Monday, December 05, 2011

Scrying in Scripture

I told my wife I like her chiddush so much I am going to steal her post and copy it here:

Scrying in Scripture

Now there's a word that doesn't come up everyday. You don't have to Google it. I'll provide the Webster online definition right here:
"Scrying (also called crystal gazingcrystal seeingseeing, or peeping) is a magic practice that involves seeing things supernaturally in a medium, usually for purposes of divination or fortune-telling. The media used are most commonly reflective, translucent, or luminescent substances such as crystals, stones, glass, mirrors, water, fire, or smoke. Scrying has been used in many cultures as a means of divining the past, present, or future."

Like other practices of divination, scrying would come under the general order of black magic and necromancy that is forbidden by the Torah. But we see that some people did use these means. 
According to some views, the reason Rachel stole her father's Teraphim was because they could be used for divination, and she wished to prevent him from using them to find out where Yaakov had gone with his family. When Yosef had not yet revealed himself to his brothers, he indicated that his goblet was his means of scrying. 

But the real purpose of this post is to bring up two particular incidents of scrying in TaNaCh, both of which use a chalon, which is normally translated as window (as per my husband's request; he was taken with the view quoted below): "Vayashkef Avimelech melech Plishtim b'ad hachalon, vayar vehine Yitzchak metzachek eth Rivka ishto." (26:8) This is usually translated as saying that he peeked into their window and saw intimacy between them.  Their behavior indicated that the women Yitzchak traveled with was not his sister but his wife. 

 In Lev Eliyahu on Bereishis, (90-91) Rav Eliyahu Lopian rejects that pshat that Avimelech saw them through a window because he cannot accept that they would have not maintained absolute tznius and would have kept their interaction absolutely privateHe invokes a story involving the Gaon of Vilna who said that the man who boasted knowledge of what people did in private did so through black magic. In the same way, R' Lopian says, Avimelech used black magic to gaze into his chalon, a device used for scrying, into the private room of Yitzchak and Rivka. 

The next day, I was reading through Shoftim and noticed that toward the end of Shiras Devorah,  when Sisro's mother is invoked, the text also refers to her gazing at a chalon: "B'ad hachalon nishkefa vateyabev em Sisro b'ad haeshnav, madua boshesh richvo lavo, madua echaro pa'amey marchevothav." (5:28) I noticed that it would fit the text very well to say that she was not just anxiously looking out the window to find out why her son was delayed in battle but to say the she, too, was scrying in her attempt to find the answer. It actually fit in very well with the fact that she gets answers from the wise women around her and answers herself. She also suggests that they are gathering women for each man. Considering how Yael was supposed to have succeeded in tiring out Sisro, it makes perfect sense for her to draw that conclusion based on her vision from scrying.

But don't take my word for it. After formulating my own take,  I looked through the commentators to find out if someone did say something like that. Sure enough, the Malbim, who always focuses on the distinction between words when there appears to be duplication maintains that the eshnav (usually translated as lattice) is what we think of as a window, but  "chalon hakesem shebo hishkifa em sisto liksom kesamin," a device for divination that the mother of Sisro used to attempt to divine what happened to her son.


  1. Anonymous9:48 PM

    { >>> steal her post

    is it literally your's initially, al pi din, or no?}

    >>> crystals, stones, glass

    what might this say of that event
    where beneath His Feet was some
    sort of "sapir"(shemos 24:10)?

    >>> fire, or smoke

    or this say of that event whereat
    fire & smoke covered the mount
    (shemos 19:18)?

    one can ask alike for the walls of
    "water" at yam suf (when even the
    lowliest handmaid saw more than

    the resulting, altered impressions
    are a far scry from the usual...
    {of course, these can all be flipped again to reach the more palatable truth-- the various mediums of divination derive their usefulness from the Superior, Self-Authorizing use of same}

  2. The connection is very impressive. The observation can even be improved. What's the pshat, was her 'chalon' not working? Why did she think he was ok? The answer is that the chalon was working perfectly. She saw her son sprawled out in Yael's tent. She wasn't sure, though- was he in a stupor, was he sleeping off his wild behavior- or was his motionless sleep ominous.... and explains what she and her chachamos were talking about in their discussion as recorded in Shiras Devora.

  3. Barzilai, as I hinted, I would think that she did see Sisro with Yael, which would explain why she attributed the delay to the men's taking women. That would be another parallel to the vision of the chalon in Avimelech's case, as suggested by Lev Eliyahu. I don't know if it would show everything in "real time" as a web-cam would.

  4. Ach, I didn't read your post carefully enough. I was mechavein to what I had read. Maybe not knowing what someone is thinking is due to insufficiently focused attention.

  5. Even scrying doesn't let you into someone's head.