Wherever one finds the name of the great Rabbi Loew of Prague, the Maharal, ones immediate thought is that “he made a Golem.” The many tales of the Maharal and his magical anthropoid have been so entrenched in the minds of those with a predilection for occult arcana, that few would consider the many sagas on the life of the Maharal crediting him with other, equally “mysterious” abilities, e.g. Rabbi Loew’s role in saving the lives of a family imprisoned inside a pit by an “evil sorceror,” a “duke,” as reported in “The Chronicle of Ephraim” and recounted by Howard Schwartz in his wonderful “Lilith’s Cave: Jewish Tales of the Supernatural.”
We are told that as the mother had given birth to a boy named Shlomo inside the pit, the duke offered to spare their lives on the condition that the baby be delivered to him. Following this deal, the duke and his wife raised the boy as their own son, and hid his true identity. Being extremely intelligent and well educated, the duke introduced him to the “secrets of magic.” The boy was also a most skilled musician, and on his tenth birthday the duke presented him with a mysterious musical instrument the working of which have been lost. Naturally, as is the case with all such tales, our young hero mastered it in no time at all, but there was trouble in the air.
A few months prior to his thirteenth birthday, the young man started to have a recurring dream in which he encountered an individual claiming to be his real father. Finally, on his thirteenth birthday, he was lured away in his sleep, and when he woke found himself standing outside a synagogue. There he met his real father who revealed the true saga of his life. Serious drama ensued when the duke discovered that his “son” had been “spirited away” by some sort of rival magic, and at first he planned to kill the young man, but changed his mind and attempted to lure him back. This is where the Maharal comes in. The family consulted with the great Rabbi who employed a Kabbalistic “dream question” technique to ascertain a solution to the dilemma. Following some more magical twists and turns, the saga finally ended in a most satisfactory manner, and all is well that ends well. The young man and his real family lived happily ever after.
The Kabbalistic “She’elat Chalom” (Dream Question) is certainly one of the most interesting divinatory techniques. One description has it that the practice comprises purification, fasting and meditation on the powerful “Name of Seventy-two Names.” This is said to induce the required prophetic state which will lead to questions, seriously contemplated prior to sleep, receiving a divine response in dream. However, alternative methods can be found in the writings of Rabbi Chaim Vital, who himself resorted to the “She’elat Halom” technique when confronted with difficult issues. In his so-called “New Writings” (Ketavim Hadashim me-Rabbenu Hayyim) we are offered two methods to successfully work the Kabbalistic “Dream Question” practice.
Chaim Vital informed us that we should “Visualize that above the firmament of ‘Aravot‘ [the seventh and highest “Heaven”] there is a very great white curtain, upon which the Tetragrammaton is inscribed in [colour] white as snow, in Assyrian writing [the standard square Hebrew script known as Ashurit] in a certain color….. and the great letters are inscribed there, each one large as a mountain or a hill. And you should imagine in your thought that you ask your question from those combinations of letters written there, and they will answer your question, or they will dwell their spirit in your mouth, or you will be drowsy and they will answer you, like in a dream.” A few paragraphs later he said “you shall go to bed to sleep, pray ‘Let it be Your Will,’ and use one of the pronunciations of the [divine] names written in front of you, and direct your thought to which of the mystical spheres it is related. Then mention your question either to discover issues related to a dream and future things, or to achieve whatever thing you wish, and afterwards ask [the question].”
Of course, these are not the only “Dream Question” techniques used by Kabbalists. Others have been preserved in the vast literature penned by Kabbalists down the centuries. Whilst some involve chanting Yichudim, etc., others rely on severe psychological factors which impact rather drastically on the psyche of the practitioner, i.e. intense fasting and incessant “mystical weeping” deliberately induced.
In the following brief tales, we encounter those “paranormal” abilities assigned the Maharal of Prague, other than the usual ones pertaining to “Golem-making,” which appear to have been of great importance in the life of the great Rabbi!!
B. The Count Who Wanted to Study Kabbalah
(A 19th century East European tale recounted in
“Gabriel’s Palace: Jewish Mystical Tales”
In the days of Rabbi Judah Loew of Prague, known as “the Maharal,” there lived a weathy Count who devoted himself to the study of astrology and alchemy and to finding the Philosopher’s Stone. This Count knew that the Maharal was well versed in the secrets of the Kabbalah, so he invited him to his castle.
There the Count told the Maharal that he wanted to be initiated into the study of the Kabbalah, but the Maharal refused his request. He told the Count of the great difficulties involved, even for one who was Jewish. How much more so for one who was not? But the Count demanded that the Maharal serve as his teacher, and he threatened to go to the Emperor and bring great harm upon the Jews if he did not. When the Maharal saw that he had no other choice, he agreed to begin their studies at once.
The Count led the Maharal to a room he had prepared for his mystical studies. It was dark and empty, except for a single lamp, and filled with a sense of foreboding. For a long time the Maharal was silent, but at last he said: “before we begin, I must ask you if you are free of all guilt. For any guilt that you bring with you could lead you into danger.”
“I am, said the Count.
“In that case,” said the Maharal, “look behind you!”
And when the Count looked around, he saw a woman standing there with an infant in her arms. The Count began to tremble with fear.
“Do you know who they are?” the Maharal asked.
“It is my sister and her child. But how can they be here? They are both dead!” cried the Count.
“The are here because you killed them!” said the Maharal. “For that child was your child, and you killed them to keep your sin a secret.”
The the Count fainted. And when he came to his senses, he told the Maharal that he would abandon his quest to study the Kabbalah. But he warned the Maharal never to reveal his secret, lest he seek revenge against the Jews. The Maharal promised to keep the secret and went on his way. But every night after that, The Count saw his sister and their infant in his dreams, and he woke up screaming. Nor did he go back to his mystical studies, but for the rest of his days he was a broken man.
C. The Dream Question of the Maharal
(A 19th century East European tale recounted in
“Gabriel’s Palace: Jewish Mystical Tales”
To protect the Jews of Prague from the Blood Libel and the pogroms that followed every Passover, Rabbi Judah Loew created a man of clay known as the “golem” and brought him to life with the power of the Name. After that the golem guarded the Jews of Prague against every danger, not only from without, but also from within.
One Yom Kippur a terrible incident occurred. One of the worshippers, who had been called to life the scroll of the Torah after the portion had been read, lost his grip and dropped it. Everyone was horrified, for they knew that this was an evil sign on the very Day of Judgment, when a person’s fate for the coming year is sealed in the Book of Life.
The Maharal, more than anyone else, wondered about htis incident and prayed for an answer. And that night, in a dream, he overheard an angel say a string of words. When he awoke he remembered this cryptic message and wrote it down, but it made no sense. Then the Maharal decided to write each letter of those words on a separate slip of paper. Then he called in the golem and asked him to arrange those fifteen letters as he saw fit. Without any hesitation, the golem arranged them, but no word was formed. The Maharal was puzzled at first, but all at once he recognized that those were the initial letters of a biblical verse that read on Yom Kippur: Moreover you shall not lie with your neighbor’s wife and defile yourself with her (Leviticus 28:20).
Then the Maharal met with the man who had dropped the scroll and demanded that he confess to having sinned with someone’s wife, for that is why the scroll had fallen on Yom Kippur. The man, who knew of the Maharal’s powers of perception, saw that there was no escape, and he confessed his guilt. And he and the woman who had sinned with him were punished according to the Law.