Thursday, December 1, 2011

An Interesting Image - Where Does It Come From?

The above image was sent to the JTS Library. The sender did not know the source of the image. He wanted to know more about it and where it came from. Here is the analysis of the image that I wrote in response:

The design contains two quotes in RaShi script. They read as follows:
Starting from the top left of the circle and heading left and downwards, the words read:

הענן לא היה יכול / לב[ו]א נסתלק ה / הענן נכנס ומדבר / עמו
the cloud he was not able / to enter when the cloud lifted he would enter and speak / with Him

The forward-slashes in my transcription represent spaces. The italicized letter represents the insertion of the first letter of the "word-following-the-space", at the end of the "group-of-words-coming-before-the-space", possibly to guide the reader as to which section to read next. The bracketed letter represents a letter that is found in the source text that I examined (i.e. RaSHI's commentary to the Humash)but is missing from the design.
These words of the design are a quote of some of RaShI’s commentary to Exodus 40:35. I have transcribed RaShi’s commentary from the Bar Ilan Responsa online database’s transcription of the Jerusalem 1959 edition of RaShi’s commentary (itself a reprint of the Vienna 1859 edition). RaShI’s comment here is based on Sifra (Beraita de-Rabi Yishmael, parshah 1, paragraph 8). RaShI’s comment reads as follows:

ולא יכול משה לבוא אל אהל מועד - וכתוב אחד אומר (במדבר ז פט) ובבא משה אל אהל מועד, בא הכתוב השלישי והכריע ביניהם, כי שכן עליו הענן, אמור מעתה כל זמן שהיה עליו הענן לא היה יכול לבוא, נסתלק הענן נכנס ומדבר עמו:
And Moshe was not able to enter the Tent of Meeting – But another verse states (Numbers 7:89) “and when Moshe entered the Tent of Meeting” [a seeming contradiction]? A third verse comes and resolves [the contradiction] between them “because the cloud rested on [the Tent of Meeting]”. We can now explain: as long as the cloud rested on [the Tent of Meeting], he [Moshe] was not able to enter. When the cloud lifted, he [Moshe] would enter and speak with Him:

The bolded words represent the portion of RaShI’s comment included in the design.

Starting from the bottom right of the circle and heading right and upwards and then into the Star of David, the words read:

לעיני כל בני / י' / ישר[א]ל בכל מסעי/הם בכל מסע ש? / שהיו נוסעים ה[י]ה הענן שוכן ב / במקום אשר יחנו שם מקום ח / חנייתם אף הוא קרוי מסע וכן / וילך למס/עיו וכן / אלה מסעי לפי ש[מ]מ/קום הח/נייה חזרו / ונסעו ל / לפיכך / נקראו
Before the eyes of all the Children of Israel in all their journeys in every journey that they journeyed the cloud would rest in the place that they were to encamp the place that they encamped is also called a journey and so and he went according to his journeys and so these are the journeys because from the place of encampment they again journeyed therefore they were called

The meaning of the forward-slashes, small italicized letters, and brackets has been discussed above. The question mark signifies that the preceding letter is unclear and conjectured. The text in blue indicate words that deviate from the version found in the source text I examined.
This part of the design is a quote (with some minor differences) of most of RaShI’s commentary to Exodus 40:38:

לעיני כל בית ישראל בכל מסעיהם – בכל מסע שהיו נוסעים היה הענן שוכן במקום אשר יחנו שם. מקום חנייתן אף הוא קרוי מסע, וכן (בראשית יג ג) וילך למסעיו, וכן (במדבר לג א) אלה מסעי לפי שממקום החנייה חזרו ונסעו, לכך נקראו כולן מסעות:
Before the eyes of all the House of Israel in all their journeys - In every journey that they journeyed the cloud would rest in the place that they were to encamp. The place that they encamped is also called a “journey” and so [we find this expression used elsewhere, as in] “and he went according to his journeys” (Genesis 13:3) and so [as in] “these are the journeys” (Numbers 33:1). [The reason for the word journey being used to mean encampment is] because from the place of encampment they again journeyed, therefore [the places of encampment] were all called “journeys”:

Again, the bolded words represent the portion of RaShI’s commentary included in the design and the text in blue indicates differences from the wording or spelling found in the design.

Despite the identification of the text on which this design is based. We have not yet been able to find the source of the image or understand its significance. If anyone can assist us in doing so, please, let us know in the comments section. Thank you


  1. ok, here's a try. Looks like a creation by Shmuel Chaim Falk, the Baal Shem of London, or his students. He was known for writing, not only amulets but also "seals". The hare in the middle is very strong British mythological and religious symbol, connected with Eostre a British goddess, to a level of the kelipos and evil depending on one's perspective. It appears to be cowering and subdued, especially around the birds (who all face left, which is the side of evil), which all appear to be drawn as kosher birds, if you notice the 3 toes pointing forward and 1 back, and also the webbed water fowl. (he did miss one empty space at the bottom right of the Magen David, so he chose to have 11 brids total). It should have been normal to put in birds of prey, but they were left out , seemingly due to their evil, nonkosher status. The 2 objets at the top look like 2 flies, related to evil and Beelzebub, as they just don't look too angelic, as there are no legs and there are not 6 wings. and on the bottom appears to be a British Ivy. Regarding the verses, besides his home in London, Falk had a place on the London Bridge (where there were many buildings and rooms, until they were demolished) In that London Bridge room he performed his magic rituals and he called it the Machaneh, the Camp, a term used for the Camp of Israel or the Camp of the Shechinah. This relates to the verses about the Camp of Israel and especially about the cloud of the Shechinah as he viewed his chambers there as a sort of Holy of Holies. He would always burn a variety of candles, fats and substances, so there was alot of smoke and clouds. He placed seals on the doors all of the time. There are also 11 birds, which could correspond to the 11 spices of the incense (which produces another cloud in the Holy of Holies) which subdue the 11 crowns of the kelipos. Falk also met with many wealthy British and French individuals and he even taught them some Kabbalah. He was quite a showman and a questionable character to many. Ironically at the end of his life Chief Rabbi Nathan Marcus Adler wrote nicely about him, especially when you read the epitaph on Falk's grave. Adler's son Elkan Nathan Adler was quite a manuscript and book collector, of which JTS has many examples, especially mystical items. Falk influenced many of the Freemasons and his magic and drawings could have ended up with Adler's or other British magic groups (Falk left most of his belongings to the synagogues of London). A normal magician would not know these Rashis, but Falk certainly would. Also, a true traditional Kabbalist would not invent this kind of imagery, but Falk would. I am not at my library at present, so this is off the cuff. If time allows, I will later look at Kabbalistical books to see if the verses are used elsewhere. Hope this is some help. Noah Shavrick

  2. Thank you for your assistance. Please, let us know if you discover anything more.