Windows, goblets, and Teraphim: Scrying in Scripture

Scrying: that’s a word that doesn’t come up everyday. I already googled it for you. The Webster online definition right here:
Scrying (also called crystal gazing, crystal seeing, seeing, 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.”

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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 eans. 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 private. He 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 Sisera’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 Sisera, 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 divinitation that the mother of Sisera used to attempt to divine what happened to her son.

About the Author
Ariella Brown published Kallah Magazine from 2005-2011. Now, she runs a blog for topics of both general and Jewish interest at
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