Sunday, 26 June 2022

388) The Sword of Moshe: Adjuring “אהיו פסקתיה”



This article, based extensively on the research by Professor Yuval Harari from the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, examines the book Charva de Moshe (Sword of Moses), one of two ancient magical works[1] to have survived from antiquity.[2] It is based on the notion that Moshe brought a sword down from heaven and is said to have used its ‘magic’ to accomplish supernatural deeds. This work gives a fascinating insight into how people believed the structure of the heavenly realms operated, and more importantly, how they could be easily manipulated by a skilful practitioner.


It is difficult to date the Charva deMoshe. From the Cairo Genza fragments, it is known to have existed during the eleventh century. R. Hai Gaon cited its name and opening words in his famous responsum to the sages of Kairouan. Scholarly consensus put its provenance at some time during the third quarter of the first millennium, just after the Talmudic perod. Harari suggests that the compiler lived in Palestine as the instructions are in Hebrew and these are interspersed with other sources which are in Babylonian Aramaic.

Harari also mentions that the heavenly angelic hierarchy, as we shall see, reflects the style of early pre-Zoharic mysticism, known as Heichalot and Merkava literature.


The book is essentially a magical recipe book that includes a vast array of holy names through which the magical activities are to be realised:

“[It is] the broadest extant collection of Jewish magical recipes from the first millennium” (Harari 2012:58).

The work comprises three sections: a) Controlling the “sword”; b) the ‘‘sword’’ of names; and c) the practical section.

a) Controlling the “sword”

The work begins with a description of a heavenly hierarchy of thirteen Sarim or Princes (archangels) who inhabit four different realms. Four are located in the lower realm and they ‘‘are appointed over the sword . . . and over the Torah.’’ The second level holds another five Sarim, followed by three more, and right at the top sits the highest of the Sarim by the name אהיו פסקתיה”.

Every day, after the angels bow down to G-d, the lower angels ‘‘kneel and bow down and prostrate themselves . . . every day’’ before “אהיו פסקתיה”.

Each Sar controls thousands upon thousands of chariots of angels and is in charge of the other angels on the levels below.

Understanding this hierarchical structure is of great importance because, by a person adjuring (binding by a magical oath) a higher angel, one automatically controls not just that Sar, but all the Sarim beneath (him/it) as well. And by adjuring “אהיו פסקתיה” one certainly gains control of the Charva deMoshe, the Sword of Moses (from the lowest realm of the first four Sarim) and thereby controls the entire heavenly realm.

Because the sword cannot be acquired immediately in one fell swoop, as it were,  the art is to slowly gain control of the lower Sarim and meticulously work one’s way up until one reaches אהיו פסקתיה.

“Typical of magical activity, successful adjuration of the angels requires knowledge of their names” (Harari 2012:59).

To control the lower angels, one first needs to know their names which are always bound to their position and function in the heavenly world. So through the understanding of their functions, one can adduce their names.

Establishing authority

Harari points out that by Charva deMoshe stating that the lower four angles control the Sword and the Torah, the book claims its literary authority. In other words, this is not just a work of magic and angels but indeed an authoritative work of the Torah. Both the Torah and the “Sword” are given from the mouth of G-d:

“Ancient Jewish magic was based on the view that through rites and charms, a person can gain control over angels (or other metaphysical entities) and force them to act for his or her own benefit. How could a person possess such power? Why would a spell make any impression on the angels? The Sword of Moses answers this question: God commanded them to do so, by requiring their obedience to one who adjures them by His names as a tribute of honor to Him” (Harari 2012:60).

With this understanding, the book solves the old fundamental question of how human magic can coexist with an omnipotent G-d: -G-d is the patron of human magic and He endorses such practices as falling under the rubric of the Torah. This way the work is presented as being part of the authoritative corpus of Torah literature.

“The Moses of The Sword of Moses is, thus, an archetype of the magician. He is the one who brought heavenly, magical knowledge down to his people, and according to the pattern of knowledge-power that was set in heaven concerning him, so too can his successors act” (Harari 2012:60).

Talmudic precedent

This claim is not without Talmudic basis. The Talmud describes Moshe’s ascent to the top of Sinai where the angels bestowed “gifts” upon him. These were words or charms through which the angels could be controlled and adjured:

מִיָּד כׇּל אֶחָד וְאֶחָד נַעֲשָׂה לוֹ אוֹהֵב וּמָסַר לוֹ דָּבָר, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״עָלִיתָ לַמָּרוֹם שָׁבִיתָ שֶּׁבִי לָקַחְתָּ מַתָּנוֹת בָּאָדָם״ — בִּשְׂכַר שֶׁקְּרָאוּךְ ״אָדָם״, לָקַחְתָּ מַתָּנוֹת. אַף מַלְאַךְ הַמָּוֶת מָסַר לוֹ דָּבָר, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״וַיִּתֵּן אֶת הַקְּטֹרֶת וַיְכַפֵּר עַל הָעָם״, וְאוֹמֵר: ״וַיַּעֲמֹד בֵּין הַמֵּתִים וּבֵין הַחַיִּים וְגוֹ׳״ — אִי לָאו דַּאֲמַר לֵיהּ מִי הֲוָה יָדַע

Immediately, each and every one of the angels became an admirer of Moses and passed something to him, as it is stated: “You ascended on high, you took a captive, you took gifts on account of man, and even among the rebellious also that the Lord God might dwell there” (Psalms 68:19). The meaning of the verse is: In reward for the fact that they called you man, you are not an angel and the Torah is applicable to you, you took gifts from the angels. And even the Angel of Death gave him something, as Moses told Aaron how to stop the plague, as it is stated: “And he placed the incense, and he atoned for the people” (Numbers 17:12) And the verse says: “And he stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stopped” (Numbers 17:13). If it were not that the Angel of Death told him this remedy, would he have known it?[3]

The rite for controlling the “sword”

A special rite was required to yield the power of the Sword of Moshe. Firstly, the practitioner had to participate in a three-day ritual which involved purification, prayer, and adjuration. Only water was to be drunk and only pure bread with salt was to be consumed. Importantly, this all had to be done in secret.

The Amidah prayer and particularly the blessing “shome’ah tefillah” (G-d hears the prayers), which is part of the general three-times daily liturgy for all Jews, was accorded a particularly important role in these magic ceremonies. Harari points out that:

“spell and prayer are interwoven as two complementary modes of performative speech” (2012:61).

Three times each day of the three-day ceremony, adjuration had to be made within the prayers to the thirteen Sarim. Two other prayers had to be inserted as well. One was to bind the Sarim to the practitioner so that they become obliged to carry out his desires. The second prayer was for protection lest the angels become angry and burn the practitioner with fire.

The first prayer of adjuration and binding of the angels, however, was the focus of the entire rite:

“The adjurer turns to them by name, one by one, according to their status (lowest to highest), and adjures them to surrender to him. The actual result of their surrender is the transmission into his hands (as in the case of Moses) of the power to control the ‘‘sword’’ and to use it” (2012:61).


The following is an extract  from Harari’s translation of Charva de Moshe:

“And on the first day of your seclusion, perform ablution(s) and you need not (do it) again. And pray three times a day and after each prayer say this prayer: Blessed are You QWSYM our God, King of the world, the God who opens daily the gates of the east and cleaves the windows of the orient and gives light to the whole world and to those who dwell in it with the abundance of His mercies, with His mysteries and His secrets; and who taught His people, Israel, His mysteries and secrets and revealed to them a sword by which the world is manipulated, and said to them: When you come to use this sword, by which every desire is fulfilled, and every mystery and secret are revealed, and every miracle and marvel and wonder are performed, say such and such before me, and recite such and such before me, and adjure such and such before me. I shall immediately accede and be reconciled to you and will give you authority over this sword to carry out every request with it. And the princes will accede to you and my holy ones will reconcile themselves to you and they will instantly fulfill your wish and deliver my mysteries to you and will reveal my secrets to you and will teach you my words and will make my wonders manifest to you. And they will abide by you and will serve you like a disciple before his master.”

b) The “sword” of names

The second section is a large collection of about 1 800 technical names.

c)The practical section

The third and final section of Charva deMoshe contains a list of around 140 magical recipes. The most dominant theme is that of healing and a list of recipes deals with ailments from the head down.

But there are also sections dealing with causing harm and war.

“If you wish to send a sword and it will fight for you, say over a new knife (made) entirely of iron from BTQSˇNY’L until TSˇHWHY’L and cast it toward them. If you wish them to kill each other, say over a knife (made) entirely of iron from TSˇHWHY’L until KLLYSTNY’L and bury it with the bottom part in the ground and put your heel on it (while) in the ground and they will kill each other until you take it [out of] the ground. And if you wish them to calm down, take dust from under your right foot and say backward what you have said and throw (it) toward them and they will calm down. And if an adversary lays hold of you and wishes to kill you, bend the little finger of your left hand and say from KLLYSTNY’L until KTRYHY’L and he will run away from you like a man who runs away from his killer.”

There is a section on improving memory and acquiring knowledge. There are even recipes to undo the results of earlier spells and to nullify their effects. Another section deals with issues such as love, sex, and finding grace in the eyes of another. It also has recipes for financial success.

The book ends with dire warnings for those who abuse the power of the adjurations and warns that ‘‘angels of anger and rage and wrath and fury’’ would seek appropriate justice and may even attack the practitioner.

Moral component

There is, additionally, a moral component to this ceremony. In an Aramaic section of the work (other sections are in Hebrew), there is a strange reference to a “swift messenger.” This messenger was sent to earth by G-d to find suitable recipients for the revelation of such magical mysteries. This proved to be a difficult task so the practitioner is thus reminded of the importance of moral responsibility when using the “sword.”

“But he who acts not (in accordance with the prescripted action) in his act and will come forth to manipulate it, angels of anger and rage and wrath and fury rule over him and torment his body and all (the limbs) of his body cause him to be cold. And these are the names of the princes who lead them: the name of the prince who is appointed over the angels of anger— MZPWPY’S’Y’L is his name; and the name of the prince who is appointed over the angels of rage {is}—S.QS.WRWMTY’L is his name; and the name of the prince who is appointed over the angels of wrath—QSW‘PPGHY’L is his name; and the name of the prince who is appointed [over the angels of] fury—N‘MWSNYQTTY’L is his name. And there is no number to the angels that are under their authority and all of them rule over him and his body will be made disfigured (cf. Dan. 3:29). May the Lord guard you from all evil. Amen.”


These extreme forms of magic and theurgy are often lost to modern students of Judaism. When encountered, these ideas are often brushed aside and ‘explained’ in contemporary or philosophical idioms. Yet, as we have seen (and as the links below indicate), mystical and magical Judaism was something very real in the day-to-day life and belief systems of our predecessors. One can also understand why Maimonides wrote against the common belief that angels exist in reality [See Kotzk Blog: 338) ABRAHAM’S ANGELS AND G-D’S SPEECH:].

The original Heichalot and Merkava literature evolved into 13th century Zohar; Zohar evolved into 16th century Lurianic Kabbalah (of the Ari Zal) and, passing through 17th century Sabbatian Kabbalah, it later emerged in the more sophisticated systems of 18th, 19th century and contemporary Chassidut.

Today, classes on mysticism sound like they are discussing concepts in advanced quantum physics but the original ideas, beliefs and practices were often far from that. Mysticism as theosophy is a relatively new development over the more raw and pragmatic theurgical and magical systems of earlier times, as works like Charva deMoshe indicate.


Further reading


Kotzk Blog: 290) WAS RASHI A MYSTIC?


Kotzk Blog: 373) Kabbalah – a product of the East or West?

[1] The earliest known version of Charba de Moshe is found in MS Sassoon 290 (currently MS Gene`ve 145), 60–84.

[2] Harari, Y., 2012, ‘The Sword of Moses (Harba de-Moshe): A New Translation and Introduction’, Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft, University of Pennsylvania Press, 58-98. 

[3] b. Shabbat 88b–89a.


  1. "R. Hai Gaon cited its name and opening words in his famous responsum to the sages of Kairouan"

    Do you happen to know what R' Hai Gaon actually said about the book?

  2. He distinguished between popular angelic magic which he regarded as superstition and Heichalot and Merkavah literature for which he had respect. I'm not sure in which category he placed this book but I would imagine he incorporated it in the other works on angels that the Kairouan rabbis were referring to when they asked him if it was permissible to study those works.

  3. I see that he did incorporate Charva deMoshe in list of works which he did did not endorse.

  4. ... as it is written that HaShem sends false prophets to test our faith... and we fail the test again and again unto this very day...