By Joyce Ellen Weinstein
the Jewish Magazine Staff
The golem is a very popular figure in Jewish folklore and legend. The golem is a manlike creature that is created by use of mystical powers that are to be found in the Kabbalistic lore.
An original linoleum block by Joyce Ellen Weinstein
inspired by the golem of Prague
The history of the golem goes back in recorded history to the time of the Talmud, which mentions several instances of Rabbis creating a manlike creature and using him to conduct errands. The most famous golem is the golem of Rabbi Yehuda Leow, the famous Maharal of Prague, who created a golem and after using him to prevent a blood libel, hid him in the attic of the famed synagogue of Prague. Legend has it that the golem is still hidden somewhere in the synagogue which still stands, having escaped miraculously the destruction of the Nazis. A statue of the golem stands at the entrance to the former Jewish area in Prague.
The word golem comes from the Hebrew word gelem, meaning raw material. The golem is outwardly a real person, yet he lacks the human dimension of personality and intellect. Life is interjected into him through a mystical process using God's special name. He is created from the ground, as was the first man. When his mission is over, the name of God is removed from him and he returns to the ground.
Many trace the golem to the mystical teaching of the Kabbalistic book called "Sefer HaYetzera", the book of formation. This ancient book is still in print today and studied by Jewish mystics. The book deals in great length with the actual process of creating the universe. It is in part attributed to Adam, the first man, to Abraham, the first patriarch, and to Rabbi Akiva, the famous rabbi who lived approximately 2000 years ago.
The book describes various mystical elements of creation. Among them are the Hebrew words and letters. As one recalls, God created the world by uttering vocal commands. The Hebrew words that were uttered had a divine power that stemmed from the individual letters. These letters combined in their downward fall into the succeeding world of the material and solidified becoming objects.
The Hebrew Letter "Peh"
Indicating circular outward movement
As an example, the Hebrew letter, peh, is almost exclusively used to designate some sort of outward and opening movement. The peh is a mouth which obviously opens. The word for flower in Hebrew is parach, which opens as it blooms, has peh as its first letter. The word for fruit is parot, which swells as it grows on the tree. The word to explode is potzet, which is an obviously outward movement.
Although many have mastered the secrets of understanding creation as explained in the Sefer Yetzira, very few are able to actually put their knowledge of the secrets of the Hebrew language into practice. We find that only the very righteous are able to succeed in bringing the golem to life. This is due to the inability to actually bring the Godly powers into the gelem, the raw material. Permission is given only to those who use this power for proper purposes.
Many people today say that although we can not create a golem on the level of Rabbi Yehuda Leow of Prague, still we have succeeded in creating a different form of golem. Rabbi Leow took a blob of earth, gave it form and introduced into it vitality, but with out intellectual abilities. Many say that our educational system has duplicated Rabbi Leow's feat, by taking intelligent children and turning out blobs.
from the October/November 1999 Edition of the Jewish Magazine