The Jewish hamsa is the kabbalah symbol of an extended hand and literally means “fivefold” (from “chamesh”, five); it is usually drawn artificially stylized so that thumb and pinky are identical lengths and the hand is symmetrical rather than left or right. This symbolism is founded on the five books of Torah.
Its first meaning is the extending of one’s hand toward another, in a gesture of peace, blessing, and fellowship. From this meaning is derived (by drash) its symbolism for communal prayer, one for another, and particularly the two prayers of initiation and restoration. From these meanings are derived its use as a symbol of welcome (initiation) and of healing (restoration), including physical healing. Accordingly, those who display the Jewish hamsa are responsible to pray continually for those who may view it.
However, the power of the universal gesture is that the universal energy field, which works through order rather than force, is most easily transmitted through the hands. From this fact is derived the principle that smikhah (the “laying on of hands”) can physically confer benefits. It takes from what belongs to the givers (status, authority, and leadership among others, health, vitality, and peace within oneself) and transmits it to the receiver.
The oldest hamsa hand symbol is known archaeologically to predate the Exodus. It is probable that the first Jewish hamsa was actually the letter kaf itself, which in the older script clearly resembled a hand, but in the current square script shows only the curve of the outermost thumb and pinky (the “wings” of the letter kaf). The open hand of kaf corresponds to the good eye and generosity, just as the closed fist corresponds to the evil eye and greed, and is represented by yodh, the smallest letter of the alefbeth.
After the symmetrical stylized Jewish hamsa hand was developed, it came to be called the Hand of Miriam, the prophetess; and in fact the extended hands are the established posture of the Aaronic benediction. In the Middle Ages, it became particularly associated with the medical arts, and was displayed by Maimonides as a token of the healings he sought to obtain from God and the orderly Creation. It has also been traditionally combined with the eye symbol, but this does not add any potency to either symbol used separately.
A modern variation of the Jewish hamsa is to join index with middle, and ring with pinky, yielding three upward strokes, the shape of the letter shin. This calls on the all-sufficiency of Shaddai to impart the blessing. This version of the Jewish hamsa has been established in pop culture as the fictional Vulcan greeting, after actor Leonard Nimoy sought to create a tactile symbol of fellowship based on his Jewish youth experiences.
The kabbalah healing secret of Maimonides is still available, as one builds up one’s universal energy over time by concentration and meditation upon God. One must carry out the Torah-derived principle of washing of hands regularly but not “religiously”. Recognition of the healing power that can be found in one’s hands also leads to greater caution in what one does with one’s hands, and lessens the risk of “idle hands”.
Practice sensitivity to others, especially the sick, needy, and outcast. When the time is ripe for a direct physical application, the kabbalist will be aware of a slight sensation resembling heat within the palms. This is a signal to ask permission to pray and to place the hands on the other person’s head, or on or near the part of the body affected by sickness. As one grows in selfless practice, God may see fit that a true case of supernatural healing will result.