Balaam's and Balak's Story is one about Magic and the nature of magic. Back in 2004, I took a graduate level course on the history and theory of what is known as Jewish magic or Jewish wonder-working. On the take home final, one of the questions intrigued me:
After going to the Cubs vs. A's game last week I thought I'd bring back that paper. Using Balak as a background let me summarize that answer I gave back in 2004.
The Chicago Cubs have not won a World Series since 1908 or a National League Pennant since 1945. Many people believe that the reason is because they were cursed years ago. As a famous wonder-working Chicago rabbi, you are hired by the Cubs to help them win the World Series in 2004. How will you do this, and why have you chosen the particular techniques, strategies, rituals, etc. that you intend to employ both to remove the curse and to help ensure victory in the World Series?
For those not familiar with the curse, the classic "Billy Goat curse" begins many years earlier. In 1934, Bill Sianis bought The Lincoln Tavern across from the Chicago Stadium. Sianis also had a live billy goat in the back of the tavern and thus was known as “Billy goat.” Later, Bill Sianis would open a tavern on Michigan Avenue named the Billy Goat. As part of the publicity for the taverns, Sianis regularly brought a billy goat named Murphy along with him on trips to sports arenas and other events. In 1945 during the World Series against the Detroit Tigers, when Bill Sianis brought Murphy along, he was denied admission. Murphy had entered the park before to see another game earlier that year. This time security believed that the goat's odor was objectionable. After Sianis' protest that the goat did have a ticket, the matter was referred to Owner P.K. Wrigley. Wrigley denied the goat admission, again because of the smell. In anger, Sianis cursed the Cubs, with the words "The Cubs, they not gonna win anymore." After their defeat in the 1945 World Series, Sianis sent a telegram to Wrigley, stating "who smells now?" and stated that the Cubs were never going to win the World Series, let alone the National Championship. From that day on they have not.
An important recent episode of the Billy goat curse was when the Cubs were only five outs from successfully entering the World Series in game 6 of the National League championship in 2003. Fan Steve Bartman interfered with a foul ball that would have otherwise been caught by Moises Alou. This was followed by a wild pitch by Mark Prior. The Cubs lost the game and all subsequent games to let the Florida Marlins win the pennant. The Marlins would go on the World Series against the New York Yankees.
Jewish magic may seem like a contradiction in terms, as Modern Judaism is usually known for its rationalist position. Indeed, there are prohibitions against the use of magic in Torah. For example in Exodus 22:17 we read “You shall not suffer a witch to live.” More inclusively, there is the following:
There shall not be found among you any one who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or who uses divination, or a soothsayer, or an enchanter, or a witch Or a charmer, or a medium, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination to the Lord; and because of these abominations the Lord your God drives them out from before you.[Deuteronomy 18:10-12]
In the Talmud, we read “A sorcerer, if he actually performs magic, is liable [to death].”[Sannhedrin 67a] All of these indicate that is forbidden to use magic, although Sanhedrin does go on to exempt mere illusion.
However, there still is an old, ancient tradition of Jewish wonder working, going back to Moses. Moses did many things which we might call either miracles or magic. Later prophets like Elijah and Elisha were also renowned for their abilities to work wonders, including, torching altars, making jars never empty, split rivers, and resurrect the dead. How are these to be distinguished from magic?
There are differences between the two in how magic and wonder working operates, visible in the two times Baalam is to be employed by Balak's people. The first one is simple version of pagan curses:
9. And God came to Balaam, and said, What men are these with you? 10. And Balaam said to God, Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent for me, saying, 11. Behold, there is a people come out of Egypt, which covers the face of the earth; come now, curse them for me; perhaps I shall be able to overcome them, and drive them out. 12. And God said to Balaam, You will not go with them; you will not curse the people; for they are blessed.[Numbers 22]on a second attempt, with agents holding out a bigger fee they are successful:
20. And God came to Balaam at night, and said to him, If the men come to call you, rise up, and go with them; but only that word which I would say to you, that you will do. [Numbers 22]There are differences, which highlight the issue of magic versus wonder-working. In the pagan world, it was the belief that the forces of magic were independent of the pagan gods. The power of the gods was something that the gods could harness to do things. Yet as this was independent of the gods, people could use it too. Thus the abilities of people who could harness this like gods, the magicians, would work on both people and gods. Magicians could thus control the gods. The control of the magic was the magician himself, not God.
However, Jewish Magic is not independent of the god. God is the source: We are merely the instruments or conduits of holiness. Hence Balaam's already been set up for blessing and not cursing these people, by saying exactly what God tells him to say. No matter the number of changes of procedure or change of where the altar is, or even where one looks at the people works. Wonder-working is doing God will, not your own.
Where this is underlined deeply is that healing is God's will. The Talmud holds that “Whatever is used as a healing is not [forbidden] on account of the ways of the Amorite [i.e. prohibited magic]” [P. Shabbat 6.9, B. Shabbat 67a]. Therefore where there is healing we are allowed to use the power of God to intercede.
What about the Cubs? In this case, the healing would be for a team in order for them to win a game and increase profits of the Cubs organization and other local establishments and not for physical health. This would not be an ethical use of our wonder-working in this case.
However, there was window of opportunity in Steve Bartman. Due his unfortunate actions, he has been threatened and has needed security to prevent personal injury from happening to himself and his family. Even with the burning of the ball he caught, he is still concerned for his safety. Until October 2003, the curse has only made a ball team lose. Now the curse has threatened a human being. There is a tradition among Jewish wonder workers that they are entrusted to prevent such a loss. In 2004, when I wrote this paper, the Cubs winning the World Series will remove the threat of physical harm from Mr. Bartman. Of course, memory fades and even now the 2003 game is mere point of history of the curse. Without someone in physical danger, this plan for removing the curse won't work anymore. Yet it is interesting to look into the way ancient rabbis looked at magic, and how they would have removed a curse.
In our tradition, words are very powerful. The world itself is made of letters.Thus to utter something is to create something. Jewish mystics have for millenia worked with permutations of letters, numbers, and the holy names to create things. In the Talmud, R. Hanina and R. Oshaia often would study such texts on Friday nights creating a third grown calf, then eat it for Shabbat dinner [B. Sanhedrin 67b]. While making things are difficult, things are different when it comes to curses. Ordinary people can produce effective curses.
Of course this again underlines Balak's fallacy. Balak thinks he needs an expert to do the curse right -- because only an expert can control magic stuff. When Balak uses the best in the business, Balaam, he's sorely disappointed, since this guy has to follow the Word of God. Fortunately he didn't realize had he cursed the people himself, like Sianis did, it might have worked.
The belief is verbal curses may create or activate invisible agents of destruction, which bring the desired result of the curse to bear. These agents of destruction are often referred to as ruach ha ra, evil spirits, or mazikin, demons. Some demons have names and different behaviors. However there are a few behaviors which are common among most demons. Demons for example, tend to appear around transitions, both in time and space. Often demons are found at life cycle events where there is a major change in a person or their family’s life. Thus births, weddings and deaths are common problems with demons. The tradition of throwing rice at weddings is actually a way of bribing demons to leave the newly weds alone for example. There are also times of the year where transitions cause demons to be common. Also physical transitions such as doorways are also places for demons to hide. One 5th to 8th century CE practice began to equate the mitzvah of posting a Mezzuzah on the door post as also an effective device for repelling demons from a doorway. [Targum to Song of Songs 8]
The Cub's curse in this light is based on the words of Bill Sianis, not the goat. Once the demons were activated, it is not possible for the person to simply retract it. This would also explain why bringing goats into Wrigley did not work, as it is the words, not the goat that is responsible.
Demons change the course of games. Often it takes the form of the players suddenly under-performing. Balls roll between the legs of outfielders, otherwise intractable pitchers can’t throw a strike. It is possible that some form of possession is involved retarding motor and critical thinking skills. Until the 2003 season, this seems to be isolated to the players and thus the playing field. However, with Mr. Bartman this changed. As photographic evidence shows, his hand was in the transition point between the stands and the playing field. As already noted, this would be a point where demons would more likely accumulate and attack, and thus possessed Mr. Bartman before he had a chance to realize what he was doing. Demons like to hang out near front row seats.
In this case, there are three possible methods to provide success in removing the demons involved in the curse: transformation, repulsion, and trapping.
Transformation is based on the concept of taking the existing demons, whose purpose is to make the Cubs lose, and transform their purpose into one to make the Cubs win. Transformation is often used in Alchemy, changing one substance to another. However in Avodah Zara 12b and several other places, there is discussion of drinking water at a jug or pond in the middle of the night. There is the danger in that case of Shabriri, a form of blindness. Here the solution is to take the word Shabiri and reduce it by one letter at a time, ending with the last two letters only. Thus the drinker would recite:
We would think we would try to destroy the shabiri by removing all the letter, instead of stopping the sequence stops at two letters. Ri, is the participle of the root word RVH, meaning to be drinkable. Thus we have transformed a dangerous situation of drinking a Shabriri to safe potable water. A similar reduction from the words of the curse to the words “Cubs win” will achieve the same effect as follows:
Cubs they not gonna win anymo
Cubs they not gonna win anym
Cubs hey not gonna win an
Cubs ey not gonna win a
Cubs y not gonna win
Cubs not gonn win
Cubs ot gon win
Cubs t go win
Cubs g win
The second strategy is that of repulsion through the use of amulets. Amulets are written prayer and symbols used to repel demons. The formula for the creation of an amulet is the following:
- In the name of…
- Divine name
- Reason for amulet (i.e. prayer, )
- For the protection of A the son of B(mother’s name)
- Amen amen amen selah selah selah
In a Cub's amulet these elements would be written as follows: The phrase “in the name of” followed by divine name. This is followed by the names of appropriate angels. As this is a amulet of protection, we might use the same archangel configuration as the prayer for protection found in the bedtime prayers.
"At my right Michael, at my left Gabriel, before me Uriel, behind me Rapahel"
Assuming the speaker is found at the pitcher’s mound, and thus each archangel is also guarding an infield position. Many amulets have another angel, Nuniel, who in this configuration is at shortstop. The outfield had three additional angels, Galaretz, Querespar, and Tebachsadeh. In the original prayer, over the speaker, here associated with the pitcher’s mound, is the Shechina, the presence of God. There is no mention biblically of the presence of God having a strong arm necessary for this position. We have thus replaced the presence with the Arm of God, as written in Psalm 98:1 “his holy arm, have gained him the victory.” Thus the first parts of the amulet would read as follows:
In the name of (divine name) and in the name of his hosts Gabriel on first, Raphael on second, Michael on third, Uriel on home, Nuniel as the Short, and, Argamon as infield, Tebach-sadeh on right, Gal-aretz on left, and Qere-sapar in the middle and over the thrower is the Arm of God.Secondly various biblical quotes are given. Here we have the following from Psalms 98:1, Proverbs 17:12-13 and Leviticus 16:22. While some amulets are direct, most cannot directly say what it does. Instead, it must be circumspect. These quotes accomplish the task using key words and double entendres to create meaning:
O sing to the Lord a new song; for he has done marvelous things; his right hand, and his holy arm, have gained him the victory. Let a man meet a bear robbed of her Cubs, rather than a fool in his folly. Whoever rewards evil for good, evil shall not depart from his house. So the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities to a land not inhabited; and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness.
Finally an incantation, here given as a blessing and the person this amulet is protecting is identified,
May the (divine name) and his host throw swing and catch truly and in righteousness for the protection of Steven the son of (mother's name) . Amen Amen Amen Selah Selah Selah.
The amulet is written under all rules for sacred calligraphy applicable to Torah, mezuzot, and tefillin. While the best material for parchment is usually deer-skin, for this amulet it is best to be written on goat skin parchment. In addition the amulet writer might include the positions of the angels on the field graphically, and other symbols which would increase its efficacy. One set of such symbols would be pictographs of angels, another would be the language of angels, with symbolic meaning of a blessing used at Wrigley when a home run is hit by the Cubs. We will also include the transformation sequence noted above. Note this amulet is missing critical elements, notably divine names, as this is an example and it is not proper to use such names for an example. After the amulet is completed it is to rolled up in leather and hung on the neck of the pitcher by a leather strap, as the orientations of the angels is based from that position.
Our final strategy is to render harmless demons associated with the curse in a form of a demon trap know an incantation bowl. Originally found in Babylon this appears to be a common method during the time of the late Talmudic rabbis. On the inside surface of the bowls would be written a writ of divorce between demons inhabiting a house and the house's human inhabitants. Based on one of these inscriptions we can adapt it to trap bind and render harmless the demons in Wrigley Field. The location of these bowls should be somewhere close to where demons would be hiding. One place involved in the Bartman incident is the foul line, a transition between a fair and foul ball. Currently on the two foul-line posts are the retired uniform numbers of Ernie Banks (14) and Billy Williams (26). The gematria, or numerical value, of the four letter God Name is 26 and the gematria of the word for hand or pwoer, yod, is 14. Thus, as in all working, the Power or Hand of God is involved here, so the incantation bowls should be placed on these posts, in a weatherproof housing to prevent breakage during the winter months.
I concluded the paper by noting in the nature of a curse, words can be removed with manipulation of words. Wonder workers, in breaking this curse, are not involved in getting the Cubs to win. They would be involved removing the pressure upon Steve Bartman by removing the curse and letting the Cubs skill and talent alone decide the fate of the Cubs, and for them to get into the World Series by their own merit. We can use methods of trapping, repulsion and transformation to repel negative spirit elements. But in the end, it will still be the performance of the Cubs themselves that will determine whether they will win the World Series. Standing in Wrigley field at the seventh inning stretch, though, planning to blog this this week I realized something else. The words of Baalam came back to me:
How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, and your tabernacles, O Israel![Numbers 24]
There is a great blessing, a great and powerful magic that does exist at Addison and Clark. It is Wrigley field itself, an old ball field almost as rare as a magical dragon. I've been to many parks, but there is some magic about Wrigley that makes it special. Some claim that everyone has such a good time at Wrigley as a ball park, that there is no need of fielding a good team. That might be so. From the scoreboard changed by hand to the closer seating only available at a smaller stadium, there is something about a ball game at Wrigley that is a great blessing. It is a feeling found not only in any other ball park, but in any neighborhood around a ball park. Wrigleyville is aptly named. The curse doesn't thrill me as much as the magic in the stadium, one I have no idea how to describe.
Though wining the World Series against The Boston Red Sox, or to be more precise against Fenway Park, might just come close to a thrill....
Note: For those interested in what happened to that paper. My professor, Byron Sherwin, put the question in since he was writing a novel at the time about the Cubs Curse, and was deep into research into the curse. His book does not begin with the Sianis curse however, but retribution for anti-Semitic and racist tendencies of early 20th century Cubs fans, particularly against Hank Greenberg and Babe Ruth. I got an A on the paper. Later he told me there was stuff in my paper there he didn't even know, including why an exorcism by Father Guido Sarducci from Saturday Night Live fame might have actually worked and the gematria about the foul posts. If you want to read his version it is available from amazon.com