person is to intercede with God to make it rain. The Rabbis not only mandated supplication prayers for rain, they would impose fasts in time of drought and/or appeal to rainmakers, like Choni ha-Ma’agel, to intervene with God (Tan. 23a). Later figures, such as the Baal Shem Tov, also were remembered as wondrous rainmakers (ShB 21).

According to the mystics, rain is the masculine principle in the fertility cycle of the Earth, the “husband of the earth” (Tan. 6b); it must mix with the feminine force of subterranean waters and dew in order for the lower worlds to fructify and the ground to yield its bounty (Tan. 10a). Together they symbolize the proper union of male and female principles at work (Zohar I:17b, 29b; Zohar II:28b).1 The water libation ritual performed on Sukkot is a theurgic ceremony meant to activate this fusion (Tan. 25b; Suk. 49a). SEE DEW; WATER.

1. Green, Guide to the Zohar, 67.

Rainbow: (593811). According to Genesis, after the Flood, God created the rainbow as a promise to the descendants of Noah to never again reverse the creative order (Gen. 9). The rainbow is therefore a symbol of God’s forgiveness and reconciliation with Creation.

The Sages regarded a rainbow to be a miraculous sign rather than a natural phenomenon. Hechalot literature suggests the earthly rainbow is a reflection of a supernal rainbow in heaven (III Enoch 22). In the Zohar, a rainbow is a form of the divine glory and is an emanation of either Malchut or Yesod. Other mystical sources declare all the colors of the sefirot are expressed in the rainbow. Moses wore the “garments” of a rainbow in order to shield himself during his encounter with God on Sinai(Zohar II:99a). Elijah tests the righteousness of individuals by asking if they have ever seen a rainbow. Since the truly Righteous person sustains the world on his or her own merit, such a person never sees one. This is because it is a reminder of God’s graciousness toward those of us who otherwise don’t merit redemption (Ket. 77b; Zohar II:15a). A particularly splendid rainbow will herald the coming of the Messiah (SCh 1445; Bachya commenting on Gen. 9:13).

Rakia: (59371). “Firmament.” One of the seven heavens, Rakia contains all the celestial luminaries, the sun, the moon, the stars, and constellations (Pes. 94a-b; Chag. 12b-13a).

Ram: (593671/Iel). A symbol of both power and forgiveness, rams were a favored sacrificial offering in the Temple. A ram’s horns is the type most commonly used to make a shofar, and its hide is used to make Torah scrolls and tefillin.

The ram that Abraham slaughtered in place of his son Isaac (Gen. 22) was a miraculous creature, made by God even before the creation of the world. From this ram were made the strings of David’s harp, the loincloth of Elijah, the shofar that sounded at Mount Sinai, as well as the shofar that will be sounded at the return of the exiled tribes of Israel in the Messianic Era (PdRE 31; R.H. 16a; Eccl. R. 10:8).

A ram’s head is sometimes used as the centerpiece of the rosh ha-Shanah festive meals, in order to invoke good luck for the coming year. SEE ANIMALS; NEW YEAR.; SACRIFICE.

Ransom: (59379/Pidyon). The spiritual ransoming of souls is an ancient practice. One of the oldest forms of spiritual ransom in Judaism is the custom of Pidyon ha-Ben, ransom of the firstborn son. Since all that “opens the womb” belongs first to God, the firstborn male in every Jewish family must be “redeemed” in a ceremony where the father makes a charity (tzedakah) donation in the presence of a priest to reclaim the child for himself.

Based on the biblical adage “Charity saves from death” (Prov. 10:2), the giving of tzedakah to aid the ill sometimes takes on a magical dimension. Specifically, ransoming ceremonies can be performed on behalf of the sick and dying. Often such protective charity involves donating money in symbolically significant amounts (for example, twenty-six, equal to the numeric value of the Tetragrammaton). Aside from money donations, the ill person’s clothing was often given away, not only to placate numinous forces, but with the additional hope that it would confuse the Angels of Death.

There also exist Kabbalistic rituals (reciting the names of God, or symbolically arranging the donation) to accompany such acts, which are deemed necessary for the ransom to be efficacious.1

1. Klein, A Time to Be Born, 107-8, 147.

Raphael: (59405). “Healing of God.” One of the four princely angels that attends upon the west (rear) of the Throne of Glory (Num. R. 2:10). He wears a plate with God’s name upon it (PR 108b). Raphael is also a warrior angel, having battled against the fallen angels, then casting them into the netherworld (I Enoch 10). Raphael can also directly assist righteous mortals, as he does when he assists the boy Tobiah when he battles a demon (Tobit 3-6). Despite his name, he is only occasionally linked to healing. Midrash identifies him as one of the three angels that visited Abraham after his self-circumcision (Gen. 18; Yoma 37a; BhM 86). Raphael escorts the Shekhinah (Zohar I:18b). He is one of the four guardian angels who protect a sleeping person (Siddur, “Sh’ma al ha-Mitah”).

Raphael Anav, the Daughter of: This medium, whose name was not preserved, was frequently possessed by angels and the spirits of dead sages. Through her they revealed many secret sins of the Jewish community of Damascus and so brought many to repentance (Sefer ha-Hezyonot 22-24).

RaSHI: (59403). Bible and Talmud commentator (French, ca. 11th century). RaSHI is an acronym for Rabbi Shimon ben Yitzchak. While RaSHI’s writings reveal a familiarity with Hechalot literature and Sefer Yetzirah , only a very few esoteric references appear in his writings, mostly regarding angels. A few occult traditions exist surrounding the person of RaSHI, mostly in tales that the deceased sage appeared to his disciples in dreams to reveal secrets of the Torah.1

1. Kanarfogel, Peering through the Lattices, 67, 144-45, 160n.


Raven: (59401). This unclean bird is a bearer of bad omens. For this reason the roof of the Temple in Jerusalem was covered with spikes to keep ravens away. Rabbah bar Channah claims to have seen a giant raven, a bird bigger than the “fort of Hagronia” (B.B. 73b; EY).

Raz/Razim: (59399). “Secret/secrets.” This term refers to occult knowledge in general, but the construction of amulets in particular. In fact, as evidenced by the texts of some incantation bowls, the word is sometimes used as a synonym for “amulet” or “protective charm.” SEE RAZIM, SEFER HA-

Raza de-Mehemenuta: “Secret of Faith.” “The lower seven sefirot are collectively known by this term.

Raza ha-Razim: “Mystery of Mysteries.” A section of the Zohar partly devoted to divination, especially physiognomy.

Raziel: (59414). “Secret of God.” An angel of revelation, he provided a book, some say inscribed on sapphire, to the primordial couple (Zohar I:55a). The magical manual Sefer Raziel ha-Malach claims this as its origins.

Raziel bears the words of mortals to heaven and, hearing what is said from behind the celestial curtain, brings decrees back to Earth (Targum Kohelet 10:20). He is at times identified with the angel Galitzur (Malachei Elyon 180). He shields the guardian angels from the fiery breath of the Chayyot as they stand arrayed around the Throne of Glory (BhM 1:58-61). In the Zoharic literature, Raziel seems to personify the sefirot of Tiferet (Zohar Hadash 99:3). SEE RAZIM, SEFER HA-.

Raziel, Sefer: An influential book of sorcery. Tradition credits it with being given to Adam by the angel Raziel. Heavily indebted to Greek magical papyri, the title itself is mentioned in another magical work of late antiquity, theSword Of Moses.. Still, critical historians consider Sefer Raziel a medieval work—though sections of it are no doubt older—probably having origins among the Jews of Rhineland, for citations from it begin to appear only in the 13th century.1 The likely compiler of the medieval version is Eleazar of Worms. It draws heavily on earlier works, Sefer Yetzirah and Sefer ha-Razim. There are multiple manuscript versions, containing up to seven tractates.


Page of Sefer Raziel with amulet

The printed version of Sefer Raziel, like the Torah, is divided into five books, some of it in the form of a mystical Midrash on Creation. It features an elaborate angelology, magical uses of the zodiac, gematria, the names of God, protective spells, and instructions on how to write amulets>.

1. Roth, Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 13, 1592.

Razim, Sefer ha-: “The Book of Secrets” or “The Book of Amulets.” A Jewish magical manual that has circulated in a number of fragmentary versions, including a manuscript found among the documents of the Cairo Geniza. Other parts have been recovered and from them a larger text reconstructed. Elements of the book were published in 1701 as part of Sefer Raziel.1

The book attests that it was revealed to Noah by the angel Raziel. The book then passed through the generations of worthies until it became Solomon's most prized book of magic. Other sources credit Solomon with its authorship.

The book is mostly focused on astral magic, the power that can be derived from planetary forces and their associated angels. It is divided into seven sections, mirroring the seven days of Creation and the seven heavens. It describes in great detail the host of heaven, the angelic commanders, and their powers. It also delineates the twelve months, their zodiacs, governing angels, and the like. It is particularly interested in the power of the sun as a numinous source of revelation.

It also provides a menu of useful incantations. These spells are very characteristic of Greek magical papyri texts of late antiquity—they feature repetitions, reversed language, foreign and nonsense words, and names.

More surprising for a Hebrew book is the number of references to Greek Gods, such as Helios, Hermes, and Aphrodite. Disregarding the stricter biblical and rabbinic attitudes toward idols, the approach of Sefer ha-Razim seems to be to simply demote these Pagan Gods to another class of angels subordinate to the God of Israel.

Like the Hechalot literature, Sefer ha-Razim emphasizes the need for performing all deeds in a state of strict ritual and spiritual purity. But unlike the Hechalot texts, Sefer ha-Razim includes magical practices that these other texts eschew, such as the use of ritual objects (lamps, knives) and animal sacrifices. There is also virtually no use of biblical verses of power such as is seen in many other Hebrew magical manuals, nor are any rabbinic figures mentioned. All of this suggests that the author of Sefer ha-Razim, though Hebrew literate, was perhaps marginal to, or marginalized from, the Judaism of his time. SEE ASTROLOGY; SORCERY.

1. M. Morgan, Sepher ha-Razim (Bloomington, IN: Scholars Press, 1983), Introduction; also see Janowitz, Icons of Power, 85-108.

Rebbe: (59431). The charismatic leader of a Chasidic community, alternately called Tzadik, “Righteous One.” Rebbes are usually, though not always, ordained rabbis. Being a rebbe is often a hereditary position, for after a beloved rebbe dies, his Chasids will look first to immediate relatives for a replacement. This convention is naturally subject to abuse and, like kings selected by heredity, sometimes yields uneven leadership. Rebbes are often credited with miraculous powers such as precognition, metoposcopy, teleportation, and healing (See all of ShB). SEE CHASIDISM; RIGHTEOUS, THE; TZADIK.

Rebecca: Wife of Isaac and Matriarch of the Jewish people. God revealed to Abraham that his son’s wife had been born while Isaac was still bound for sacrifice (Gen. R. 57:1). Two angels brought Rebecca and Eliezer, the servant seeking a wife for Isaac, together (Gen. R. 59:10). When she would go to the well for water, the water would rise to meet her (Gen. R. 60:5). Rebecca agreed to go to marry Isaac sight unseen because she recognized it was her destiny (PdRE 16). Rebecca’s father, Laban, attempted to poison the messenger, but an angel thwarted him (Sechel Tov [Buber]; Gen. 24:33). God miraculously shortened the route she traveled to meet Isaac (PdRE 16) and miraculously caused her to grow a womb, which she lacked, so she could bear children (Gen. R. 63:5).

Red: (59443). In the Bible, red is a symbol of life and power (Gen. 38:28). The presence of blood on the lintels of Israelite houses averted the Angel of Deathduring the tenth plague. In the ancient Temple, a scarlet cord was hung up on Yom Kippur and its miraculous change to white signaled that the nation had been forgiven its sins. According to the book of Numbers, one overcomes the ritual impurity of contact with a dead Body by being sprinkled with the ashes of a red heifer burned with cedar wood, a crimson compound, and hyssop (Num. 19:2-10). A barren woman will wrap a red cord around the tomb of Rachel as a ritual to restore her fertility. This cord is then cut into strands and tied to cribs, children, or the sick as a protective amulet.1

Red also has antidemonic properties. As a result, there are a number of amulets that are made incorporating red materials: thread, coral beads, or henna. In sefirotic theosophy, red is the color of Gevurah. As part of the recent enthusiasm for Kabbalah among celebrities, many people have adopted the custom of wearing a red thread bracelet to protect against the evil eye. SEE COLOR.

1. J. Goldin, Studies in Midrash and Related Literature (Philadelphia, PA: JPS, 1988) 118; also see Roth, Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 13, 1590.

Reed Sea: (594331/Yam Suf ). Long mistranslated in Western tradition as the “Red Sea,” the parting of the Reed Sea is a paradigmatic miracle of salvation in the Hebrew Scriptures, a feat performed through the agency of the greatest of all prophets, Moses (Ex. 14). The fact that both Joshua and Elijah performed later similar miracles with the Jordan River signifies their special status in the eyes of the biblical authors.

According to one Midrash, God did not actually part the waters; instead Mount Sinai was transported to the spot and the people crossed over on its crest (Gen. R. 55:8).

At the moment of the parting, a great apocalyptic revelation occurred, witnessed by all Israel (MdRI BeShallach), the glory of God becoming fully manifest. Others teach the sea actually parted into twelve pathways, one for each tribe (PdRE 42).

Re’em: (59440). A mythic giant ox like beast with horns (Ps. 22:22). It is an untamed creature of great agility and strength. It is so big that its horns touch the clouds and its droppings are capable of damming the river Jordan (Secher Tov 102; Yalkut II:688). Asmodeus, the king of demons , states it is a type of demon (Git. 68b). Created on the sixth day, there are only two re’ems at a time; one dwells in the furthermost west, the other in the east. After mating once in seventy years, the female kills the male. The next pair of re’ems gestates in the female for a minimum of twelve years. The female dies while giving birth. Noah preserved them by bringing the two calves on board when they were still small enough to fit inside the vessel. Another legend claims that the adult re’ems swam the entire time, tied to the back of the Ark (Zev. 113b). King David also had a misadventure in his youth by inadvertently mistaking a re’em for a mountain and climbing on it (Mid.Teh. 22:28; LOTJ 4:83). In medieval writings, the re’em is conflated with the unicorn myth. SEE ANIMALS; BEHEMOTH.

Refuot, Sefer: “The Book of Cures.” A book mentioned in the Bible. King Hezekiah destroyed it, apparently as part of his campaign to snuff out Pagan practices (2 Kings 20). SEE HEALING .

Reina, Joseph Della: Kabbalist and sorcerer (Spanish, ca. 15th century). Della Reina is most famous for attempting, with the help of ten adepts, to summon and enslave the demon princes Samael and Ammon of No in order to have them help bring the Messiah. The attempt went awry because Della Reina introduced an alien magical practice into the ritual. Consequently he suffered a most supernatural punishment when the demons broke their bonds and escaped.1 Della Reina may also be the author of the magico-Kabbalistic Sefer ha-Meshiv. SEE MESSIAH; SUMMONING.

1. M. Idel, “The Story of Rabbi Joseph Della Reina,” Sefunot: Studies and Texts on the History of the Jewish Community in Safed (1963).

Reincarnation: (59451/Gilgul). The belief that a soul migrates from one Body to another is an occult Kabbalistic teaching. A cryptic reference to the transfer of souls first appears in the Talmud, when an interpretation is offered to Daniel:

A thousand thousands of angels serve Him, and a myriad of myriads rise before Him (Dan. 7:10) … These [the myriads] are the 974 generations that were uprooted from being created before the creation of the [our] world. God spread them out in each ensuing generation. They are the most brazen people in each generation. (Chag. 14a)

The rationalist Sa’adia Gaon (10th century) is the first to mention that some Jews believe in reincarnation, but then ridicules the idea (Sefer Emunah v’Da’at 6) as absurd. This suggests that the concept had some occult existence in the Jewish world for some time prior to Sa’adia, but we cannot say for how long with any certainty. The first Jewish text that explicitly argues for gilgul appears in the Bahir, a mystical text of the late 12th century, offers the “parable of the garments” and the “parable of the vineyard”:

What is [the meaning of] Generation to Generation (Psalm 164:10)? Rabbi Papas said, a generation goes and a generation comes (Ecc. 1:4). Rabbi Akiba said, a generation came that already came. A parable. To what can this be compared? To a king who had servants and as much as he could he dressed them in garments of silk and embroidery. The grain spoiled [they ruined the things in their charge, and they so ruined their garments]. So he pushed them from him and sent them away. He took their garments, so they left them. [The king] took the garments and cleaned them well until not a stain remained. He placed them near Him for an appointed time. He acquired other servants, and dressed them in the same garments. Though he did not know if they were any good [either], they were worthy of garments that already existed and had been worn by others before them … (121/122)

Why does the wicked man prosper and the righteous suffer? [R. Rahmai replied] Because this righteous man was once a wicked man in the past, and is now being punished … He said to them: Go and see! A parable: What is the matter like? It is like a man who planted a vineyard in his garden, and he hoped it would grow grapes, but it grew wild grapes. He saw that his planting did not succeed, so he cut down the vineyard, tore it out, and cleaned the good grapes from the wild ones, and planted it a second time. When he saw that that did not succeed, he tore it down and planted after he had cleaned it. When he saw that [the third planting] was not successful, he tore it out and [re]planted it. And how many times? Until the thousandth generation, as it is written, “The davar [literally “the thing,” i.e., the soul] He gave to a thousandth generation” (Ps. 105:8). And that is to say: 974 generations were missing (Chag. 13b-14a), so the Holy Blessed One arose and planted them in every generation. (Bahir 195)

Within a century, it was being widely mentioned in Kabbalistic literature. It gets serious elaboration in the 16th-century book, Galya Raza. Chayyim Vital followed shortly thereafter with the highly influential books Sefer ha-Gilgulim and Sha’ar ha-Gilgulim. Though the idea only surfaces in the Middle Ages, these sources find additional references to it in the Bible itself (specifically Job 33:29-30), but also in the custom of levirate marriage. The fundamental assumption underpinning reincarnation is that each soul must properly fulfill every mitzvah and will undergo transmigration until that task is complete. Transgressions and failure to perform a commandment retard the soul’s progress.1 More and more readers found the doctrine embedded in the Bible. The Vilna Gaon, for example, reads the entire book of Jonah as an allegory for the transmigration of the soul:

The name “Yonah,” which means “Dove,” is conventional to refer to the human soul. The soul is called “Ben Amattai,” “Son of the Truth,” as the soul is a child of God, whose seal is Truth. God selected this soul, and sent it to our world with a mission of informing the world, [which is] Nineveh, why we are here. He told the soul to go to the “large city,” which is a reference to Earth, and tell people that they are here to perform good rather than evil. The soul refused, though, and instead became distracted by desire … Yonah found a boat, which is a body, and he descended into the boat and embarked on a trip to sate his desires. The sea is this world, and it is often used thus in the Talmud (Tam. 32a). Storms begin, and the boat is threatened with destruction. The sailors, [representing] a person’s organs, are unable to control the boat. The sailors go through the motions of prayer, but Yonah is ready to die. The organs call to the soul, as the only entity capable of effecting change; they ask what its mission is, but the soul is beyond caring for this world at that point. The soul is thrown into the sea, and dies. The fish, symbolizing the grave, swallows Yonah. Yonah is in the fish for three days; [traditionally, the soul is understood to hover by the body for three days]. Yonah then calls out to God to bring it close to Him. Yonah is then regurgitated on to dry land—the Garden of Eden. This is not the end for the soul; he is reincarnated, and given his mission anew. This time he agrees to go to Nineveh [the world] and reproaches those who have transgressed. He carries out his work in Nineveh, and the people listen, and God forgives them.2

The specific metaphysics of reincarnation have varied widely from teacher to teacher. Unlike other schools of reincarnation, the Bahir assumes that human souls may only transmigrate to other humans. Later works, especially Chasidic writings, hold that souls may pass between human, animal, and even inanimate bodies (ShB 108). Like in Hinduism, reincarnation in a nonhuman life reflects a kind of punishment, but reincarnation is generally viewed positively, as multiple opportunities to help others and acquire merit for the self.3

For those who accept that souls can transmigrate into animals, plants, and the foods that are made from them, it follows that one must take care to treat every morsel according to the prescriptions of tradition, for doing so helps liberate that soul to continue its journey (Sha’ar ha-Gilgulim, Mavo; Kav ha-Yashar 1).

Exactly how reincarnation dovetails with the concept of Gehenna has been much discussed. Kabbalists believe that the soul is polypsychic and different aspects of the triad soul (nishama, ruach, and nefesh) have separate paths in the afterlife. This model has the virtue of encompassing all other afterlife scenarios (resurrection or eternal life) found in tradition.

The concept of the dybbuk and the ibbur are tied to this aspect of reincarnation. The Tanya offers gilgul as an explanation for conversion to Judaism: all converts are really lost Jewish souls trapped in gentile bodies who have now found their way back to Torah.

The number of possible reincarnations for a soul could be as few as three (based on the Job verses cited above) or as many as a thousand. All souls, but especially a virtuous soul, can subdivide and occupy multiple bodies. Based on the account found in Exodus, which declares that six hundred thousand “souls” stood at Sinai, there exists the belief that there are only six hundred thousand “root” souls in Israel. These have subsequently split, spread out, and reunited in millions of Jewish bodies across the generations. We can see this manifest in the ideology surrounding tzadikim (“Righteous individuals”). Such people possess a full soul, a soul that is close to completing its cycle of transmigrations, yet remains bound to a Body long enough to help lift up the other souls around it. The righteous know the secrets of their own and of other people’s reincarnations. Such saints also have the power of Tikkun: they can “correct” certain errors in the transmigration of a given soul and set it on its proper course. Exorcism is such a reparative mechanism, benefiting both the possessed person and the dybbuk. The souls of the saintly are also transmigrated into fish, which is one reason why it is meritorious to consume fish on the Sabbath. Thus a person can, as it were, “embody” and absorb some of the virtue of saintly souls (Sha’ar ha-Gilgulim; Yesod V’Shoresh Ha’Avodah, Sha’ar 7).

1. Fine, Physician of the Soul, Healer of the Cosmos, 192.

2. Author’s translation.

3. Green, Jewish Spirituality, vol. 2, 77.

Reishit Chochmah: Mystical text written by Elijah de Vidas (1518-1592). It includes accounts of spirit possession and veridical dreams.

Reiyat ha-Lev: (59475). “Visions of the Heart.” The term for visions, more than imaginative, less than factual, that account for anthropomorphic descriptions of God. SEE CHERUB, THE UNIQUE.; FACE OF GOD; IMAGINATION.

Resh: (59467). The twentieth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It has the vocalic value of “r” and the numeric value of two hundred. It signifies the head, wickedness, and evil.1 SEE LANGUAGE.

1. Munk, The Wisdom of the Hebrew Alphabet, 199-206.

Resh Lakish: Talmudic Sage (ca. 2nd-3rd century). A reformed highwayman and gladiator who is won over to Torah by Rabbi Johanan, he was the Samson of the rabbinic period, performing great feats of strength (Git. 47a; B.M. 84a).

Reshef: “Plague.” A demon first mentioned in the Bible (Hab. 3:5).

Resurrection: (594641/T’chayyat ha-Metim). The doctrine that the dead will undergo an embodied restoration in the World to Come. Three narratives in the Hebrew Bible feature a person being brought back from the dead—1 Kings 17:17-24; 2 Kings 4:32-37; and 2 Kings 13:21. These are presented as uncanny and exceptional events, singular demonstrations of divine power. Yet by the postexilic period, the notion that all can be expected return from the grave has emerged. This concept is articulated in the latest section of Isaiah and the book of Daniel:

Your dead men shall live, together with my dead bodies shall they arise. Awake and sing, you that dwell in the dust; for your dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out its dead. (Isa. 26:19)

And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to reproaches and everlasting abhorrence. (Dan. 12:2)


Resurrection of the dead by permission of artist Natalia Kadish

At some point in the second Temple Period, resurrection became enshrined as a central concept of the afterlife in Judaism (Siddur). The Talmud offers an argument that resurrection is, at least, alluded to in all three sections of the Hebrew Bible:

From the Torah—it is written: “And Adonai said to Moses, Behold you shall sleep with your fathers; and this people will rise up …” (Deut. 31:16). From the Prophets: as it is written: “Your dead men shall live, together with my dead bodies shall they arise. Awake and sing, you that dwell in the dust; for your dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out its dead.” (Isa. 26:19); from the Writings: as it is written, “And the roof of your mouth, like the best wine of my beloved, like the best wine, that goes down sweetly, causing the lips of those who are asleep to speak.”(S of S 7:9; Sanh. 90b)

Maimonides regarded it to be one of the thirteen doctrines a faithful Jew must believe in.

On Judgment Day, all the dead will be resurrected with the blast of a shofar and be judged for their actions in life. Those buried in the Land of Israel will be the first to rise from the grave (Gen. R. 74:1; Tanh. Va-yehi 3).

Those who died outside the land will have to journey there first through subterranean conduits (Ket. 111a). The Righteous, as well as those who have atoned for their sins through time spent in Gehenna, will know an afterlife in a perfected Body. Those who constitute the incorrigible sinners will be annihilated, body and soul, and their memory blotted out from under heaven. Some sources treat resurrection as an intermediate phase before the souls go on to a disembodied existence in eternity (Gen. R. 95:1; Pes. 68a; Sanh. 91b; Eccl. R. 1:4; Tanh. Vayigash; Zohar I:130b).

Eleazar of Worms suggested that the truly righteous have the power to resurrect the dead, as demonstrated by the examples of Elijah, Elisha, and Ezekiel. This power to resurrect is an autonomous power that results from the saint’s own knowledge of how to manipulate the mystical power of the alphabet, especially the seventy-two-word name of God (Zohar I:7b), the same power that can be used to construct a golem.

Reubeni, David: Adventurer (ca. 16th century). Appearing from whereabouts unknown, Reubeni came to Italy claiming to represent a Jewish kingdom in the east and asking the Pope to assist him in a crusade against the Turks. He reportedly received a favorable hearing. His mission to Portugal was less successful and he was expelled from there, but not before triggering renewed persecutions by the Inquisition against the Portuguese “New Christian” community that had welcomed him. While in Iberia, he met Solomon Molokho, a Crypto-Jew and aspiring Messiah. Molokho publicly reconverted to Judaism and followed Reubeni back to Italy. Together they toured various Christian kingdoms announcing the impending end of the world. Christian authorities eventually arrested both men, and Reubeni died in prison after several years.1

1. Roth, Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 14, 114-15.

Re’uyot Yehezkel: “Visions of Ezekiel.” Re’uyot Yehezkel is one of the earliest merkavah texts in existence. The work enumerates the various things that Ezekiel saw in his vision of the divine chariot (Ezek. 1). It gives one of most detailed description of the seven heavens found in Jewish literature, describing all their dimensions and functions.1

1. Gruenwald, Apocalyptic and Merkavah Mysticism, 134-41.

Reversal (Magical): (59499/L’mufra). The concept of symbolic analogy is fundamental to the logic of magic. Likewise, reversing or inverting a symbolic analogy—doing something backward—whether it be by performing a task or reading a word, frequently appears in magical literature. It is held to have the power to reverse the natural order, to undo something, or to achieve a counter-magical effect. The most infamous example in Christian circles is the “black Sabbath,” in which many Christian rituals and objects are used contrary, upside-down or backward to the prescribed manner, or with a completely contradictory purpose to the “authorized” version. Common Jewish examples of magical reversal include: reciting potent biblical verses forward and then backward, changing the order of a name, or performing an act of reversal as part of a ritual (backing out of a room, for example). A large number of medieval incantations have been preserved that were written wholly or partly in reverse.1

1. Kern-Ulmer, “The Depiction of Magic in Rabbinic Texts,” 299.

Rhabdomancy: Divination using sticks or rods. SEE BELOMANCY; LECANOMANCY; DIVINATION ROD

Riddle: (59491/Chidah). Riddles and word puzzles have had a role in Jewish life since Samson first used them against the Philistines (Judg.). Solomon specifically honors them as spiritual tools and claims that the Scripture frequently speaks in riddles and enigmas (S of S R. 1.5). gematria, of course, is treated as an elaborate form of numeric riddles woven into the very fabric of the universe. The Zohar has a strong inclination toward numerical puzzles (I:32b, 72b, 77a, 151b; II:12b, 95a). Some Chasidic tales weave spiritual lessons into elaborate allegorical riddles. SEE PARADOX; SECRET.

Ridiya: (59493). “Shower.” Angel of rain and the watery deeps. Ridiya summons the fall rains and the tellurian waters at Sukkot (RaSHI comment on Tan. 25b).

Righteous, the: (59495/Tzadikim, also Kedoshim; Amudat ha-Olam). While Judaism has no notion of “Saints” in the sense that it is used in Roman Catholicism, Judaism definitely recognizes “saints” (with a small “s”). These are exceptionally pure and righteous individuals.

The truly righteous, such as the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, have an awesome status in the eyes of God (Chag. 12b; Sanh. 65a; Yoma 38b). They are called the “pillar of the World,” (i.e., their righteousness sustains existence):

We learned: There is a single pillar extending from earth to heaven, and its name is Righteous. [The pillar] is named after the righteous. For if there are righteous people in the world, then it is strengthened, but if there are not, it is weakened. It supports the world, as it is written, And righteousness is the foundation of the world (Prov. 10:25). If it weakens, then it cannot sustain the world. Therefore, even if there is but one righteous person in the world, it is he who supports the world. Thus it is written, And a righteous [one] is the foundation of the world. (Bahir 71)

The presence of the righteous vindicate the rest humanity:

For as long as a righteous person dwells in the world, judgment cannot dominate the generation. (Zohar I:180a)

In Genesis Rabbah, the righteous are called the “divine chariot”; they are God’s vehicle in this dimension of reality (47:6). The righteous bring the Shekhinah back into the world, which is why they are also called the “altar of God” (Gen. 33:20; Zohar I:150a). One text even posits that Jacob, as the most perfect of the Patriarchs, achieved quasi-divine status on Earth through his righteousness (Meg. 18a; Gen. R. 79:8; Zohar I:138a).

In keeping with Judaism’s esteem for sacred text and learning, most are understood to be masters of Torah and the tradition—when a righteous person studies Torah, he or she is on par with the angels(Zohar I:12b; Ned. 20b; Kid.72a). However, it is also possible for non-scholarly individuals to be recognized as tzadikim.

Jewish saints are not automatically associated with wonder working, but it is also not unusual to have reports of the righteous performing wonders and miraculous healings. The Talmud teaches this is so because of a paradox: having submitted his or her will to the will of God, God in turn fulfills the will of the righteous (Shab. 59b). Based on a verse in 2 Samuel, “The righteous rule the awe of God” (23:3), Talmud Moed Katan 16b quotes God as declaring:

“I rule over humanity. Who rules over Me? The righteous …” This becomes the basis for explaining the miraculous powers sometimes displayed by the righteous.1 So great is the power of the righteous through their piety and ethical mastery that they can, at times, reverse even a divine decree, as Ezekiel did when he annulled the Toraitic decree that God would “visit the guilt of the parents upon the children.” (Suk. 42a)

Unlike witchcraft or scholarly sorcery, the wondrous powers of the righteous are directed to the benefit of others: individuals, communities, all Israel, or the entire world. The most extraordinary tzadikim are declared Kedoshim, “holy ones,” but the righteous are not to be called “holy” in their own lifetime. Upon Death, the souls of the righteous descend into Gehenna and gather up damaged souls to ascend with them (Chag. 15b; Sha’ar ha-Mitzvot 112). Once dead, even the mere name of the righteous one possesses its own power. The names of Rabbi Eleazar or Rabbi Joshua ben Perachia, for example, are invoked for healing and protection on incantation bowls. Writing the name of the Baal Shem Tov on an amulet makes it effective (ShB). The bodies of the righteous dead do not decay, or decay only slowly, and smell fragrant (B.M. 84b). Mystical adepts visit the graves of the righteous dead in the hopes of receiving a revelation or healing (B.M. 85b). In ancient Antioch, the locals felt their synagogue was a place of power because it was built over the graves of Jewish martyrs.2

God exults in the righteous dead and gathers with them in Eden at midnight to study Torah (Ber. 3b; Zohar I:10b, 60b). SEE OHEL; SEGULAH Or Segulot.

1. Lauterbach, “The Belief in the Power of the Word,” 290-92.

2. Levine, The Ancient Synagogue, 275.

Rigyon: (59508). A fiery river that flows in heaven. Every day serafim issue forth from it and the other angels purify themselves by immersing in it. Moses had to cross it to receive the Torah (BhM 1:60; LOTJ III:112, Ir El Gibborim piyut). SEE NAHAR DENUR; RIVER.

Ring: (59510). Rings, in a way akin to seals, can grant one power over the spirits. Both rings and seals of power have a long history in Jewish tradition, beginning with King Solomon. According to the Testament of Solomon, a pseudepigraphic work of late antiquity that serves as the basis for a whole genre of Solomonic magical lore, King Solomon created a ring using a divine name of power and inscribed it with a seal, either a pentagram or hexagram (traditions vary). With this ring, he was able to enslave demons and he compelled them to help him construct the Temple in Jerusalem-a mythic illustration of the Jewish belief that there is nothing in the universe that is irredeemable, or cannot be bent to divine service.

Josephus describes how an exorcism was performed with a ring containing a special root (Ant. 8). Rings incorporating protective amulets were frequently made in Greco-Roman times. In Hechalot literature, rings feature prominently, both as objects of power held by angels (Hechalot Rabbati) and as seals used by human adepts for accessing the heavenly precincts (Merkavah Rabbah).

A fragment from the Cairo Geniza describes how to make a magic ring (cover an egg first with semen and then with incantations, bury it in cow excrement for forty days, recover the egg and find an image of a bird on it, then sacrifice that part of the egg over a coin and make the coin into a ring), but the part of the text explaining the purpose of the ring did not survive. If one assumes there is a magical analogy involved, this ring was probably intended either as a love charm or for fertility.

But it is Solomon’s ring that has captured the imagination of readers over the centuries. Not only is it good for exorcisms and demon management, but it also gives you the power to speak with animals. Discussions, recipes, and diagrams of the ring repeatedly appear in works such as the medieval Mafteach Shlomo (Key of Solomon) and is invoked on amulets for protection against demons.1

In the 17th to 18th centuries, during the height of the “Baal Shems,” the wandering shamans of eastern Europe, there are several references to silver rings of protection of healing, so-called “segulah rings.” They are mentioned in personal correspondence and a few published texts, such as Kav haYashar. The latter even describes the process of fabricating such a ring; these rings were credited with controlling epilepsy and proving “security” day and night. This may be just as it sounds, a shield against physical dangers, but also may be a euphemism for sexual incontinence (conscious temptations, erotic dreams, and nocturnal emissions).

1. Naveh and Shaked, Magic Spells and Formulae, 93.

Ritual: Judaism is often characterized as a “performative religion,” a tradition that emphasizes action, both ethical and ritual, over the quest for correct doctrine. It is a faith of “deeds, not creeds,” as one wag put it. And ritual action, in all forms, is a major element of living Jewishly.

This book defines a ritual as any conscious symbolic behavior involving verbal and/or performative action that is directed toward a cosmic structure and/or numinous presence (adapted from Evan Zuesse). For the purposes of this book, Jewish rituals can be categorized as follows (with some inevitable overlap):

Lifecycle rituals: Ceremonies acknowledging transitions and liminal/transitional moments in life. Examples in Judaism include rituals of birth, coming of age, marriage, and Death.

Calendric rituals: Rites that mark seasonal and historic moments of sacred significance, such as Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Passover, Sukkot, Shavuot, Purim, and Chanukah.

Protective rituals: Rituals that prevent or reverse negative events or influences. Examples in Judaism include purification, healing, segulah, exorcism, mourning, and blessings.

Communion rituals: Rites that bring one (or the community) into the presence of the divine. In Judaism these include blessing, circumcision, prayer, ascent, and incubation.

Exchange/Substitution rituals: Ceremonies that involve an offering to divine forces, usually in the hope of receiving some benefit or to gain power, such as sacrifice, fasting, kapparah, divination, or incantations.1

1. This list is a modified version of the taxonomy of Catherine Bell as described in Davila’s “Ritual in the Jewish Pseudepigrapha” draft article, http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/academic/divinity/ritual_pseud_paper.htm.

River: (59518/Nachal; 59520/Nahar). In Jewish mythology, a river represents either a channel of life and bounty, or an obstacle and/or point for transformation (a “liminal” zone). Examples of the first archetype include the four rivers that flowed out of Eden and in the birth narrative of Moses and the purifying river that will flow from Jerusalem in messianic times (Zech. 14; Ezek. 47:1-12). The latter idea appears in the incident of Jacob wrestling with the angel. Similarly, in Midrash Tanchuma it is reported that Satan transformed himself into a river to keep Abraham from fulfilling God’s command to sacrifice Isaac.

Rivers also flow in both heavenly and subterranean realms.

“The Throne [of Glory] is established upon seven rivers corresponding to the seven clouds of Glory.” (Re’uyot Yehezkel; J. Suk. 5:1, 55a)

Gedulat Moshe claims there are only four rivers. Underground rivers, sometimes related to the currents of the abyss, are the conduits through which the supernal “female” waters flow (Tanh. Kedoshim 10; Zohar I:78a). “River” is also one of the terms for Binah (Zohar III:4a, 10b). Famous Jewish supernatural rivers include the Nahar DeNur, Rigyon, and Sambatyon.

There are various ways to use the supernatural power of rivers here on Earth. Torah study by a riverside helps learning to flow continuously, just as the water flows continuously (Hor. 12a). Immersion in a river is both a means of purification and a way to experience a revelation or vision. SEE SAR HA-TORAH; SUMMONING.; WATER

River of Light or Fire: (59529/Nahar DeNur; Rigyon). This river is the passage from lower to higher realms and is the conduit for angels to move between heaven and Earth (Dan. 7:10; SGE).

The River features prominently in apocalyptic and pseudepigraphic literature of the Greco-Roman period. This river will destroy the world and the righteous will resurrect from it (Sibylline Oracles 2:196-213, 286-308; Wisdom of Ben Sira 15:16-17). The same themes carry over into rabbinic literature. Angels spring daily from its flow:

Aba said: “A thousand thousand ministered unto Him”—at the river of fire, for it is said: A fiery stream issued and came forth from before Him; thousand thousands ministered unto Him and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him (Dan. 7:10). Whence does it come forth? —From the sweat of the Chayyot, And whither does it pour forth? R. Zutra b. Tobiah said that Rab said: Upon the head of the wicked in Gehinnom … (Chag. 13b-14a)

The stars, too, emerge from this river, which surrounds the firmament (Sefer Raziel). Created on the first day, the angelic sweat is the result of their bearing the Throne of Glory (Gen. R. 78.1; PdRE 4). The souls of the dead must immerse themselves in this river before they can enter the World to Come. The river ceases to flow on the Sabbath (Ex. R. 15:6; Lam. R. 3:8; Gedulat Moshe 5; Zohar I:201a; Zohar II:217b, 247a). In another section of the Zohar the “river” is yet another term for Yesod, the divine generative force that fructifies the lower worlds (II:210b-211a). SEE RIGYON.


Rock: (59531/Tzur, also Even; Sela). As a totem of permanence, endurance, and stability, God is sometimes called “the Rock” in the Bible and rabbinic tradition. In Jerusalem, the Foundation Stone seals away the waters of the abyss, keeping the world from reverting to a state of chaos.

Rocks also have power. The tzohar was a healing stone owned by the Patriarchs. Likewise, gemstone in general have been held to have healing properties. Jewish incantation bowls frequently mention a particular evil spirit known as a “pebble demon .”1 geomancy, the use of pebbles or sand for the purposes of divination, also appears in medieval Jewish literature.

1. Naveh and Shaked, Magic Spells and Formulae, 68.

Rod: (59534). A rod and/or staff is a symbol of authority in many cultures. Jewish tradition tells of staves endowed with miraculous powers. In the Bible, the staff of Aaron was transformed into a serpent and was the instrument for summoning the first three plague against Egypt (Ex. 7:17, 8:5, 8:16-17, 9:23, 10:13).

Aaron’s rod, however, also delivered signs when not in his hands, as when it budded and blossomed overnight as part of a trial by ordeal (Num. 17:8-10). Moses also possessed a rod (Ex. 4:20) that he used in performing miraculous deeds (Ex. 14:16; Num. 20:11). This staff was more than just an ordinary pole in the hands of a prophet; Moses calls it the matei ha-Elohim, “rod of God,” suggesting it was a device of power unto itself (Num. 17:9).

Later tradition claims all biblical references to staves (Ps. 89:32 and Isa. 10:24, for example) actually allude to a single wondrous rod that was given to Adam, then traveled with the Patriarchs, Prophets, and kings of Israel across history (Num. R. 18:23; PdRE 40; Sefer Zerubbabel):

(Gen. 32:10, 38:18) It is likewise the holy rod with which Moses worked (Ex. 4:20, 21), with which Aaron performed wonders before Pharaoh (Ex. 7:10), and with which, finally, David slew the giant Goliath (1 Sam. 17:40). David left it to his descendants, and the Davidic kings used it as a scepter until the destruction of the Temple, when it miraculously disappeared. When the Messiah comes it will be given to him for a scepter in token of his authority over the heathen. (Yalkut Ps. 110)1

This rod, created on the eve of the sixth day (Avot 5.6), was made of either sapphire or almond wood and bore an inscription of the Tetragrammaton as well as an acrostic phrase constructed from the initials for the ten plagues (Mid. Teh. 9:1; Pes. 54a). It radiated light from the divine name (Zohar I:9a). Like Excalibur, only the rightful owner could withdraw the rod once it was planted in the ground:

Created at twilight, before the Sabbath, it was given to Adam in the Garden of Eden. Adam gave it to Enoch, who gave it to Methuselah; he in turn passed it on to Noah. Noah bequeathed it to his son Shem, who transmitted it to Abraham. From Abraham to Isaac, and then to Jacob, who took it with him to Egypt. Jacob gave it to Joseph; upon Joseph’s death all his possessions were removed to Pharaoh’s place. Jethro, one of Pharaoh’s advisers, desired it, whereupon he took it and stuck it in the ground in his garden in Midian. From then on no one could pull out the staff until Moses came. He read the Hebrew on the staff, and pulled it out readily. Knowing then that Moses was the redeemer of Israel, Jethro gave him his daughter Zipporah in marriage. (Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer 40)

Hidden away by either Elijah or King Josiah (MdRI 1; Tos. Sot. 13a) in time the staff will reappear as a weapon in the hands of Hephzibah, the mother of the Messiah:

Adonai will give Hephzibah, the mother of Menachem son of Amiel, a staff for acts of salvation, he said, “A great star will shine before her. All the stars will swerve from their paths.” Hephzibah, the mother of Menachem son of Amiel, will go out and kill two kings whose hearts are set on doing evil: Nof, king of Yemen … Iszinan, king of Antioch … Now the staff that the Lord will give Hephzibah, the mother of the Menachem son of Amiel, is made of almond wood, and it is hidden away in Rakkath … This is the staff Adonai gave Adam and Moses, and Aaron and Joshua and King David … Hephzibah, the mother of Menachem son of Amiel, will stand at the east gate [of Jerusalem during the eschatological crisis] so that wicked men will not come there … Then Hephzibah, the mother of the Messiah, will come and hand over to him the staff by which the signs were performed. (Sefer Zerubbabel)2

It then passes from her to the Messiah ben Joseph and then to the Messiah ben David, who will wield it in end-times struggles (Sefer Zerubbabel; PdRE 40; Yalkut Ps. 110 # 869; Buber Tan., Yaera 8).

But even out of reach, this awesome rod has power to help Jews in distress. Several Hebrew and Aramaic amulets from Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages invoke the authority of Moses’s rod in granting protection to the bearer:

And by the rod of Moses and by the frontplate of Aaron the High Priest and by the signet ring of Solomon and [?] of David and by the horns of the altar and the nam[e] [of] the living and existent God: that you should be expelled, (you) [the evil] spirit and evil assailant and every evil des[troyer] from the body of Miriam daughter of [Sarah] … 3

Christianity developed additional magical traditions about this legendary staff (Heb. 9:4), regarding it to be a relic from the Tree of Life and linking it closely to various biblical figures and finally to Jesus, for whom the staff served as the cross beam of his crucifix (Origen; Book of the Bee).

1. K. Kohler, “Aaron’s Rod,” in Jewish Encyclopedia (New York: Funk and Wagnell, 1906), Vol 1.

2. Stern and Mirsky, Rabbinic Fantasies, 74-75.

3. Naveh and Shaked, Magic Spells and Formulae, 93.

Rogziel: (59556). “God is my Wrath.” A punishing angel of Gehenna (Mid. Konen).

Rokeach, Sefer ha-: “Book of the Perfumer.” Written by the German Pietist Eleazar ben Judah of Worms, it is mostly an ethical tract, but does contain some information as to the fantastic beliefs and practices of Eleazar and his contemporaries.

Romiel: (595581). One of the seventy angels who circle the Throne of Glory (Zohar II:2b).

Rose: (59561). A symbol of Kabbalah , according to the Zohar, the “thirteen-petalled rose” is the mystical Body of the people Israel, through whom God’s thirteen attributes are activated in Creation.

Rosh Hashanah: (59572). “Head of the Year.” The Jewish New Year. On this day, Israel performs a ritual of divine “enthronement, “acknowledging God as its king, accompanied by the blasts of the shofar. This is also the anniversary of the creation of the world, which began on the first of Tishrei. On this day, the whole world is judged and those who merit another year of life are written in the Book of Life.

There are a variety of practices Jews around the world engage in during the holiday in order to ensure good fortune, such as eating certain vegetables: leeks, pumpkins, fennels, and dates. Some Jews serve the heads of fish, or even goats and calves, to ensure that the family “will be at the head and not at the tail” in the year ahead. By the same token, nuts should be avoided, because in gematria the Hebrew word for “nut,” egoz, numerically equals “Chet,” sin. SEE NEW YEAR.

Rosh Chodesh: ( 59565). Prayers are said for each new moon on the Sabbath> before they begin. The only exception is the month of Tishrei. Because Rosh Hashanah begins that month, and that is the time when God judges the world and determines who will live and die, it is believed that not proclaiming the beginning of the month will confuse Satan and the Angels of Death. SEE NEW MOON.

Ruach: (59567). “Wind/Spirit.” SEE WIND.

Ruach Chayyim: A 16th-century tract containing actual Ruach Tumah. SEE UNCLEAN SPIRITS OR IMPURE SPIRITS.; POSSESSION, GHOSTLY; EXORCISM

Ruach Elohim: SEE HOLY SPIRIT.

Ruach P’sak’nit: (59563). “Intervening/Intercessory Spirit.” A celestial defender of Israel. Perhaps based on the recording angel who pleads on behalf of suffering Israel in the book of 1 Enoch (89.76), he goes by three names—Piskon, Itamon, and Sigaron (Sanh. 44b). He is given permission to dispute with God over matters pertaining to the Jewish people (Tanchuma, V’zot ha-B’rachah).