Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Divine Hallows

The Divine Hallows

The final Harry Potter book introduces three magical objects called the Deathly Hallows. Would you believe that two of the three have very close analogues in the Torah and Midrash? Read on!

(If you want to read other Torah perspectives on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, click here or here. Or click here for more about the book Harry Potter and Torah.)

The Deathly Hallows are introduced in a fairy tale that Hermione reads in chapter 21, which tells a fable of three men who were awarded magical prizes from Death:

There were once three brothers who were travelling along a lonely, winding road at twilight... when they found their path blocked by a hooded figure... And Death spoke to them... and said that each had earned a prize for having been clever enough to evade him....

The oldest brother, who was a combatative man, asked for a wand more powerful than any in existence: a wand that must always win duels for is owner... So Death crossed to an elder tree on the banks of the river, fashioned a wand from a branch that hung there, and gave it to the oldest brother.

Then the second brother, who was an arrogant man, decided that he wanted to humiliate Death still further, and asked for the power to recall others from death. So Death picked up a stone from the riverbank and gave it to the second brother, and told him that the stone would have the power to bring back the dead...

The youngest brother was the humblest and also the wisest of the brothers... so he asked for something that would enable him to go forth... without being followed by Death. So Death, most unwillingly, handed over his own Cloak of invisibility."

These three magical gifts, the Elder Wand, the invisibility cloak, and the ressurection stone, are
the three Deathly Hallows that help Harry Potter beat Voldemort at the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

If we look at the Torah, the Midrash, and the Talmud, we'll see very close analogues to two of these three magical objects: the wand and the cloak. The analogous things found in the Torah, which I think of as the Divine Hallows, aren't exactly the same as Harry Potter's Deathly Hallows, but they're intriguingly close. (I haven't found a good analogue for the stone yet, but feel free to add comments with your suggestions!)

In the story of Joseph and his brothers, when the brothers attack Joseph and sell him into slavery, the Torah tells us as follows:

"And when Joseph arrived to his brothers, they removed Joseph's coat, the coat of many colors, which he was wearing" (Ber 37:23).

The Zohar elaborates as follows: "Had the coat remained on Joseph, they could not have overpowered him. So first they stripped it from him...." (#1)

The idea that Joseph's coat being a magical coat that protected him has its roots in several other stories in the Torah and Midrash. The story begins back in the dawn of time, with Adam in the
Garden of Eden. Combining various accounts in the Midrash we get the following history of Joseph's magical coat: (#7)

"And G-d made for Adam and his wife clothes of skin, and clothed them." (Ber 3:21)

"They were embroidered with images of all the animals (to protect them from the animals). Adam bequeathed them to Cain. (#2) They were taken into Noah's ark, and when they left the ark, Ham, Noah's son, took them, and then passed them on to Nimrod... Therefore Nimrod is described as "a mighty hunter" (Gen 10:9) (#3). Later, when Esau saw this coat, he coveted it, and killed Nimrod to take it. This made him also a mighty hunter (Gen 25:27). (#4) Later, Rebekah took "Esau's special clothes" for Jacob to wear (Gen 27:15), which refered to this same magical coat. (#5) When the Torah says that Jacob then gave a "coat of many colors" to Joseph (Gen 37:3) it is referring to this same coat, passed down from Adam, to Nimrod, to Esau, to Jacob, and finally to Joseph. (#6) It was stripped from Joseph by his brothers (#1) and then given back to Jacob(Gen 37:32). (#7)

So we see the Midrash revealing a thread through a half dozen Biblical stories, of a Divinely-given coat the gave strength to whoever wore it. Sound familiar? It wasn't a coat of invisibility, but it was a magical cost that made the wearer a mighty warrior. This coat is what I might call the first "Divine Hallow."

The second Divine Hallow in the Torah, as some readers may have guessed, is Moses's staff. As I discuss in details in Harry Potter and Torah's chapter on magic wands, Moses's staff was linked to magical power throughout the Torah, including the signs shown to Pharoah, the plagues, splitting the sea, and winning battles in the desert. (See the book for more details.)

But the Talmud and Midrash tell us that Moses's staff had a longer and more illustrious history.
The Mishna in Ethics of the Fathers (5:6) tells us that Moses's staff was created on the sixth day of creation, at twilight right before the first Sabbath, when G-d created all the things in creation
that were in some sense exceptions to the rules of nature.

The Midrash (#8) tells the following history of Moses's staff: The staff which was created at
twilight was given to Adam in the Garden of Eden. Adam gave it to Enoch, and Enoch to Noah, and Noah to Abraham. Abraham gave it to Isaac, who gave it to Jacob (Gen 32:11), who took it down to Egypt and gave it to Joseph. When Joseph died, it was taken to Pharoah's palace. Jethro (Yitro) was a palace magician, and he made off with the staff, until Moses saw it and read the letters on it and took it. Jethro realized that Moses was destined for greatness and gave him the staff, and permitted him to marry Tziporah his daughter.

Another Midrash (#9) continues: With this staff Moses split the sea, split the rock to produce
water, and defeated the Amalekites. This rod was then deposited in the tent of meeting, and later in the Temple, until the days of Jeremiah. Then it was hidden along with the Ark... until G-d will deliver the Jews from exile through the Messiah who will use the staff as Moses did.

So we see a second "Divine Hallow," created by G-d to give power to leaders carrying out His
direction in the world.

As I write in the introduction to Harry Potter and Torah, there are a wide variety of opinions of
how to understand stories told in the Midrash. Many take them literally. Many prefer to take them as lessons, which they were undoubtedly intended to teach us. Regardless of whether we take the Midrashim about Moses's staff and Joseph's coat literally, they tell us the source of power and protection in the world: The Al-mighty.

At the same time, however, Harry Potter fans will note the striking similarity between Harry
Potter's Deathly Hallows and the Torah's "Divine Hallows." As we enjoy reading and re-reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, we can also enjoy our own Divine folklore from the Torah.

Comments? Disagreement? Other suggestions for Divine Hallows, particularly the stone? Comments are welcome, just clink the "comments" link below, or e-mail


(#1) Zohar 1, 185a, as cited in Torah Shleima on Ber 37:23
(#2) Midrash quoted by Rav Yosef Karo, cited in Torah Shleima on Ber 3:21
(#3) Midrash PRE, cited in Torah Shleima on Gen 10:9
(#4) Midrash Yalkut Shimoni 115, cited in Torah Shleima on Gen 25:27; also Midrash Beresheet Rabba 63, cited in Torah Shleima on Ber 25:32.
(#5) Midrash Beresheet Raba 65, cited in Torah Shleima on Gen 27:15
(#6) Midrash HaBiur, cited in Torah Shleima on Gen 37:3
(#7) The entire story is summarized by Rashi, commenting on Talmud Psachim 54b.
(#8) Midrash PRE 40, cited in Torah Shleima on Ex 2:21
(#9) Yalkut Shimoni 1, 171, also Lekach Tov, both on Ex 4:17


Anonymous said...

The coat that was passed down and then stolen by Ham, given to Nimrod, stolen by Esau, stolen by Rivka etc. sounds very much like the way the Elder Wand was passed from owner to owner through battle and thievery.

Bruce Krulwich said...

Yes, you're right, now that I think about it, the coat as described in the Midrash is more similar to the Elder wand in that way, and the staff is more similar to Harry Potter's invisibility cloak. Interesting reverse.

Anonymous said...

As far as "gifts" from the angel of death, we have the parallel of the secret of the ketoret given to Moshe Rabeinu by the malach hamavet.

Unknown said...

It's funny that you asked - "particularly, the stone" ;-)) May I suggest the stone tablets - AKA Torah, AKA Tree of Life?