Thursday, November 01, 2007

Rabbi Meir Baal HaNes And The Segulah To Find A Lost Object

In my post yesterday about the return of Mr. Cuddles, I made mention of how the whole Rabbi Meir Baal HaNes segulah has troubling aspects, and even said that there may be reasons to think it forbidden. SoccerDad asked about this, raising the good point that we say "Elaka DeMeir Aneini," and thus we are asking God, not Rabbi Meir, for assistance, so what could be wrong?

Thus, this post about what is good and what is bad (in my opinion) with this segulah for finding lost articles.

Firstly, the text. Taking this from DreamingOfMoshiach, the text is as follows:
To find a lost item, give Tzadaka and say 3 times:
אמר רבי בנימין, הכל בחזקת סומין, עד שהקדוש ברוך הוא מאיר את עיניהם. מן הכא, ויפקח אלוקים את עיניה ותרא באר מים, ותלך ותמלא את החמת.
אלהא דמאיר ענני, אלהא דמאיר ענני, אלהא דמאיר ענני. בזכות הצדקה שאני נודב לעילוי נשמת רבי מאיר בעל הנס, זכותו יגן עלינו, למצוא את האבידה שאיבדתי

To translate:
Rabbi Binyamin said: All are in the presumed status of blind people, until The Holy One, Blessed Be He, enlightens their eyes. From here {Bereishit 21:19}
יט וַיִּפְקַח אֱלֹהִים אֶת-עֵינֶיהָ, וַתֵּרֶא בְּאֵר מָיִם; וַתֵּלֶךְ וַתְּמַלֵּא אֶת-הַחֵמֶת, מַיִם, וַתַּשְׁקְ, אֶת-הַנָּעַר. 19 And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink.
{The derivation being that the well was always there, but Hagar did not see it. Only after praying did Hashem open her eyes and she saw what was already there.}
God of Meir, answer me. God of Meir, answer me. God of Meir, answer me.
In the merit of the charity that I give to the ascending of the soul of Rabbi Meir Baal HaNes, may his merit protect us, may I find the lost article that I lost.
The first part, of Amar Rabbi Binyamin, is a citation from Bereishit Rabba 53:14. When Rabbi Binyamin said this, he had no idea that his devar Torah would be developed into a segulah. The second part, about Rabbi Meir, has its basis in Tractate Avodah Zarah 18a-b.

One good part of this segulah, from the perspective of the Amar Rabbi Binyamin part, is that if one really understands what he/she is saying, then this leads to a transformative realization. A person thinks he is on top of things. And suddenly cannot find something. Realize that all is in the hands of Heaven. If you want to find it, pray to Hashem, as Hagar did. It is probably there, under your nose, but you just cannot see it until Hashem enables you to.

It would seem to be appropriate for an object right under your nose, or in your pile of papers. But for someone to discover your item across town and bring it to you, for example -- well, this is not really the same as being bechezkat sumin. That is not blindness, but actual recovery of what was lost. But perhaps by extension.

The second part, Elaka DeMeir Aneini also has basis, as mentioned above, in Avodah Zarah 18a-b. The gemara there reads:
ברוריא דביתהו דר' מאיר ברתיה דר' חנינא בן תרדיון הואי אמרה לו זילא בי מלתא דיתבא אחתאי בקובה של זונות שקל תרקבא דדינרי ואזל אמר אי לא איתעביד בה איסורא מיתעביד ניסא אי עבדה איסורא לא איתעביד לה ניסא אזל נקט נפשיה כחד פרשא אמר לה השמיעני לי אמרה ליה דשתנא אנא אמר לה מתרחנא מרתח אמרה לו נפישין טובא <ואיכא טובא הכא> דשפירן מינאי אמר ש"מ לא עבדה איסורא כל דאתי אמרה ליה הכי אזל לגבי שומר דידה א"ל הבה ניהלה אמר ליה מיסתפינא ממלכותא אמר ליה שקול תרקבא דדינרא פלגא פלח ופלגא להוי לך א"ל וכי שלמי מאי איעביד א"ל אימא אלהא דמאיר ענני ומתצלת א"ל ומי יימר דהכי איכא [א"ל השתא חזית] הוו הנהו כלבי דהוו קא אכלי אינשי שקל קלא שדא בהו הוו קאתו למיכליה אמר אלהא דמאיר ענני שבקוה ויהבה ליה לסוף אשתמע מילתא בי מלכא אתיוה אסקוה לזקיפה אמר אלהא דמאיר ענני אחתוה אמרו ליה מאי האי אמר להו הכי הוה מעשה אתו חקקו לדמותיה דר' מאיר אפיתחא דרומי אמרי כל דחזי לפרצופא הדין לייתיה יומא חדא חזיוהי רהט אבתריה רהט מקמייהו על לבי זונות איכא דאמרי בשולי <עובדי כוכבים> {גוים} חזא טמש בהא ומתק בהא איכא דאמרי אתא אליהו אדמי להו כזונה כרכתיה אמרי חס ושלום אי ר' מאיר הוה לא הוה עביד הכי קם ערק אתא לבבל איכא דאמרי מהאי מעשה ואיכא דאמרי ממעשה דברוריא:
Beruria, the wife of R. Meir, was a daughter of R. Hanina b. Teradion. Said she [to her husband], 'I am ashamed to have my sister placed in a brothel.' So he took a tarkab-full of denarii and set out. If, thought he, she has not been subjected to anything wrong, a miracle will be wrought for her, but if she has committed anything wrong, no miracle will happen to her. Disguised as a knight, he came to her and said, 'Prepare thyself for me.' She replied, 'The manner of women is upon me.' 'I am prepared to wait,' he said. 'But,' said she, 'there are here many, many prettier than I am.' He said to himself, that proves that she has not committed any wrong; she no doubt says thus to every comer. He then went to her warder and said, 'Hand her over to me. He replied, 'I am afraid of the government.' 'Take the tarkab of dinars.' said he, 'one half distribute [as bribe], the other half shall be for thyself.' 'And what shall I do when these are exhausted?' he asked. 'Then,' he replied, 'say, "O God of Meir, answer me!" and thou wilt be saved.' 'But,' said he, 'who can assure me that that will be the case?' He replied, 'You will see now.' There were there some dogs who bit anyone [who incited them]. He took a stone and threw it at them, and when they were about to bite him he exclaimed, 'O God of Meir answer me!' and they let him alone. The warder then handed her over to him. At the end the matter became known to the government, and [the warder] on being brought [for judgment] was taken up to the gallows, when he exclaimed, 'O God of Meir answer me.' They took him down and asked him what that meant, and he told them the incident that had happened. They then engraved R. Meir's likeness on the gates of Rome and proclaimed that anyone seeing a person resembling it should bring him there. One day [some Romans] saw him and ran after him, so he ran away from them and entered a harlot's house. Others say he happened just then to see food cooked by heathens and he dipped in one finger and then sucked the other. Others again say that Elijah the Prophet appeared to them as a harlot who embraced him. God forbid, said they, were this R. Meir, he would not have acted thus! [and they left him]. He then arose and ran away and came to Babylon. Some say it was because of that incident that he ran to Babylon; others say because of the incident about Beruria.
Thus, we see that calling out to the God of Meir can be effective.

But, why combine the two? May Inyan Meir Eitzel Aveida? What connection does Rabbi Meir have to a lost item?

I would offer two suggestions. First, once associated with one segulah, he will become associated with other segulot. We saw this by the hafrashat challah segulah, in which four different Rabbis, who were associated with other segulot, were suddenly invoked there.

I could offer a second explanation. Sure, the phrase Elaka DeMeir Aneini has its basis in the gemara above, but it can be reinterpreted as "The God who Enlightens, answer me." After all, Rabbi Binyamin said that הכל בחזקת סומין עד שהקדוש ברוך הוא מאיר את עיניהם, with an emphasis on the מאיר part. Thus, a slight word play. But I would favor the first explanation anyway.

And, as mentioned above, we are not asking for help from Rabbi Meir. We are asking for help from the God of Rabbi Meir, who is Hashem.

That would cover the good parts of this segulah. Now for the parts I find troublesome.

1. What is this business with the God of Meir. The appeal to Hashem is good, but why associate with just this one particular Tanna?

You will point me to the story. But the story was about a Roman gentile. Rabbi Meir was persuading him to perform a great deed, though of course with a tidy sum for himself as a bribe. This Roman did not know of Hashem. He was perhaps a polytheist. Rabbi Meir was telling him that Hashem, who was the God of Meir, the rabbi standing before him, would protect him. Therefore, he should do this great deed. There was also quite likely the zechut of Rabbi Meir, such that Hashem would keep Rabbi Meir's promise of safety after Rabbi Meir promised Hashem's protection. Tzaddik gozer and Hakadosh Baruch Hu mekayem.

Thus, it was very appropriate within the specific story, both to identify which deity for this gentile, and to call up Rabbi Meir's personal promise to this gentile.

But us? We can daven to Hashem, and do, three times a day. When we daven, we do not daven to Elaka deMeir. We daven to Adonai, to Elohim, to Elohei Avraham, Elohei Yitzchak, and Elohei Yaakov, calling up the zechut avot.

And Rabbi Meir made no personal promise to us of special protection or hatzlacha. We did not release a woman from captivity for him. And this was a bargaining chip for him, not a general havtacha. Invoking Rabbi Meir specifically makes it more of a problematic segulah. To the extent that we bring in a human personage, we make the segulah more problematic. Rabbi Meir becomes more like a Catholic patron saint.

Which brings us to the next point:

2. It looks like someone took this gemara, saw the phrase Elaka deMeir Aneini, and thought that it was the phrase that had this special power. After all, it saved the gentile from the dog and it saved the gentile from the gallows.

To stress how I think this has been misinterpreted, I will note that there is another segulah associated with Rabbi Meir Baal HaNes. Citing from that same website:
For fear of dogs, place right thumb inside left palm and say: "אלהא דרבי מאיר ענני."
Note how Meir has become Rabbi Meir, but that does not really matter. What matters is that whoever came up with this sugulah apparently thinks that Rabbi Meir is the patron saint protecting against dogs. Why? Because in the story,
There were there some dogs who bit anyone [who incited them]. He took a stone and threw it at them, and when they were about to bite him he exclaimed, 'O God of Meir answer me!' and they let him alone.
But that is silly. If there were instead lions present, and he provoked the lions, the same call out to God would have worked. And had they been rabid chickens, the same call out to God would have worked. It is not that it is an incantation, or effective prayer, specifically against dogs. So establishing such a segulah is misguided at the least.

And note the special, OCD-influenced, position of the hand. You must place your right thumb inside your left palm in order for this incantation to work against dogs. What in the world?? Since when do you need to form a special hand position for a heartfelt prayer to Hashem to work? This is magic; this is superstition; this is darkei Emori.

The same would be true with the incantation when said to find a lost article.

3. If said as a heartfelt prayer, recognizing that Hashem is in change and Ain Od Milevado, it is great. But, if said as an incantation, it is more problematic.

(Note that just these particular three words are said in Aramaic, as it occurs in the story, while the rest is in Hebrew. Fixing the words like this in Aramaic may be in line with treating it as an incantation rather than a prayer.)

And this brings us to the repetition, three times.

There are times, in Judaism, that a three-fold repetition is called form, and part of procedure. For example, mutar lach pronounced three times during hatarat nedarim. Or Zeh Chalifati by shlugging kapparot, but perhaps that is not such a great example, since there are serious issues of darkei emori involved in that.

But otherwise, the repetition of an incantation three times certainly raises issues in my mind of darkei Emori. Here are the results of a Google search I did on JSTOR. Some excerpts:
Early Mesopotamian Incantations and Rituals. A. R. George .... purussa sutta ta- am-mar ' You recite the incantation three times you lie down to sleep, ...

Rather, the collection is a representative sampling of Mesopotamian literature, ..... "You hold up this water, recite the incantation three times, ...

It is widely recognized that throughout Mesopotamian history the ceremonies of the ...... Set it before the star (and) recite this incantation three times. ...

and finally by the incipit (apparently) of a Sumerian incantation ... three Sumerian incantations with the instruction to recite them three times over ...


When thou hast cleansed him, thou shalt recite the incantation three times over his head. 36. (P1. 35) CHARM: The I.BI.GI, the l.BI.GI, may it be cleansed! ...

Ancient Mesopotamian Potency Incantations, Texts from Cuneiform Sources II ... "Serua has started out" she has said three times; the temple of Anu he (? ...
and the list goes on and on. Thus, this was quite likely literally darkei Emori -- Emorite superstitious practices.

When something already seems like an incantation for other reasons, and I see people reciting it three times, I get even more concerned about superstitious practices.

And here, there are two aspects of this segulah with three-fold repetition.

First, we are supposed to say Elaha deMeir Aneini three times in a row: "Elaha deMeir Aneini; Elaha deMeir Aneini; Elaha deMeir Aneini." Why? The Roman gentile only had to say it once. Why do we need to say it three times for it to be effective?

Second, the instructions read, "To find a lost item, give Tzadaka and say 3 times." Thus, we are supposed to said from Amar Rabbi Binyamin three times.

This screams out superstition.

4. This is admittedly a nitpick, if the tzedaka is leIlluy Nishmat Rabbi Meir, then how can it also be in order to find the lost item? We say בזכות הצדקה שאני נודב לעילוי נשמת רבי מאיר בעל הנס, זכותו יגן עלינו, למצוא את האבידה שאיבדתי.

Presumably, the purpose is to create some sort of connection to Rabbi Meir Baal HaNes personally. You gave this charity, this bribe, this offering almost, in the merit of a dead rabbi. And now, you would like to invoke his incantation which was so effective for the Roman gentile. This is not just a prayer to Hashem. Rabbi Meir's personality is way too present in this tefillah.

5. Finally, many if not most people who invoke this incantation have no idea of what the Hebrew means. Or if they could know what it means, they don't think about it. They get the refrigerator magnet, and they say, "Oh, a frum incantation." And when they lose something, they recite it as an incantation, thinking that the saying is going to help them. Is there really a prayer to Hashem here? Is there really this realization that it is Hashem who is in complete control? Or, is it that people think that this is a frum incantation powered by the Tanna Rabbi Meir, who is a Baal HaNes, and can work wonders even after his death. I would guess that in many cases, the last is true.

Therefore, if I were to reinvent this segulah, I would insist it be said in English, or whatever the first language of the speaker is. I would remove Rabbi Meir. Instead, after the derasha from Rabbi Binyamin, I would put in something like: God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob. I need help finding this, and I know all is in Your Hands. Please, open my eyes and help me find this lost item.

11 comments:

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

What about the three-to-seven-time repetitions in Qiddush Levana, or the seven time repetitions at the end of Yom Kippur? What about the three time repetition of the Yag Middot when we open the Aron Qodesh (yes, I know the Rav was opposed to it), or of "Va-ani Tefilati Lecha, etc.?"

Soccer Dad said...

Thank you for your comprehensive response. I'm not trying to be a troublemaker, but I have one additional thought.

You take issue with the arbitrariness of assigning a zechus to Rebbi Meir, even if addressing Hashem.

In Shabbos, though, we have a rule of a K'mea. If I remember correctly, even if the K'mea was created by a non-expert, if it has cured 3 times, it may be considered a cure. K'mea in general, certainly seems to be an issue of superstition, yet the Halachah is, even if a particular K'mea was used improperly at first, once it has been established as being effective, it may be used with no hesitation.

So even if the original usage of the "Eloka d'Meir aneini" was mistaken, by now it's an accepted formula for seeking lost items. Why should this formula be worse than a K'mea?

joshwaxman said...

Rabbi Joshua Maroof:
And at the end of Yigdal, we repeat Mesim Yecheye Kel, if necessary for the tune.

I agree that there are certainly places where repetitions, and even repetitions of significant numbers like 7 and 3, occur. And that this can be a valid form of prayer.

It is when something already looks like an incantation -- because people think you say this zuggach, give the money offering, and something practical and concrete will result -- when it already looks like an incantation, and THEN we also see two aspects of repetition of 3, at that point I am all the more convinced that it is a duck, er..., incantation.

All those other examples are tefillah, or poetry, but not incantations.

joshwaxman said...

SoccerDad:
It is a good, high level question. What is the difference between things the gemara accepts, such as kemeot and dream interpretation on the one hand, and things rejected, such as the list of forbidden superstitious practices (Darkei Emori) listed in the 7th perek of Tosefta Shabbat, on the other?

One answer might be that they accepted the former as real, as mystical sciences, while rejecting the latter as false, silly, and superstitious.

Perhaps like Jews in Europe might have thought the peasants were silly, believing that goblins lurked in the woods, where the reality was that *shedim* lurked in the woods.

But if you look at the discussions of dream interpretation in the gemara, it seems like it was a highly developed mystical science.

Similarly for kemeot, there are various Divine or angelic names that one writes, in certain configurations, with various pesukim, perhaps while with specific intent. (I don't know the details, as I've never been taught how to write one.) This might work well into Chazal's Jewish mystical system, which is much different that folk-superstition.

In terms of Kemeah, from what I've gathered from the gemara, they *never* thought it was a superstition. Rather, it could be an ineffective kemeah, since it was written by a novice. It is not a violation of *superstition* to wear such a kemeah. However, there might be repercussions in terms of hotzaah on Shabbat depending on whether the kemeah is functional or not.

Acceptance into the mainstream does not seem to make a practice no longer Darkei Emori. For example, all the practices mentioned in the 7th perek of Tosefta Shabbat had to be written there to discourage actual Jews from doing them. They were in use, but were still superstitious. The minhag of kapparot was widespread, but Ramban and Rashba opposed the because it resembled Darkei Emori. So widespread practice does not seem to remove status of Darkei Emori.

See here about kapparot.

Another example of widespread practice which is still Darkei Emori is kabbalah red string. According to this Hirhurim post, "Rabbi Hershel Schachter is reported to have ruled that wearing them is a Torah violation." (Others do as well.)

On the other hand, you mention another point, that of effectiveness. Perhaps, once we establish it as effective, we can no longer call it superstition. That is possible, and indeed plausible. How we would go about verifying this nowadays is a separate question. If 500 people use it and 3 get positive results, is that effective proof of the effectiveness of the segulah?

But I have another source I'll try to locate, which suggests that certain things are forbidden even if effective. This might well only be if it is also idolatrous.

At any rate, stepping back from this particular segulah, I would say that segulah-ism in general is not a good thing to encourage in the Jewish public. It leads to superstitious and anti-scientific thinking. For example, the reason so many people were and are taken in by Facilitated Communication, palmistry, and charlatan kabbalists is that they have superstitious and unscientific attitudes in general.

Ariella said...

I observed a woman once put money in the pushka for R' Meir and say the words to try to find something she had misplaced. (It didn't work at the time.) It certainly looked like superstition to me. But, you know tzedaka is tzedaka even if give for ulterior motives.

You are quite right that not all repetitions are = to incantations.

I still don't get the idea of turning the mitzvah of hafrashas challah (which coud be viewed as a matir rather than some extra deed like tzedaka) into a segulah for whatever one wants from a shidduch to refua. I wonder if anyone ever tried to make the connection to Sarah being called upon to bake when the angels came to inform Avraham that Yitzchak will be born the following year. But, obviously, that is putting the cart before the horse.

Oshea said...

"Mesopotamian Incantations"

correlation is not causation.

It is much, much, much simpler to posit that the three repetitions are derived from similar usage in the standard liturgy than Mesopotamian superstition.

Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem

joshwaxman said...

"correlation is not causation"
indeed.

I was not trying to claim that we repeat it 3 times *because* of a tradition from Mesopotamian superstition. That would be causation.

Rather, I was positing that the same type of features pop up in superstitious incantations all over, and are a result of giving greater credence to arbitrary form (such as repetitions and hand positions), as a result of considering the *words* being efficacious, as a spell, rather than it being a prayer which a deity is responding to. When this is done to achieve immediate practical effect, it makes it an incantation.

Thus, do a Google search for "spells repeat wiccan"

My claim was thus not that it comes from Mesopotamian superstition vs. that it comes from standard liturgy. Rather, that these are the features which (independently) naturally arise in superstitious incantations. Similar to the way that exactly 43 women must separate Challah in order for it to be an effective fix as a segulah.

Anonymous said...

Haha. I'm guessing you would have a problem with me saying Eliyahu Hanavi zechur letov 130 times after havdala.

Devorah said...

Stumbled on this post from 2 years ago.... and I just want to say that I have found several things, almost instantly, with the help of Rabbi Meir Baal haNess.

It won't work for you though, because you don't believe in it.

Next time you lose something, email me and I'll let you know where to find it.

menachem said...

This sefer, in yiddish, says that the reason we specify R' Meir is because of the Talmud's interpretation of Mishlei 12 - "One should talk about the troubles of ones heart."

The Talmid says "Talk about it to others (Acherim)".

Since R' Meir was called Acherim, we mention R' Meir specifically.

Anonymous said...

"And note the special, OCD-influenced, position of the hand. You must place your right thumb inside your left palm in order for this incantation to work against dogs. What in the world?? Since when do you need to form a special hand position for a heartfelt prayer to Hashem to work? This is magic; this is superstition; this is darkei Emori"

I am not going to claim experise regarding your discussion-but- there are indeed examples in Gemara of special hand positions when saying words of protection- for example see the Gemara in Pesachim [Arvei Pesachim] regarding Zugos.

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