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Sefer ha-Goralot (Book of Lots)

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The title page of an 1886 edition of Sefer ha-Goralot (the Book of Lots) printed in Hebrew in Bombay, India
The title page of an 1886 edition of Sefer ha-Goralot (the Book of Lots) printed in Hebrew in Bombay, India

Sefer ha-Goralot (Book of Lots) is an oraculum by Rabbi Chaim Vital (1542 CE - 1620 CE), an Ottoman Jewish Kabbalist who wrote extensively on the subjects of reincarnation, spirit possession, divination and dream interpretation. Rabbi Vital attributed the text to the seventy sages who famously instructed King Ptolemy of Egypt (287 - 247 BCE) in Judaism; it is also said to have been "used during the days of the Second Temple" (516 BCE - 70 CE). First printed in book form in Dyhernfurth, Silesia (now Brzeg Dolny, Poland) in the 17th century, it includes an introduction with warnings against the use of sorcery and directions on how to properly employ the sacred oracle. For instance, it is explained that lots should never be cast on a cloudy day, on the day before the New Moon, on the day of the New Moon, or on the day after the New Moon. Next come four chapters of prayers: a prayer to be repeated seven times before casting lots, a prayer to reveal the mystery of reincarnation, a prayer for finding treasure, and a prayer to know “occult things” or make prophecies (for example, to predict the end of days).

After this there follows a list of 256 questions which may be asked of the oraculum. Then, through a complex process carefully outlined in the book, the reader is led to the casting of lots, which are referred to tables according to the constellations of the Zodiac or the twelve stones in the hoshen or breastplate of Aaron, as well as the seven sacred planets and lights (Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn). In conclusion, all of the possible answers that can be divined are given, and the correct and singular answer to the reader's specific question is revealed. Additionally, the book also provides the names of the angels ruling over the seven sacred planets and twelve zodiacal constellations, which planet rules over which hour of each day, and the characters of men and women of each zodiac sign when considered as potential mates.

The use of casting lots in Judaism has declined only recently in the modern era. For instance, in Biblical times Aaron cast lots (Leviticus 16), lots were used to divide the land of Israel (Numbers 26, Joshua 15-19), and Saul was appointed king through the use of lots (1 Samuel 10). In post-Biblical canonical Judaism, the casting of lots is accepted in the Talmud and numerous examples and methods are given, including their use in the determination of inheritance issues (Bava Batra 106b). Sefer ha-Goralot is still in print and has been translated into English. It is not to be confused with either The Goralot of Ahitophel, an oraculum reputedly devised by Ahitophel, an adviser to King David, through the intercession of 117 angels or another similarly titled oraculum book called, Sefer ha-Goralot Urim V'Tumim.

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