What is a Hamsa?
The Hamsa Hand is a popular Jewish symbol depicting five fingers that serves as a reminder of the metaphorical Hand of God. The word Hamsa, חמסה (CHAM-sah), is an Arabic word meaning five, which is derived from the same root as the Hebrew word for five, חמש (chah-MESH).
The Hamsa is most commonly used as a sign of protection to defend against negative spiritual forces caused by the jealousy of others, colloquially known as the ayin hara, or evil eye. Depicting an image of the open right hand, the Hamsa symbol appears in both Kabbalistic manuscripts and talisman. Each finger of the hand symbolizes one of the five books of Moses. In Kabbalah, the Hamsa represents the hand of the Creator, which is the ultimate defense against all evil.
The Hamsa also signifies blessings, strength, and power, and is commonly placed near doorways of the home. A Hamsa often contains other symbols, such as an eye, a Chai symbol, or a Jewish star. The Hamsa is also a popular design on all types of jewelry, meant to evoke protection for the one wearing it.
While the Hamsa is a beautiful and meaningful design, there is much more to it than meets the eye. There is some evidence to suggest that the source from which the Hamsa symbol was derived is an event in the Bible in which the Jewish people’s success in battle transpired after Moses rose his hands. Some believe that from this action, a tradition was born to raise the five fingers of the hands for success against the ayin hara, a tradition which survives in Middle Eastern Jewish communities and Arab enclaves.
The Hamsa Prayer
In addition to designs on their fronts, the backs of Hamsas are frequently inscribed with prayers of various types. While there is no established liturgy for these prayers, they generally contain blessings for peace, success, tranquility, unity, and righteousness. The essence of the Hamsa prayer is to inspire devotion to the One Above and evoke holiness in the ones who gaze upon it.