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About Magical Squares

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One of the extraordinary kabbalists of the Sixteenth Century was Rabbi Yossef Tzaiach, also famed as a significant rabbinic figure thanks to his halachic expertise and leadership of his community. In addition, Rabbi Yossef Karo, author of the Shulchan Aruch, cites a number of his halachic decisions in his book.

He was born in Jerusalem in 1505, where he spent most of his life, and was later chosen to serve as rabbi of the "Musta'arvim" congregation of Damascus. Despite his rabbinic position in Damascus, he remained in contact with Jerusalem and traveled there regularly.

His most important kabalistic work is Even HaShoham, which he wrote in Jerusalem in 1538. Afterwards he wrote the book Tzeror Hachayim, a kabalistic commentary on sections of the Talmud, and in 1549 he wrote She'erit Yossef, an expansion of his kabalistic work Even HaShoham. 

In his writings, Rabbi Yossef Tzaiach deals at length with the techniques of reading hands and faces, and describes a variety of techniques for the practice of kabalistic meditation.

Another of the subjects he writes about is the Magic Square, an amazing square constructed of three numbers on each side, which utilizes only the first nine numbers. The sum of each horizontal, vertical, or diagonal line always adds up to fifteen, while the sum of the numbers of two opposing corners always adds up to ten.

2 9
4  7
5 3  6
1 8 
Rabbi Tzaiach demonstrates a connection between magic squares and ancient astrology and alchemy. He discusses the subject frequently, describing many examples of these squares in increasing complexity, for example, he writes of magic squares with ten numbers on each side that represents the spiritual sphere of Keter (the Crown), and even mentions squares with about twenty numerals on each side. Rabbi Yossef Tzaiach does not elaborate on how to use these squares; he only describes them at length and hints that they include the secrets of the supernal merkavah (chariot) which are impossible to explain in any detail and particularly through the medium of a printed book.

Netanel Lederberg
Author ‘’Sod Hadaat–The Social Personality of the Baal Shem Tov’’ Beit Reuven Mass Jerusalem (2007)


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