A Message from Your Rabbi: A Ghost Story

The enemy mustered and they marched and encamped; and the king gathered his army, and they encamped nearby.  When the king saw the enemy force, his heart trembled with fear.  And the king inquired of the gods, but the gods did not answer him.  Then the king said to his courtiers,

“Find me a woman who consults ghosts, so that I can go to her and inquire through her.” 

And his courtiers told him that there was a woman in Endor who consulted ghosts.  The king disguised himself; he put on different clothes and set out with two men.  They came to the woman by night, and he said,

“Please divine for me by a ghost.  Bring up for me the one I shall name to you.” 

But the woman answered him,

“You know what the king has done, how he has banned the use of ghosts and familiar spirits in the land.  So why are you laying a trap for me, to get me killed?” 

The king swore to her by the gods:

“As the gods live, you won’t get into trouble over this.” 

At that, the woman asked,

“Whom shall I bring up for you?” 

He answered,

“Bring up ______ for me.” 

Then the woman recognized ______ and she shrieked loudly, and said to the king,

“Why have you deceived me? You are the king!”

The king answered her,

“Don’t be afraid.  What do you see?” 

And the woman said to the king,

“I see a divine being coming up from the earth.” 

“What does he look like?” he asked her. 

“It is an old man coming up,” she said, “and he is wrapped in a robe.” 

Then the king knew it was ______; and he bowed low in homage with his face to the ground.  ______ said to the king,

“Why have you disturbed me and brought me up?” 

And the king answered,

“I am in great trouble.  The enemy is attacking me and the gods have turned away from me; they no longer answer me.  So I have called you to tell me what I am to do.”….

By now, you are asking yourself, “Why is the Rabbi sharing a story about a ghost?”  Well, it is Halloween, so that would make sense, but, Halloween is not a Jewish holiday, so what’s going on?  It may surprise you to learn that this is a Jewish story, with the characters disguised by me.  In fact, it is not only a story, but it is taken verbatim from the first book of Samuel, chapter 28.  The king is King Saul, the blank line is the now-deceased prophet Samuel, the gods are our God, and the enemy are the Philistines.  Most people are surprised to read this story in the Jewish Bible, but I share it with you because not only many do not know it, but also in that, it reflects the reality of being Jewish in any century.  The customs and ways of the people that we live and work with affect who we are and what we say and do.  This story demonstrates that despite the biblical prohibition, diviners were sought out regularly to determine God’s will, one’s personal fate, or in King Saul’s case, an answer.  There are untold numbers of Jewish folk tales that speak of things that go bump in the night, and their presence would surprise you.  Wherever a Jewish community existed, these tales crept in, but were given a Jewish twist.  One of the most famous is The Dybbuk by Saul Ansky, a play about a bride-to-be whose body is inhabited by the spirit of her regrettably deceased fiancé. Some of you might also be familiar with the tale of The Golem, the mythological creature created by a Rabbi in Prague to defend the Jewish community from external attacks.  On a lighter note, you might have noticed in the text from Samuel that the woman was from Endor.  For those who still remember the television program “Bewitched”, the Jewish writers knew their Bible, and created the character Endora! 

There are many collections of Jewish tales of this nature available for purchase, especially collections by Howard Schwartz, for those of you interested in this rather fascinating folk element.  Superstition continues to be a constant presence in our lives.  Kineinihora.  Pooh Pooh Pooh! 

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