A guest post by Darren Stein
I have always been puzzled by the sudden explosion of New Age retailers selling everything from Native American dream catchers to statues of the Buddha. In particularly, I was intrigued by the booming sales of semi-precious stones which they claim possess various abilities and resonances relating to physical and psychological healing. Scientific sceptics have of course dismissed the matter, but I was surprised to find a number of references to similar beliefs within the Torah, Talmud and Zohar.
The most obvious of these references can be found in relation to the “Ephod”, the breastplate worn by the Cohen Hagadol (High Priest) in the Jewish Temple, containing twelve separate stones, each of which represented a different tribe.
“And you shall set it with four rows of mounted stones; the first row: a ruby, an emerald, and a topaz. The second row: a carbuncle, a sapphire, and a quartz crystal. The third row: a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst. The fourth row: a chrysolite, an onyx, and an opal. These stones shall be placed in gold settings. The stones shall contain the names of the twelve children of Israel, one for each of the twelve stones; each one’s name shall be engraved as on a signet ring, to represent the twelve tribes.” (Ex. 28: 17-21)
In reality, the only fact which is known with absolute certainty is the colour of each stone, not the exact type of stone which relies on some interpretation about those available to the Israelites at the time. Although absent from the Biblical passages, this is recorded by the Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 2:7) where it is stated that each tribe’s stone on the breastplate matched the background colour of its flag under which they camped throughout the Exodus.
Thus even if some doubt exists with regard to the scientific classification of the gems themselves, we can still be certain as to their appearance based on the Midrashic description of their colours:
- Ruby (Red) – Reuben
- Jade or Topaz (Green ) – Shimon
- Agate (Red, White, and Black Striped) – Levi
- Carbuncle (Bluish-Green ) – Judah
- Lapis-Lazuli (Blue ) – Issachar
- Quartz Crystal (Clear ) – Zebulun
- Turquoise (Blue) – Dan
- Amethyst (Purple ) – Naftali
- Agate (Grey ) – Gad
- Aquamarine (Blue-Green ) – Asher
- Onyx (Black ) – Joseph
- Opal (A Stone Possessing All the Colours) – Benjamin
The Sefer Gematriot (43a-44b) takes these a step further, and in fact assigns either healing or fortune properties to the twelve stones in the Ephod.
- Reuben’s ruby is said to assists with fertility and the prevention of miscarriage.
- Simeon’s Jade or Topaz apparently cools the body.
- Levi’s stone rejuvenates the body, sharpens the eyes, and makes men wise.
- Judah’s carbuncle is believed to give the wearer bravery and protection in battle.
- Issachar’s sapphire provides understanding and medicinal intuition.
- Zebulun’s emerald encourages successful trade and helps the wearer sleep peacefully.
- Dan’s stone allows one to see another’s true intentions.
- Naptali’s Agate helps to ground and a balance a person.
- Gads’ amethyst produces bravery and valour in battle.
- Asher’s beryl helps speed up one’s metabolism.
- Joseph’s onyx helps one win friends and influence people.
- Benjamin’s Opal helps one keep secrets and confidences.
Apart from these, two stones regarded as Oracles, the Urim and Tumim (“illuminator and verifier”), possibly made from Sardonyx, were inscribed with the sacred Name of G-d and inserted in the folds of the Breastplate. It caused the letters inscribed on its stones to light up in response to queries posed by the leaders to indicate a positive or a negative response from G-d when asked a particular question.
“And [Joshua] shall stand before Elazar the priest, who shall ask counsel for him after the judgment of the Urim before G-d: by this word shall they go out, and by this word they shall come in, both he, and all the children of Israel with him.” (Numbers xxvii:21).
Additional examples can be found in I Samuel. XI: 18 when Saul commanded the Priest, “Bring hither the ephod”, along with similar references in Ezekial. XXI: 26; Zecheriah.X. 2.
Furthermore, the healing capabilities of stones are referred to in both the Talmud and Zohar, indicating that the Patriarch Avraham (Abraham ) had a healing stone which hung around his neck with which he was able to heal people (Talmud Baba Basra16b).
So the New Age concept of crystals and gems imbuing magical qualities that are able to heal the body or change one’s fortune, are in fact built upon a tradition that goes back almost three-thousand-years, and one which is not in fact incongruous with the Jewish teachings of the Torah, Talmud and Kabbalah. So feel free to go out and buy yourself that emerald pendant. It will help you get a good night’s sleep and improve your career prospect the following day.
About the Author:
Darren Stein teaches Comparative Religion at a Jewish College in Sydney, Australia. He holds a variety of degrees in History, Philosophy, and Religion, with a special interest in Jewish Mysticism and Kabbalah. Darren is an accomplished poet and artist whose works and blog on Kabbalistic themes can be found at:
His most recent collection of poetry, “Storage Space: A Collection of Contemporary Poetry” is still available in hardcover at Amazon, but a digital ebook version is now available FREE at: http://www.free-ebooks.net/ebook/Storage-Space-A-Collection-of-Contemporary-Verse