Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Constellational Representation at Yaakov's Funeral

In the Parsha we are taught of the honorable funeral services given to Yaakov Avinu. (Bereishis 50:9-13) The Gemara teaches that when the procession came to Goren Atad the children of Eisav, Yishmael and Keturah came to war with Bnai Yisrael. However, when they saw that Yosef's crown adorned the casket of Yaakov they also placed their crowns there as a sign of respect. Between them they placed a total of 36 crowns. (Sotah 13a)

Before going into some symbolism that can be found in the above, let us first understand something about how the ancients viewed the night sky. All together there are 48 constellations that were accepted in ancient times. It is through these 48 that all the forces of nature were perceived to be flowing from the metaphysical realm into the physical. (See Ibn Ezra Shemos 33:21) Of these 48 there are 12 constellations that are considered to be the primary ones and these are the constellations of the zodiac. These twelve represent the main forces of nature. (Baraisa D'Mazalos 1) The other 36 are important, but considered somewhat subservient to these twelve.

Chazal compare the 12 Shevatim to the 12 constellations of the zodiac. (See Pesikta Zutrasa Shemos 1:2 as an example) Just like the metaphysical word actualizes into the physical world through the 12 zodiacal constellations, so too, the Shevatim bring forth the metaphysical realities into this physical world. However, that leaves one to question, who are the representatives of the lower 36 constellations?

In Zevachim we find that the commentators see the children of Avraham Avinu, other than Yitzchak, as more honorable than those of the other nations. Yet, they are not as honorable as Yitzchak. (See Maharsha and Keren Orah Zevachim 62b) Tosefos Shantz understands that the 36 crowns were those of the children of Eisav, Yishmael and Keturah. He states that 1-12 were of the 12 Yishmaelite nobles. 13-26 were of the generals of Eisav listed in the end of Parshas VaYishlach. The rest came from Keturah's children who had a total of 10 crowns. 27-32 were of the six son's of Keturah. However, in the listing of Keturah's children several grandchildren are listed. Tosefos Shantz understands that each firstborn son inherited his father's crown and did not establish a new nation, thus, that son's crown does not add to the total. He also do not count Dedan as having established a crown presumably because he did not establish a nation as seen by Targum Onkelos. That leaves Midyan's children who were Eiphah, who inherited his father's crown, 33 was of Eipher, 34 Chanoch, 35 Avidah and 36 was Elda'ah. (Tosefos Shantz Sotah 13a)

Fascinatingly, we see that when Yaakov died it was as if all the forces of nature came to honor him at his funeral procession. The twelve signs of the zodiac were the primary ones and they were displayed by his twelve sons who were carrying the casket. The other thirty-six constellations were shown by the established kingdoms that sprouted forth of Avraham's descendants. It was a monumental event that had all of nature mourning its loss!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Eisav's Angel Fades Away

We are taught that the angel requested of Yaakov to let him free because it was after dawn. Often times the interaction between the spiritual and physical world is described as there being a metaphysical world above ours, then the mazalos underneath that, and the physical world at the bottom. The angels live in the metaphysical, the mazalos are considered somewhat physical and somewhat spiritual and they are they bridge between the two worlds, and our world houses the physical beings. In fact, each star/mazal has an angel above it and that angel influences the star which in turn influences the world. (Obviously Hashem is doing everything, but this is how the system of hashpo'o, how the heavenly forces come to earth, is described)

Due to this construct, often one sees similarities between the world of the mazalos and that of the angels. In this case it seems pretty clear. After dawn, the stars that are supposed to be out at night during that time of the year are present. After dawn they go away one by one as the powerful light of the sun drowns out their light. In the case with Yaakov, this angel was clearly supposed to be out at night during that time. However, as soon as dawn broke, it was clear that just like the star that represented him would be fading away, so too, he needed to be released to go back to the heavenly realm.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Leaving Eretz Yisrael, Going to Mars

We are taught that Yitzchak was unable to leave Eretz Yisrael, so it was necessary for Eliezer to travel on his behalf in order to find a wife from Chutz La'Aretz and bring her back. The most common reason given is that Yitzchak was considered to be like a Korbon Olah and was therefore unable to leave the sanctity of the Holy Land. (See Tiferes Aryeh Inyonim Shonim BaShas regarding the Ramban's opinion that Yitzchak did, in fact, leave Eretz Yisrael.)

Rav Yehonasan Eibshitz zt"l offers a different explanation. The pasuk states that Hashem blessed Avraham "bakol" (with everything). The Midrash takes the numerical value for "bakol" and states that it equals 52, the same as "ben" meaning son. The Midrash therefore deduces that Avraham was blessed with a son.

Rav Eibshitz learns that this son was none other than Yitzchak. Yitzchak should have been subjected to the harmful astrological forces of Mars which portend blood and death. It was necessary for Yitzchak to be bound and almost slaughtered in order to mimick his own death and thereby overpower these forces. Thus, the command was given to Avraham to do so at the akeidah. In fact, says Rav Eibshitz, this is why Avraham wanted to draw blood even when told that Yitzchak should not be slaughtered. He felt that in order for Mars to find its blood it was necessary for a minimum scratch to at least be made.

All the countries on Earth are subject to astrological forces with the exception of Eretz Yisrael, continues Rav Eibshitz. (See Rabbeinu Bachye Parshas VaYelech who maintains the same.) Thus, it was not permissible for Yitzchak to leave Eretz Yisrael lest the influence of Mars gain power once again. Therefore, it was necessary for Eliezer to find Yitzchak's wife and Yitzchak had to remain at home. (Tiferes Yehonasan Bereishis 24:1)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Like the Stars

In this week's parsha we read about Hashem's promise to Avraham Avinu that his children will be like the stars. (Bereishis 15:5) There are many beautiful explanations that uncover some of the depth of this fantastic blessing. One of these can be found in the writings of Rav Yehonasan Eibshitz zt"l.

Rav Eibshitz mentions that the comparison to stars includes the aspect of individuality that one can see amongst the stars. The nightly stellar display is something both gorgeous and awesome. Part of the beauty is due to the fact that each brilliant star stands alone. Each star, just like each member of Klal Yisrael, has a radiance that shines forth and allows it to stand alone and shine. While each one may not appear to touch the others, still it is the display in its enitrety that creates the breathtaking sight. Each individual of Klal Yisrael follows in his path just as each star follows its prescribed path, but it is when one sees all of Klal Yisrael working together that the true beauty can be seen.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sukkos and Going Extreme

As we celebrate Sukkos, it is interesting to point out a few things that happen in the sky this time of year. As we know, there are two holidays in the year that have seven days, Pesach and Sukkos (Shmini Atzeres is an independent holiday). Interestingly, both begin at the first full moon after an equinox. Pesach starts on the 15 of Nisan which is the first full moon after the vernal (spring) equinox and Sukkos starts on the 15 of Tishrei which is the first full moon after the autumnal equinox.

The two equinoxes are very similar in that they both start seasons that have moderate weather, spring and autumn. Also, during both of these times the days and nights are relatively equal at approximately twelve hours each. After Pesach the days will get longer and the weather hotter, and after Sukkos it is the nights that get longer and it becomes bitter cold (for northern latitudes, the opposite is true for southern latitudes). Both of the holidays display a time when a new shift in the yearly cycle is happening. Both also show a time of moderation prior to things becoming extreme.

The idea of moderation and balance is found throughout more phenomena than just the weather. Firstly, throughout any given month one can see an apparent imbalance between day and night with the sun and moon. The sun is always full, yet the moon (the sun's counterpart) is only full for one day. The moon also is seen sometimes during the daytime. This creates a situation where it seems that day is a little more weighted than night. It has the bigger celestial object and it also sometimes steals the moon from the night. It is only when the moon is full that the two are in balance. There is one big full object in the day and one at night since the full moon will never be seen in daytime. Both Pesach and Sukkos begin on the day of a full moon.

In addition, the sun is higher in the sky in the summer and lower in the winter. The moon does the exact opposite, it is higher in the winter and lower in the summer. The twelve signs of the zodiac follow suit with those that are out during the daytime following the sun's height and those at night with the moon. All these objects are at the midpoint between the high and low at the time of the two equinoxes. Thus displaying balance during Pesach and Sukkos.

Perhaps, one of the ideas to reflect upon during these holidays is that the world appears to often time fall out of balance. Things appear to become extreme. It is during the times when things are in perfect harmony that we should take notice and recognize and then prepare ourselves to maintain our personal sense of balance when things go extreme again.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Needing a GPS to Build a Sukkah

It seems possible that there are opinions that would maintain that the maximum allowable wall height of one's Sukkah will vary based on latitude. The opinion, about to be mentioned, is not the one that is used for halachic purposes, but it is still pretty fascinating to see that some Amoraim might maintain that the 20 amos height that most people are familiar with from the first Mishna in Sukkah may be only for Sukkos located in Eretz Yisrael and could be less for those elsewhere, like here in Baltimore. This should not be disturbing considering how Mishnayos often talk from the perspective of those living in Eretz Yisrael and are not always meant to be applied exactly to locations found elsewhere. (See Tosefos Gittin 2a)

As stated above the first Mishna in Sukkah mentions that the maximum height of a Sukkah is 20 amos. There is a three way debate mentioned in the Gemara as to what is the reason for this maximum. Rebbi Zeirah is of the opinion that a schach-type roof elevated higher than 20 amos does not provide ample shade and is thus considered to be functioning improperly and the Sukkah is rendered invalid. The Gemara mentions that according to this opinion this maximum height is only for small Sukkos (i.e. 4 amos x 4 amos), but in a larger Sukkah the schach would be big enough to cast enough of a shadow below in order to be considered valid. (See Sukkah 2a-2b)

The Ritva points out that we are obviously talking about the shade that would be created by the schach at midday since in the earlier morning and later afternoon the sun is much lower on the horizon and the schach does not really provide much shade. He also mentions that we are obviously talking about a time around the beginning of autumn (when Sukkos falls) since in the beginning of summer a shadow would be cast even by higher schach since the sun is much higher in the sky. (Ritva Sukkah 2a, also see Tosefos Sukkah 22a)

That being the case it would seem that just like Rebbi Zeirah only saw the Mishna's application to small Sukkos, he would also assume it was only referring to locations in Eretz Yisrael (the author of the Mishna and Rebbi Zeirah's location). At the beginning of autumn at midday, the sun appears directly overhead for people on the equator. For every degree of latitude north of the Equator the sun appears one degree lower and toward the southern horizon. Thus, in Eretz Yisrael, located at approximately 32 degrees north, the sun will appear to be 58 degrees high toward the south. Since the entire halacha is a function of the shade cast which is a function of the sun, locations south of Eretz Yisrael will be able to have taller walls and those to the north will have a lower maximum height. In Baltimore, located at approximately 39 degrees north, the sun will only reach 51 degrees high and will, thus, not cast as dark a shadow on a 20 amos tall roof since the light is coming from less steep an angle.

As stated above, Rebbi Zeirah's opinion is not the one taken for halachic purposes, Rava's is, but it is still pretty interesting to see how global positioning could make a halachic difference.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Satan's Downfall on Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur is a massive present that Hashem has given mankind. We are enabled to cleanse ourselves of our evil doings and receive atonement for earlier misdeeds. The Chinuch mentions that Yom Kippur is one of the kindnesses that Hashem has bestowed upon humanity and that He did so from the beginning of Creation. (Sefer HaChinuch 185)

As with many concepts that are inherently incorporated into the natural events of a year, the concept of Yom Kippur can be found in the celestial objects in the sky. We are all familiar that there are twelve signs (constellations) of the zodiac and that each one is considered to influence a different month. (See Baraisa D'Mazalos 1 and Rashi Rosh Hashana 10b) The month of Tishrei, the one in which Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are found, is symbolized by the sign of Moznayim (Libra) which is shown as a set of scales. How apropos to represent the severity of judgment that humankind finds itself in at this time of year!!!

But, the symbolism is far from over there. The sign of the month is the one that the Sun happens to occupy that month. Without boring everyone with the specifics, every month, the Sun "jumps" from one constellation (sign) to another. (See Rashi Rosh Hashana 10b) Thus, in Tishrei, the Sun is occupying Moznayim (as seen in the included pictures). Akrav (Scorpius), depicted as a scorpion, is one of the two signs that border Moznayim. Akrav is the sign of Marcheshvan because immediately after occupying Moznayim in Tishrei the Sun "jumps" into Akrav during the next month, Marcheshvan (and obviously the month prior to Tishrei the Sun had been in the other constellation that borders Moznayim, Besulah (Virgo) the Maiden which is the sign of Elul). (This is based on the sky as it was during the time of Chazal, things have changed a bit since then, but this system is still in place as noted by the Rambam in Yesodei HaTorah 3:9)

The venomous and low lying Akrav is seen by Chazal as representing the harsh repercussions and the outcome of judgment. Scorpions live in low lying places and sting when least expected, very similar to the harsh judgment for following one's evil inclination (Tanchuma Haazinu 1) Akrav is also seen as being symbolic of man's evil inclination and symbolic of the forces of spiritual impurity, the Satan and death. (See Ramban VaYikra 16:8 and Rabbeinu Bachye Bereishis 32:10) Thus, it was seen as natural to have this depiction follow the Scales of Judgment of Tishrei. (Tanchuma Haazinu 1) On Yom Kippur, however, we have the opportunity to free ourselves of this punishment. Chazal teach us that it is the one day of the entire year that the Satan does not have the ability to bring us to judgment. השטן, the Hebrew word meaning "the Satan" has a numerical value of 364 displaying that he only has power for 364 if the 365 days of the year. (Yoma 20a)

It is fascinating to see what the sky looks like on 10 Tishrei, Yom Kippur. During sunrise as the scales of Moznayim rise and display their power, Akrav can be seen trailing behind. However, at sunset when the constellations are showing which ones "fall" into the darkness of night, one can see that Akrav sets at the same time as Moznayim. Thus, these two constellations are the first to set at night. Moznayim has the Sun, percieved as a powerful object, so it is considered to be powerful throughout the month regardless of whether it is rising or setting; Akrav, however, sets first with no Sun in it. Therefore, Akrav can be seen as setting and having no power.

More fascinatingly, on this specific date, it is the star Antares (circled in the pictures) that is setting very quickly. Antares is an extremely red star and is depicted as the heart of the scorpion of Akrav. It was oft compared to Mars due to its redness. The above sources mention that Mars is also considered to represent the evil forces mentioned above and, thus, Antares is considered to display these concepts very strongly. In fact, the name Antares comes from the Greek which means "like Mars". (Kunitsch and Smart's A Dictionary of Modern Star Names, 52)

How fascinating it is to see that on the day of Yom Kippur both the constellation and star that represent the Satan are seen as in positions of complete impotence. The Satan has no power on Yom Kippur and we have the opportunity to free ourselves and reconnect with Hashem!

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Shofar and World Domination

The stars and planets appear to circle around the Earth from the perspective of the human standing on Earth. In truth, the planets are actually encircling (actually the orbits are elliptical)the sun, and the stars only appear to be moving because of the Earth's revolutions; nevertheless it does appear as if everything is circling us. As such, the construct of the "apparent" universe can be described as like an onion. Several concentric orbital circles with our planet in the middle.

The ancients described this "onion" as having nine basic circles. The first circle is that of the moon's orbit, then Mercury, Venus, the sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and the stars. The last and ninth circle was considered to have no shape and was the "wheel" which was perceived to turn the other wheels below it. Since all of nature was perceived to come from the metaphysical world into the physical one through the realm of the stars, the movement of the ninth wheel was considered to control nature. (Rambam's letter to Marseilles)

Rabbeinu Bachye teaches that from an astrological sense each orbit has a corresponding musical intrument on this planet that expresses its resonance. He mentions that all nine are mentioned in Psalm 150 (the last Hallelukah in Pesukei D'Zimrah). They are (in backwards order since earlier I listed the orbits from closest to most distant and Rabbeinu Bachye understands the order in the Psalm to be from most distant to closest): Resounding trumpets (moon), clanging cymbals (Mercury), flute (Venus), organ (sun), Machol (Mars; no accurate translation is available as most translate this as dancing. Rabbeinu Bachye offers an alternative translation that it is an instrument. I must apologize because in a post quite sometime ago I accidentally translated it as dancing when suggesting a theory based on Rabbeinu Bachye's writings), drum (Jupiter), harp (Saturn), lyre (stars) and shofar (the master wheel). (Rabbeinu Bachye 15:20)

I find it fascinating to see that the shofar is considered to have the same resonance as that of the master wheel which is considered to "control" all of nature and life! On Rosh Hashana our prayers reflect and commemorate the day upon which Adam HaRishon was created. (Rosh Hashana 27a) It is on this day that we find ourselves given this wonderful mitzvah of shofar. It is almost as if Hashem Himself is telling us that He created this world and handed over the keys. We are now the ones to control what happens on the world. We blow the shofar and it is as if we are turning the master wheel. All of nature is affected based on the actions of mankind!!!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Making Sense of Idolatry

In this week's Parsha Rabbeinu Bachye discusses a truly fantastic concept. In fact, I remember that the first time I saw it I was almost in disbelief at what I was reading. When Moshe Rabbeinu is told that he is about to die, Hashem tells him that Klal Yisrael are going to go astray and follow foreign gods. (Devarim 31:16)

Regarding this idea Rabbeinu Bachye mentions that every nation and every land in this world is influenced by a mazal (celestial configuration). The exception to this rule is the nation of Yisrael and the land of Yisrael. These entities are not given over to the mazalos, rather, Hashem directly takes care of them.

Since this is the case, it is actually reasonable that, outside of Eretz Yisrael, various nations began to serve foreign gods. They mistakenly attributed true powers to the mazalos (obviously it is Hashem influencing the world through them) and over time began to serve them. Since this is a natural tendency, Hashem does not destroy or punish these nations for doing this so long as they are not practicing idolatry in Eretz Yisrael. To prove this point Rabbeinu Bachye cites from the example of the Kusim (Samaritans) who were an idolatrous people, yet, they were not punished for their practices until they were moved into Eretz Yisrael. (I assume that Rabbeinu Bachye is not stating that as individuals these people are not held accountable, rather, they are not punished as a nation in this world for their actions).

We, on the other hand, are held to a different standard because it is our nation that Hashem chose to be His. Therefore, there is never an excuse. Certainly when living in Eretz Yisrael the Jewish nation should only recognize its true dependence on Hashem and Hashem alone.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Month of Everything Idolatrous

I saw this Rabbeinu Bachye this week and thought I would share. Although frowned upon, in war a soldier is technically allowed to take what is called an Aishes Yefas Toar. Essentially, he is allowed to take a female captive to be his bride. Prior to marriage he must allow her one month to mourn her parents that she was taken from. (Devarim 21:13)

Rabbeinu Bachye cites from various Midrashic literature to demonstrate that this month is a time for her to separate herself from the idolatrous practices that she had been raised with. Rabbeinu Bachye points out that representation of the major celestial orbits that influenced the beginnings of idolatry take place throughout the course of one month. In thr course of this month, there are days that show the sun's apparent celestial motion. There are also weeks that contain seven days dedicated to the seven ancient plabets: the sun, moon, Mercury, Mars, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn. Lastly, during the course of a month one sees the full orbital movement of the moon around earth. Thus, her waiting a month allows her to remove herself from these items, once considered deities. At each point she sees that her gods were powerless and could not save her. (Rabbaeinu Bachye Devarim 21:13)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Season's Greetings

In the central bracha of Shemonah Esrei for Yomim Tovim we state,

"מקדש ישראל והזמנים"

"[He] Who sanctifies Yisrael and the seasons."

Many have questioned why we mention the seasons in this blessing and the famous answer is that it is Yisrael that sanctifies the seasons. Without a Beis Din, the calendar does not take effect and without the calendar there cannot be Yomim Tovim. Therefore, unlike Shabbos which will be sanctified regardless of the actions of the Jewish nation, the Yomim Tovim's sanctification is only as a result of Yisrael. Hence we mention the sanctification of Yisrael first, as if to say that they are sanctified and then they can make holy the holidays.

Although one could still state that the above is the reason that Yisrael is mentioned first, it seems that Rabbeinu Bachye offers a different explanation of this wording. In this week's parsha we are informed that we must have Pesach in the season of spring (אביב). (Devarim 16:1) Rabbeinu Bachye mentions that our holidays are all time sensitive. Pesach must be in the spring at the time of the barley harvest. The word אביב, says Rabbeinu Bachye, literally means the sheath, which is the component of wheat that produces the kernels. Spring is called by this name because it is the time when this growth is being realized. Shavuos must be during the wheat harvest and Sukkos must be during the gathering season.

Rabbeinu Bachye continues to state that this is the reason that we reference the sanctification of the זמנים (seasons), and do not reference the wording found in the Torah of מועדים (holidays). The focus is the season and not the holiday itself. Therefore, the focus of the bracha is on the integral part of the sanctification which is the season upon which the holiday is dependent. Interestingly, Rabbeinu Bachye also mentions that אביב is a contraction of אב יב which means that father of the twelve months. This is because Nisan is the first of the twelve months. (Rabbeinu Bachye Shemos 13:4)

Monday, July 26, 2010

15 Av/Shvat = Redemption from the Seasons

As most people know, most of our holidays occur at different seasonal periods throughout the year. Pesach and Sukkos are a the first full moon after the equinoxes. Rosh Hashana is on or around the autumnal equinox and Chanukah, when we light candles/oil is around the winter solstice when the days are getting longer. Tu B'Av seems to be no exception and, in fact, seems to mirror Tu B'Shvat.

There are two moderate seasons, spring and fall, and two extreme ones, summer and winter. The summer months are Tammuz, Av and Elul and the winter ones are Teves, Shvat, Adar. The first of each month has the solstice which is when the days either are at their longest, summer, or shortest, winter. The second month of the extreme month marks the halfway point of the season, more specifically the middle of the month meaning the 15.

As such, both Tu B'Av and Tu B'Shvat mark the day when the extremeness of the season is beginning to wane. Both dates also show that the end to the extremeness of our exile is ending. On Tu B'Shvat we consider it the call to the spring and some have equated it with he call to the end of the exile which is compared to the harshness of winter (see Targum and Rashi Shir HaShirim 2:11), and Tu B'Av marks the day when the bitterness of 9 Av is felt to recede. (Bava Basra 121) In fact, the Gemara mentions that it is on Tu B'Av that the sun begins to lose its strength and this is one of the defining features why this day is considered to be important. (Ibid.) The Maharsha compares the sun to the force of the other nations, and it is apropros that we feel the relief of the harshness they imposed on us on 15 Av when the sun is losing its power. (Maharsha Yoma 20b)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Sun Didn't Shine in the Wilderness

The pasuk states (as seen at the top of the blog),

"כי היא חכמתכם ובינכם לעיני העמים"

"For this is your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the nations." (Devarim 4:6)

The Gemara understands that this is specifically referring to astronomical and (according to Rashi) astrological knowledge. The predictions of the celestial orbits and movements (and according to Rashi) and predicting future events is something that is able to be tested thus making this the wisdom that is the glory of the nation. (Shabbos 75a) I find it interesting that this knowledge of the sky is only mentioned in this parsha within the context of Moshe Rabbeinu preparing Klal Yisrael to enter into the land of Yisrael.

Also interesting is that later in the parsha we are taught that we need to be careful lest we look upwards and begin to serve the sun, stars, etc. (see Devarim 4:19) Why is it only now that Moshe was nervous, why not 40 years earlier when we left Egypt? To state that he was nervous because we would be living amongst nations that served these objects seems to be difficult from the pasuk itself. The pasuk mentions that we would be swayed after seeing the celestial objects and not the fact that we would be living amongst idolators.

Rabbeinu Chananel maintains that for the duration of Klal Yisrael's existence in the Wilderness they were unable to see the sky. During the daytime the clouds of glory obscured their vision and the fiery pillars did the same at night. (see Rabbeinu Bachye Shemos 12:2) Therefore, perhaps it was only now that this nation was to enter Eretz Yisrael and finally see the night sky that they would be able to utilize their mastery of the celestial objects for astronomy and astrology. It was only at this time that Moshe Rabbeinu felt it fit to discuss this wisdom and understanding. In addition, now that they could delve into these studies with the visual tools in addition to the mathematical calculations, they would, perhaps, become enamored by the sky and fall prey to their evil inclination and begin to serve these items. Therefore, Moshe needed to warn them of this tendency. For until this point, when they would look up they could not see these items, they only saw the glory of Hashem.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Wilderness, the Torah and Elvis

In this week's Parsha we are taught about the 42 travels of Klal Yisrael as they followed Hashem in the Wilderness. Interestingly enough, if one discounts the starting location, Rameses, and counts the seven travels that were repeated (not mentioned directly in the Parsha, but mentioned by Rashi Bamidbar 21:4) then he will have a total of 48.

This is interesting because most Rishonim are of the opinion that the minimum amount of lines in a Sefer Torah is 48, but some maintain it is 42. Both opinions are predicated on the number of travels of Klal Yisrael. (Keses HaSofer 13:3 and Lishkas HaSofer 13:6) Essentially what also can be gleaned from this discussion is that one can calssify the travels into 48 total with 7 being a subcategory. This confluence of 48 and 7 happens many times throughout the Torah (often with a perceptible 42).

The Levi'im were given a total of 48 cities in Eretz Yisrael, of which 42 were regular and the rest were designated cities of refuge. There were also 7 main Levite positions in the Beis HaMikdash. Once again, 48, 7 and an idea of 42.

The Torah contains a minimum of 48/42 lines as mentioned above, and is also acquired via 48 methods of acquisition. (Avos 6:5) Interestingly enough, if one divides the books of Moshe into the most possible ways of division he will have 7, Bereishis, Shemos, VaYikra, Bamidbar up until VaYehi BiNsoa, VaYehi BiNsoa, Bamidbar afterwards and Devarim. (I will mention later how the 7 can sometimes be divided into a primary 5 and a secondary 2 which is certainly applicable here.)

There were 48 male prophets and 7 female prophets whose prophecies are pertinent for all generations. (Megillah 14a) While I suspect there is some element of 42 that can be seen regarding this, unfortunately I do not know what it is. There is dispute as to who is included in this list and some Rishonim (i.e. Rashi) state that they only know of 46 and do not know who the other two are. Perhaps, if we were more aware, definitively, of the list, we would figure out a way to segment it into 42 and 48.

Also, there are 48 constellations and 7 planets whose influence is considered to affect this world. (Ibn Ezra Shemos 33:21) Interesingly, the numerical value of the word for star, כוכב, is 48. When taking out the 3 northern polar constellations and the three southern (as they appear to be moving the celestial sphere) one has 42. As mentioned before, sometimes the seven can be divided into 5 and 2. In this case, the Sun and Moon are in a class of their own; Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, the other planets, are not nearly as bright or large (from our perspective).

I believe the common factor that all these items contain is that they are vehicles through which Hashem's glory is displayed. As such they all have similarities in number (why 48, 42 and 7 might be another post). Klal Yisrael's travel through the Wilderness, and subsequent (and current) exiles have been to express Hashem's glory unto the world. The Torah is the ultimate expression of Hashem's grandeur. The Levi'im help Klal Yisrael attain a relationship with Hashem in the Beis HaMikdash and by working the Mikdash they allow Hashem's kingship to be seen. The prophets directly bring forth the word of Hashem and instruct the people how to spread forth the glory of Hashem. The constellations were created in order to display Hashem's glory unto the world. (Braisa D'Mazalos) I do not find it coincidental that in order for a rainbow to shine (the Gemara in Berachos mentions that this is a display of Hashem's glory) the Sun must be hitting the droplets of water at a 42 degree angle. Although I do find it coincidental that the king, Elvis, died at age 42.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Hidden Summer Rainbows

The Midrash that discusses some of the meaning behind the names of the months explains that Tammuz is named for the idol that bears the same name. It was in this month that Klal Yisrael worshipped the Golden Calf and displayed their desires for idol worship. Therefore, it is befitting that the name of the month reflect this concept. (See Torah Sheleimah Parshas Bo Miluim 177)

Tammuz is also the beginning of the summer. The summer is when the sun is at its highest in the sky (for northern observers) and is certainly when its perceived power is felt the most. The sun is often utilized to express the forces of idol worship. In fact, the Rema mentions that Yirmiyahu HaNavi prophesied about the impending doom of the Beis HaMikdash and the kingdom of Yehuda which was to come from the Babylonian empire. Yirmiyahu describes this destruction as coming from the north. (Yirmiyahu 1:14; this week's Haftarah) The necessity of mentioning the direction of this foe, says the Rema, is because the destruction was a result of idol worship. The sun rises from the east, travels along the southern portion of the sky and sets in the west. It never truly resides on the northern portion of the sky. The sun, says the Rema, is the classic symbol of a deity served by ignorant people. The sun's path should have been a clear lesson to those that served other gods that their gods have no power just as the sun is forced to set. Had the people looked toward the north and understood that it shows the sun's impotence, they would have recognized the error of their ways and would have repented. Since, they did not, the destruction came from that very direction north. (Rema Toras HaOlah 1:16)

The summer, the sun's glorious months, has been a time of destruction for the Jewish people. We just fasted the 17 of Tammuz and historically 9 Av has been a day to mourn the horrific calamities of our past. The summer is currently bittered by the tears of tragedy. Rav Aharon Feldman shlita recently pointed out that the month's of summer, July and August, are the only two that bear the names of Roman emperors. (Mussar given in NIRC 6/2310) The Romans, considered to be the descendants of Eisav, are the nemesis of the Yisrael. Their glory is displayed in the time of destruction.

The Yerushalmi seems to tell over this same concept, but also shows that it is possible to change this time of year from its current destructive nature into a very positive time. (Chagigah 2:2) Rebbi Elazar ben Arach was able to elucidate the heavenly angelic court with such precision during the first day of summer, in Tammuz, that a rainbow was able to be seen in the sky. Rainbows, are not normally seen in the sky in the summer in Eretz Yisrael because it is the dry season and there are not usually clouds or rain. A rainbow is what Yechezkel HaNavi used to express Hashem's glorious heavenly court's beauty. (Yechezkel 1:28)

Perhaps, the Yerushalmi is telling us that normally Tammuz, and the summer, do not contain rainbows. Summer is not the time when Hashem's glory is naturally perceived. Nevertheless, through hard work and dedication, one can break through the veil that hides this glory and allow the glory to shine through. Zechariah HaNavi informs us that in the future these days of mourning will be transformed into festive days. (Zechariah 8:19) May we merit to those days very soon!

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Usage of Solar Dates in Talmudic Literature

Does the Torah give validity to the solar calendar? To answer this let us look at some interesting passages/theories.

Summer started today on the solstice and this reminded me of a fantastic Midrash about this date. The Midrash states that this was the date that Moshe Rabbeinu hit the rock and brought forth water to the people. (Midrash found in the back of Machzor Vitri) The fantastic thing about this Midrash is that it then cites the pesukim from Shemos NOT BAMIDBAR thereby making it clear that it is not referring to the incident in Parshas Chukas for which Moshe was denied entry into Eretz Yisrael. Rather, it is referring to the incident that occurred shortly after the Exodus when Moshe was commanded to hit a rock to bring forth water. The huge question that one must ask when seeing this is, "How could this event have taken place on the first day of summer when the Torah places it after Bnai Yisrael arrived in Rephidim (15 Iyar) and prior to their encampment at Har Sinai (1 Sivan)?" The event seems to have occurred in the spring, yet this Midrash places it at the beginning of summer!!!

The easiest answer is to assume that there is a scribal error in the Midrash and that it originally mentioned the incident from Parsha Chukas; over long periods of time the text was corrupted and contained errors. Although this is certainly possible, in order to assume that to be the case one has to realize that the scribe who erred switched entire verses to support his claim (I am not suggesting this is not possible, just that it justifies looking for alternative theories). While there are Rishonim (i.e. the Ramban) that do cite a Midrash with references to Parshas Chukas, it is possible that this reflects a different opinion (for the reason cited above).

An alternative theory that I would like to suggest is that the Tannaim may have used the solar calendar to refer to dates (just like many Torah scholars would have referred to today as June 21 and not have thought to use the Hebrew date). In the most likely time of the writing of this Midrash (assuming it was written in the general time period that the Mishna was written) the date of the summer solstice, the date used by the Midrash, was June 22 (Julian). When looking back to the year of the Exodus that would coincide with 26 Iyar, although it in the time of the Exodus this was far from the solstice. 26 Iyar is an extremely plausible date for this event and it certainly falls between 15 Iyar and 1 Sivan. Perhaps, the Tanna was just stating that the event happened on June 22!

Before you reject this idea just consider the following. It is clear from Rashi that some of the dates mentioned in Talmudic literature are actually referring to solar dates and not lunar ones. The Gemara mentions that the Patriarchs were born in Nisan. (Rosh Hashana 11a) It then proceeds to cite a verse regarding the date of the building of the first Beis HaMikdash being in the month of "Ziv". The Gemara explains that this month, Iyar, is called "Ziv" because it comes from the root word meaning to shine and the Patriarchs who shine light onto this world were born in this month. The contradiction is obvious, here the Gemara is stating the Patriarchs were born in Iyar and a few lines earlier it stated that they were born in Nisan. Rashi reconciles with two answers. The second answer is that sometimes the solar month of Nisan carries into the lunar Iyar (also see Tosefos R"H 2b). Meaning, April (Nisan) in the year the Patriarchs were born was partially in Iyar and, therefore, the Gemara can state that the Patriarchs were born in Iyar while at the same time state that they were born in Nisan.

Initially I thought that a similar solution could be used for the following problem. The Gemara mentions that Shlomo HaMelech was required to dedicate his Beis HaMikdash immediately upon completion. He was also unable to slow construction in order to finish at a specific time. (Moed Katan 9a) It is clear from the pesukim (and the Gemara cited) that the dedication occurred in mid to late Tishrei. (Melachim 1 8) However, the pasuk explicitly states that Shlomo HaMelech completed the Beis HaMikdash in its entirety in the month of "Bul" which Rashi (and the other Rishonim) understand to be Cheshvan. (Melachim 1 6) How could he have finished in Cheshvan and waited eleven months in order to dedicate it, the Gemara says it was forbidden to delay!!! The Bnai Yisaschar states that this was the case and the Shlomo had his reasons, although I must say that this is a difficult position in lieu of the Gemara. (see Bnai Yisaschar Cheshvan)

I have asked this question to many and haven't really found an answer that makes me stop wondering. Recently I thought that I was onto something when I received an answer in the mail from Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlita. He wrote, "סוף חשון הוא תשרי." This seems to be taking the opposite approach to the Bnai Yisaschar as this approach assumes that there was no delay and that since the inauguration happened at the end of Tishrei the pesukim refer to it as happening in Cheshvan. Initially I thought that Rav Kanievsky could have been referring to the same concept expressed by the Rashi above. Perhaps, the lunar Tishrei crept into the solar Cheshvan so the dedication occurred in both and both could used. However, when I did the math I realized that Tishrei did not creep into Cheshvan that year. Also, from the exact wording I don't think that is what Rav Kanievsky meant. Rather, it was close enough so the pasuk rounded it off. I would love to hear if anyone has any other suggestions to this question.

Anyway, when all is said and done, it is clear that the Talmudic literature does give credence to solar dates (at least according to Rashi). This is a good maareh makom to use if you want to try and cash in on two birthdays since it seems that Chazal used both calendars (although the solar one in use was not identical to the one currently in use).

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Oh Heavens! Seven or Two?

The standard text of Kiddush Levana praises Hashem for creating the heavens. The word used for heavens is the Hebrew שחקים which should instigate one to ask the following question. Why is it that Shechakim is used for the creation of heaven when we are seemingly being specific to the heavens in which the moon resides. Reish Lakish states that there are seven heavens: Vilon, Rakiyah, Shechakim, Zevul, Maon, Machon and Arvus. Each of these heavens has its own purpose. The moon is placed in Rakiyah and Shechakim has mills that grind manna for the righteous. (Chagigah 12b)

If Shechakim is the place of manna production and the moon is in Rakiyah, why is it that in our blessing that references the growth of the moon that we praise Hashem for creating Shechakim? Shouldn't we be praising Him for creating Rakiyah (or at least using the generic Shamayim)?

The Sefer HaBris offers a very simplistic, yet accurate answer. If one looked carefully, he would have noticed that Reish Lakish was not the only opinion cited. Rebbi Yehuda is mentioned a few lines prior to this statement and he contends that there are only two heavens (he refers to them as two Rakiyahs). Initially the Sefer HaBris states that a respectable Rav suggested to him that, perhaps, our blessing reflects the opinion of Rebbi Yehuda. The Sefer HaBris enjoyed this suggestion, but added to it the fact that elsewhere the Gemara states that the text of our blessing was formulated by REBBI YEHUDA. So, it is not just that our blessing reflects his opinion, IT IS HIS OPINION! (Sefer HaBris 4:2)

While this certainly sheds light on the text, some questions still remain. All seven terms of Reish Lakish, presumably, refer to the heavens mentioned by Rebbi Yehuda. Why does this text mention Shechakim which is not the common term? Also, why is it that Rebbi Yehuda's opinion is taken, from the way Reish Lakish is cited after his opinion one would think his opnion is the one that should be taken?

I wonder if it is possible that Rebbi Yehuda and Reish Lakish were not arguing as to what actually exists, but Rebbi Yehuda was discussing that there are two Rakiyahs. Then Reish Lakish mentioned that there are seven heavens. Included in Reish Lakish's Rakiyah would be the TWO Rakiyahs of Rebbi Yehuda. This is not problematic as we know that the Rishonim subdivide the heaven in which the moon is placed (Rakiyah) into nine parts, one for each planet, one for the stars and one for the "wheel" that turns them all. This division is not mentioned by either opinion in this passage. Therefore, I would contend that all these sources may be in agreement, but are discussing different methods of classification.

As such, perhaps, we mention Shechakim because that is the highest of the heavens that humans have interacted with. The first, Vilon, doesn't have much of a purpose. Rakiyah has the celestial objects that humans can see. Shechakim has manna for the righteous and we were able to eat that in the Wilderness. Next comes Zevul where there is a spiritual Beis HaMikdash in which the angel Michael brings sacrifices. This is something that humanity does not perceive directly. As one continues up the chain the heavens become less and less perceptible by humans. Maybe what we are stating in our blessing is the praise for the heavens that humans can offer perceive, it is only up to this point of creation that we can praise with some level of personal appreciation. The highest, Shechakim, is mentioned as if to say we can express our appreciation up to the heavens known as Shechakim.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Korach's Calendar

The Gemara teaches that the men of high stature that joined Korach's cult were so honorable that they even knew how to regulate the calendar. (Sanhedrin 110a) Our calendar follows a set of intricate rules that mesh the solar year with the lunar months. The outcome is a set of months based on the renewal of the moon that allows for the various holidays to occur in the appropriate seasons. While this is certainly considered to be one of the more difficult parts of halacha, one can ask why this was considered to be one of the defining features of these men.

Additionally, the Gemara mentions that when the standoff happened, the sun and moon ascended to the upper heavens and refused to take their regular places. Their displacement would have caused the world to be without sunrise or moonrise and would have had caused significant damage to life on this planet. It was only after Hashem shot arrows at them that caused them to return to their respective places. (Ibid.; although see Nedarim 39b for a slightly different version)

I would like to offer an approach, based on drush, to express what is possibly being stated. Korach is famous for his arguments that the people should lead themselves and that they have no need for Moshe and his rulership. (see Rashi Bamidbar 16:1) Korach argued that every individual had sufficient holiness and connection to Hashem and they, therefore, did not need Moshe to direct them. Rabbeinu Bachye discusses how Moshe went from Shevet to Shevet and told each one of them what they wanted to hear and why they shouldn't be subjugated under Moshe. Essentially, he was a man of the people and, although divisive in his battle against Moshe, he was a man who unites people. He was asking for a united government with equalty for all. He was arguing that Moshe was not a uniter, rather, he was surpressing the individual talents in order to keep order. Thus, Moshe was not, in his opinion, united the forces and qualities of all of Klal Yisrael. Korach felt that it was he that knew how to mesh all the elements together appropriately.

This is perhaps why he would choose men who knew how to mesh the opposing forces of the calendar. These were people who knew how to take the lunar months, which are not connected to the solar year, and mesh them with the solar year in a way that both qualities are expressed. Of course, Moshe was correct and he was appointed by Hashem. He was the one who knew how to make the sun and moon stop. There were battles when he caused the sun to stand still. Meaning, he knew that sometimes it is necessary not to mesh all the forces together. Sometimes things have no place. (See Maharsha Nedarim 39b)

Therefore, on the day of the standoff the sun and moon refused to come out. They recognized that it was not the time for the two to work in tandem, they knew that their forces must cease. If they were to be controlled by the Korach cult then they realized that they were not to be expressing Hashem's true glory.

Interestingly enough, the Gemara tells that Gehinom positions the cult of Korach in a specific place once every thirty days. At that time they can be heard screaming, "Moshe and his Torah are true and we are liars!" (Bava Basra 74a) The Rashbam points out that this happens on Rosh Chodesh. (Rashi's commentary cannot be found on this section of this tracate, the Rashbam's takes it place) How apropos that every Rosh Chodesh, the day the lunar months begin, that they are forced to scream that they are not to be the ones to regulate the calendar. (As an aside, the Gemara says, "Moshe V'Soroso Emes which makes one wonder why most people, song included, say, "Moshe Emes V'Soroso Emes.)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Yam Suf 7 or 8 Days from the Exodus?

Most people assume that Krias Yam Suf and its ensuing song happened on the seventh day of Pesach. However, Rashi at the end of this week's Parsha clearly states that it happened on the eighth day of Pesach. Rashi states that the eight strings of Tzitzis are symbolic of the eight days of travel from when we left Egypt until the sea split and we sang our Shira. (Rashi Bamidbar 15:41)

One of the issues that has been addressed regarding this Rashi is that it seems contradictory to another Rashi. When commenting on the events of Krias Yam Suf, Rashi mentions that it happened on the seventh day of the Exodus. Rashi even states that this is the basis for the custom to read the Torah portion of Krias Yam Suf on the seventh day of Pesach. (Rashi Shemos 14:5)

I would like to offer two suggestions that our founded on how to calculate when one's day begins. The first answer is suggested by Rabbeinu Bachye. He maintains that even though Jewish law usually recognizes night as preceding day, when it comes to sacrificial offerings the day comes first (regarding sacrifices, the portion placed on the Mizbeach is able to be burnt the night following the day in which the blood was sprinkled).

Our Exodus began on the 14 of Nisan when the Korbon Pesach, a sacrificial offering, was brought in the early afternoon. Thus, the morning of what we would refer to as the seventh day of Pesach is actually the eighth day from the Exodus if one is utilizing the sacrificial offering system. In this regard both the Rashi that maintained that it was day seven and the one that states that it was day eight are correct, they are just describing the event based on separate systems. (Rabbeinu Bachye Bamidbar 15:41)

Seeming to support this assumption is the fact that the Rashi that maintained that it was day eight focused on the time when Klal Yisrael sang and not when the Egyptians perished in the sea. They perished just before morning, (Shemos 14:27) but we did not sing until after daybreak. (Rashi Shemos 14:5) Unfortunately, Rabbeinu Bachye leaves hidden the reason why Tzitzis reflect the sacrificial offering system and the Torah portion read on Pesach reflects the regular system.

Before presenting another approach I would like to say, as an aside, that it is pretty fascinating that the evening during which the sea split had a very rare occurrence happen in the sky. That night the moon partially blocked Mars making it appear as if the two were touching (I know that I posted a similar thing with Saturn regarding the first Tisha B'Av earlier this week, but these events truly are rare which makes it even more fantastic that they seem to happen on these monumental dates in Jewish history). Astrologically, this event portends malevolent tidings. (Ibn Ezra Reishis Chachma 7) Interestingly, it occurred in the constellation Aquarius which is considered the be the mazal of Klal Yisrael. (Ibn Ezra Shemos 31:18) Aquarius, depicted as a man pouring a bucket of water, would have been seen as being afflicted by this sign. It seems interesting that Hashem bestowed His mercy that evening and saved this young nation. Just as he split the water of the Yam Suf, he "split open" the evil tidings found in the constellation of water that symbolized this nation and protected them miraculously. In fact, quite unbelievably, Rabbeinu Bachye mentions that the Jewish nation should have perished at the Yam Suf because the Egyptians had tapped into the inlfuence of Mars which is associated with death. It was only because of God's tremendous mercy that he saved us. (Rabbeinu Bachye Shemos 14:25)

I am certainly not qualified to argue with Rabbeinu Bachye, but I would like to suggest an alternate way one could have read Rashi based on the Meiri. The Meiri states that their are four accepted ways that civilizations have decided to begin their days. One is the Jewish way and that is the start from evening. A second way is to start from daybreak. Another is to start at midnight (like is the practice here in the U.S.) and the last way is to start from midday when the sun is at its peak. This last way, says the Meiri, is based on deep astrological meaning and this is how the ancient Egyptians began their day. (Meiri Pesachim 5a)

Rashi mentions that Paroh sent a messenger with us when we left Egypt to make sure that we would return after three days. When we did not, Paroh came out with his armies and advanced towards our camp on days five and six. The night of the seventh day of our Exodus his battalions were drowned in the sea. (Rashi Shemos 14:5) In fact, this is the same Rashi that mentions the reason for reading this portion on the seventh of Pesach.

The Sifri mentions that we left Egypt at midday. (Sifri Devarim 337) Rashi quotes from this Sifri elsewhere implying that he is of the same opinion. (See Rashi Bereishis 7:13) If Rashi agreed with the Meiri then Paroh sent his messenger with us right at the "beginning" of the first day which coincides with 15 Nisan in the Jewish calendar at midday (this is the day after the Korbon Pesach and the first day of our holiday of Pesach). That means that seven Egyptian days after would have the Egyptian destruction occurring on the night of the eighth day of the Jewish count. Since we do not follow the Egyptian calendar we commemorate this event with the seventh day based on our count and we read the Torah portion of this event on the seventh of Pesach. The Rashi at the end of our Parsha, though, would also be accurate. The Egyptians perished on what we would call the eighth day, but the seventh Egyptian day from our Exodus.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Solar Powered Giants or Orion's Belt Loosened?

As stated in the last post, my intent is to post at least three posts this week with each having its own personality. This one is a bit more on the esoteric side and the next will, hopefully, be more of a mathematical calculation.

This week's Parsha tells us that the spies sent into Canaan were witness to giants dwelling in the land. Rav Yehonasan Eibshitz zt"l wonders why there are no longer giants roaming the Earth. He then cites from various statements of Chazal that maintain that these giants are called "Anakim" in the Torah because the were "maanik" (block out) the sun when they would stand up. (Tiferes Yehonasan Bamidbar 13:28)

Rav Eibshitz then contends that their supersize and strength came from magical powers that they would draw from the sun. Since such magical powers have ceased to exert power in today's society, these beings can no longer exist. (Ibid.) In biblical times, however, such powers were around and in order to effectively combat them, Moshe, and later Yehoshua, caused the sun to stand still when battling these formidable foes. The sun would be positioned and stalled in order to cut the power source of these warriors. (Ibid. 13:30)

Another celestial suggestion as to who these giants may have been can be found be focusing on a later verse that states that they were the offspring of the Nephilim. (Bamidbar 13:33) Rashi comments that these Nephilim were Shemchazai and Azael that fell from heaven in the times of Enosh (Adam's grandson). (Rashi Bamidbar 13:33) Rashi appears to be paraphrasing the Yalkut Shimoni that tells over a fascinating story.

The Yalkut Shimoni mentions that in the times of Enosh there were some angels (Shemchazai and Azael) that wished to prove that they could withstand the pressure to sin if they were only given the chance to descend to the earthly realm. Hashem granted their wish and they "fell" to Earth. They are called Nephilim because the root of the word is "nephal" which means to fall. Once on Earth they began to sin and they started to try and intermarry with human women. There was one woman that withstood their advances, Istahar, and for her piety she was placed in the heavens as a star in the star cluster called Kimah, the Pleiades. (Yalkut Shimoni Bereishis 366)

Interestingly enough, the word Nephla, of the same root as Nephilim, is the Aramaic word for the constellation Orion, Kesil. (Targum Iyov 9:9) It is even more fascinating to note that the young girl, Istahar, was placed in the Pleiades which, according to Chazal, are supposed to project the opposite influence to Orion. (Berachos 58b) If these angels fell from the heavens from the region of Orion (perhaps meaning that they were considered to be angels that exert the influences associated with this constellation) then it would almost be as if Hashem was saying that this girl was able to counteract the influence of these beings so she would forever be memorialized in the area of the sky that demonstrates the ability to withstand Orion.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Rambam Knew Math!!!

There has been a question that I have had regarding an opinion stated by the Rambam for which I think I may have finally found the answer. Before I delve into it, let me provide some background. As many are familiar with, Chazal understood that the constellation that serves as the backdrop to the sun is considered to be the mazal of the month (since we see the sun from a different part of our orbit every day, the sun appears to slowly move across the constellations behind it. The path it "takes" is known as the ecliptic). In Sivan, for example, the stars that are behind the sun are those that form the constellation Teomim, Gemini; therefore, Teomim is the mazal of Sivan.

The issue that one can have with this is that, currently, this is no longer true. Over hundreds of years the stars shift, relative to us, and currently things are one constellation off. The stars that currently reside behind the sun during the month of Sivan are actually those that form the constellation Shor, Taurus.

The reason for this shift is usually described by comparing the earth to a spinning top (dreidel). As a top spins it also wobbles. The earth's wobble is relatively slow; it completes one "wobble" every twenty-five thousand plus years. During the in between time, the constellations slowly "shift" and that results in the system that Chazal put forth not being recognizable to us.

The Rambam notes this phenomenon in his Mishnah Torah (Yesodei HaTorah 3:7) and provides a relatively accurate rate of wobble (1 degree per approximately seventy years; interestingly enough this number is also given by the Ibn Ezra in his Sefer HaTa'amim. The Greeks felt it was more like 1/100; the Arabs refined it more in line with the number chosen by the Ibn Ezra and Rambam. It was only after Newton provided his theory of gravity that the currently accepted number of 1/72 was chosen). The Rambam mentions that the mazalos have shifted and states that the mazal of a month is not connected to the physical arrangement of stars, rather, it is connected to the time of year and, therefore, the mazal of the month of Sivan (from our example) is still Teomim. The Rambam then informs us that the time the names of the constellations were chosen was during the time of the Mabul, Great Flood.

Since Chazal and the Greeks seem to agree on the names, positions and forms of the constellations, it stands to reason that they would agree upon where the exact borders between constellations can be found. The problem I had with the Rambam was the if one does the math of when the Mabul was and "moves" the stars back to their relative positions, he will find that the vernal equinox was located in the constellation of Shor (both using the 1/72 ratio agreed upon by contemporary science, and the 1/70 provided by the Rambam himself). The vernal equinox is the place where the sun is on the first day of spring. Since Nisan is the month that this should be happening in, the vernal equinox should be in T'leh, the mazal of Nisan. The Rambam was certainly capable of doing the simple math of calculating how many degrees one needs to move the constellations based on how many years had passed since the Mabul. How could the Rambam state that the constellations shift at a rate of 1/70 and in the same halacha mention that the origination of the names of the mazalos was in the time of the Mabul!?!

The answer seems to be that the assumption that Chazal necessarily agreed with the Greeks as to the place of the borders is incorrect. There is a discrepancy in Rashi as to where the stars of Kimah are located, either in T'leh (Rashi R"H 11b) or in Shor (Rashi in a note at the end of R"H). The Rashash on Midrash Rabbah in last week's parsha (that's why I decided to post this now) writes that these "Rashis" are in disagreement and that this reflects a disagreement between Shas and the Midrash Rabbah. (Rashash Bamidbar Rabbah 10:8:29; also see 30 in which the Rashash refers to an alligator as an Akrav) I believe many would assume (and perhaps the Rashash himself believes) that the disagreement is that we do not know what Kimah is and there are different star patterns that are being suggested (perhaps the Hyades would be the other opinion). I, however, believe that it is possible that all agree that Kimah is the Pleiades (the conventional translation), and the disagreement is where the borders of Shor and T'leh are (and, perhaps, other borders could be disputed).

If correct, Kimah was in T'leh at the time of the Mabul. It would, therefore, be logical to assume that the Rambam would be of this second opinion and then his statement makes sense perfectly (based on his calculations).

I have included a recreation of these constellations and borders as they were in the time of the Mabul. The recreation reflects the currently accepted numbers and, therefore, if one were to draw a vertical line just to the right of Kimah, the equinox would still be in Shor. One must keep in mind that the Rambam had a ratio of 1/70 and not 1/72. According to his calculations, the equinox would be a few degrees more to the left and Kimah would barely be in T'leh. The Rashi that is of this opinion calls Kimah "the tail of T'leh" making this position seem accurate.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Midrash Similar to Mythology

How does one address the issue that there are many instances when Midrashic teachings are extremely similar to Greek mythology? There are many instances where the storyline expressed by a Midrash will be similar to a mythological legend, sometimes the two are identical (examples will be cited). This question has bothered many for centuries and many answers have been proffered. Many are comfortable with stating that the Greeks stole Jewish concepts and incorporated them into their own ideologies. The problem that some have with this approach is that the culture of the Greeks and that of Chazal seem so diametrically opposed that it seems unreasonable that one would have taken from the other.

I would like to offer a theory and offer an example to support it that is pertinent to Matan Torah (and, of course, would love to hear feedback). Chazal understood that the natural forces of both science and history are encoded and symbolized by the stars. They can be deduced via knowledge of the movements of the stars (the original 4 8 constellations) and the associated symbolism between the stellar patterns and various items. (See Ibn Ezra Shemos 33:31 and Rabbeinu Bachye Bamidbar 23:9; also see Ibn Ezra's Reishis Chachma) For example, the Torah was given in the month of Sivan and the mazal of Sivan (the constellation that rose with the Sun during this month in ancient times) is Teomim, Gemini the Twins. Twins demonstrate a connection between two entities that is unmatched elsewhere. When united they display a complete state not possessed by others. The name Teomim may have its roots in the word Tam meaning complete. (See Midrash Tanchuma Haazinu 1) It was in this month that Klal Yisrael united with Hashem via the Torah.

The Greek mythology is depicted in the night sky. The constellations tell over these legendary stories. One can find the constellation Perseus near Andromeda, Cetus, Cassieopeia and Cepheus. These figures play the roles in a storyline that has monsters, heros and damsels saved at the last minute in Greek mythology.

Since Chazal agree with the basic depictions of the constellations, (see Ibn Ezra's Reishis Chachma) then it stands to reason that they saw elements in the natural world that express these concepts. I do not know if the Greeks took from Chazal, had a tradition dating back to Adam or if this was a natural science that they were able to uncover, but it seems that they also studied the sky and created their myths based on the constellations. That being said, if they express these concepts in a similar fashion to the way a Midrash is stated, it should not be shocking. Of course, the Greeks did distort (and even worship) these ideas and concepts and the figures turned into gods and the stories did not display their true meaning (if the true meaning was ever completely uncovered), but this definitely helps show why similarities not only can, but should occur between mythology and Midrash. (Unfortunately, the symbolism behing the aforementioned constellations is beyond the scope of this post, but the symbolism seems to depict the idea of the Sotah and that Hashem will eventually bring back His wife, Klal Yisrael, even though she has strayed from Him.)

The example with Matan Torah can be seen in with the constellations, Aquarius, Aquila and Cepheus. Aquarius is a Water Pourer, but is also associated with the child of the highest god in Greek mythology. Aquarius represents the "child" of Hashem in reality as it is the mazal of Klal Yisrael. (Ibn Ezra Shemos 31:18) This child was taken by an eagle, Aquila, to rejoin his father in the spiritual realm. We are taught that Hashem took us from Egypt to be his premier nation "on the wings of eagles." (Shemos 19:4-5) In the month of Sivan when Gemini would be rising with the Sun, Aquarius would be setting in the west. At this time, Cepheus, a constellation that represents a king, is seen at the height of the sky sitting in his throne. The "son" Aqaurius is standing on the ground in the west, but immediately next to him is the eagle, Aquila, to take him to his king, Cepheus. It seems pretty clear that the Greeks were (wether knowingly or not) expressing Matan Torah in their legend.

There are many other examples like this (like the story of Procrustes), but unfortunately this post cannot go for forever.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Lifetime of Space Travel

In this week's parsha we are informed of the size of the Klal Yisrael's standing army in the Wilderness. Only those above twenty years of age were eligible to fight. This number seems somewhat arbitrary since the age of adulthood is considered to be thirteen. Rav Yehonasan Eibshitz resolves this by giving some background.

Rav Eibshitz quotes a verse from Tehillim that states that the average life span of a human is seventy years. The numebr seven has extreme celestial connotations, as the natural world is perceived as being under the influences of the seven planets, the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn (a theme discussed in the some of the past few posts).

These planets are depicted as orbiting the Earth (this is how the human perceives them) and the order of the orbital circles is as follows (from farthest to closest): Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury and the Moon. Rav Eibshitz suggests that each planets plays a role in the development of the human and each has influence for ten years.

Saturn governs the first ten years and this is recognized through its Hebrew name, Shabsai, which comes from the same root as Shabbos and means to rest. Saturn has the slowest apparent orbital motion and appears to be resting. A human spends much of these years at home and not able to go out into the world. Thus, Saturn's influence is clearly seen.

The next ten years are those of Jupiter's influence. Known by the Hebrew word for righteousness, Tzedek, Jupiter is perceived to have some of the most beneficial and almost holy qualities. It is during the next ten years that the child will attain adulthood (thirteen for a boy and twelve for a girl) and be able to accomplish his holy task in this world by performing mitzvos.

Rav Eibshitz then suggests that Mars, known as Maadim meaning red, takes over. Mars is associated with blood and death and it is at this age that the human has the appropriate celestial qualities that make him a warrior. Therefore, it is at this stage that the Torah says men should be drafted.

Rav Eibshitz does not tell us why the following thirty years are under the influence of the Sun, Venus and then Mercury. He, instead skips to the last ten years of the average human's life and tells us of the associated lunar traits. Perhaps, from age thirty to forty one is considered to be associated with the Sun because the Sun is the most powerful of the planets. Its abilities and physical influence on Earth make it seem as if it is the most powerful celestial force. These middle years of the human are when he is able to accomplish much of what he will be able to accomplish. These years are the peak of his life.

From forty to sixty he is first influenced by Venus and then Mercury. Perhaps, these planets are chosen because they are both between Earth and the Sun (not in the perceived orbits mentioned above, but in the actual way they orbit the Sun). As such, they are only visible in the sky during the evening twilight and then into the early night or from late night into the morning twilight (Mercury being the closest planet to the Sun is actually never seen during night, but always in twilight). They are never seen in the middle of the night. Perhaps, this is symbolic of the aging of the human and the entrance into the twilight of his life. First with Venus which is visible sometimes just after or before twilight, and then with Mercury which is only seen in the twilight.

Lastly, the person's years from sixty to seventy are governed by the Moon. This is very pronounced, says Rav Eibshitz, by the person turning white. His hair turns gray and then white (I am just praying that I still have hair, at the rate I am going the chances are slim). The Moon is the whitest of the planets and its Hebrew name, Levana, comes from the same grammatical root as that of the word for white, Lavan.

(In case you have been noticing, a lot of the material for my posts, recently, has come from Rav Yehonasan Eibshitz. He seems to understand a lot of symbolism, especially numerical symbolism, to be intertwined with this type of astrology. If you enjoy this type of astrological expression I would highly encourage purchasing the chumash that is currently marketed as his peirushim and contains the Tiferes Yehonasan, which has this type of stuff on chumash, the Ahavas Yeshonasan, which has this type of stuff on haftarah and Divrei Yehonasan which contains a pilpulistic commentary to the chumash. Alternatively, Rabbeinu Bachye seems to offer a lot, as well, albeit with an extremely different style. I must admit, I personally am drawn more to Rabbeinu Bachye's style as it often is more associated with astronomy and I am more drawn to that as opposed to astrology. The style of the upcoming book is more of that nature and so were some of the older posts, but Rav Eibshitz's certainly catches my attention.)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Determining the Identity of the Unicorn

Before I get into this post, let me first give a very basic overview as to what a constellation is. If one looks toward the sky he will be able to see hundreds, if not thousands, of stars (unless it is cloudy, daytime or he lives close to a city with lots of lights and pollution). It would be virtually impossible to discuss the different regions of the sky if they were not divided into smaller units. Throughout history, humankind has recognized different areas of the sky as being distinct sections. Each defined grouping of stars was pictured as an object (i.e. a lion, bull, etc.) and these formations (like connect the dots) are constellations. It is similar to looking at a map of the U.S. and then subdividing it into fifty states.

In the times of the Greeks there were forty-eight constellations, and the Ibn Ezra contends that Chazal agree with both this number and the actual division. These were considered to be Divinely created and to exert influence on life on this planet. As time continued, people decided that they needed to subdivide the sky into more regions (without any Divine intervention) otherwise it would be too difficult to converse with one another. The new divisions, which became standardized, provide a framework for both scientists and laymen to discuss the sky with relative ease. These constellations were generally created by astronomers interested in contemporary science and not astrologers who were interested in the influences of these regions. As such, the names of these often reflect more scientific objects such as Microscopium, etc. Currently, there are eighty-eight recognized constellations.

Now, let's talk about unicorns. There is a constellation called Monoceros. Monoceros is Greek for unicorn (mono = one and ceros = horn; interestingly, often times if you exchange the "c" in a Greek word for a "k" you get the Hebrew word, for example, Okaynus, and Oceanis for the word for Oceans. In this instance you get keresh) and that is what this constellation depicts. There is a discrepancy as to when this constellation was "created", but it seems that it was in the sixteenth or seventeenth century. It appears that Plancius is the first confirmed source for it and Bartsch(ius) definitely included it in his later work. A notable point is that there is discussion as to whether the, slightly earlier and very reputable historian, Joseph Scaliger allegedly claimed to have seen this constellation in a much earlier ancient Persian source. If so, that would, perhaps, place it as far back as the time of Chazal. If the Persians' unicorn was similar to that of the ones mentioned by Chazal, then this information could be used to ascertain this beast's identity.

About a year ago I made, what I feel, is a big discovery. I was learning the Ibn Ezra's Reishis Chachma for my upcoming sefer (sorry, I had to put in another shameless plug). When the Ibn Ezra delineates the constellations he only mentions the standard forty-eight of Chazal. However, he constantly refers to other segments and star patterns in the sky. This would be comparable to looking at the map of the U.S. and, in addition to the states (our constellations), we could also see some counties and regions. These are currently referred to as asterisms (i.e. the Big Dipper which is a segment of the constellation Ursa Major). When discussing Gemini, the constellation associated with the upcoming month of Sivan, the Ibn Ezra discusses some nearby asterisms. One of them is, you guessed it, Monoceros!!! At first I was completely amazed. It seemed that I had historical proof that this "constellation" did, in fact, predate (since the Ibn Ezra lived hundreds of years before) and that Scaliger's claim may have validity. Not only that, but the Ibn Ezra also refers to all the objects mentioned in his work as having influence on the planet, a suggestion implying that these are Divinely created asterisms. Since the only Reishis Chachma that I was able to get was a translation I set out to find a copy of the original Hebrew (something I had wanted to do anyway).

I finally located a copy published in 1939 that contained the original Hebrew as well as a French and English translation. The Hebrew reads "חיה בעלת קרן" which does sound like unicorn, but, I must concede, is not definitive anymore since one could argue that it just means a horned animal. I do find it very unlikely to be something other than the unicorn, though, because what is the likelihood of that happening in the exact location of the modern Monoceros which Scaliger claims predates its "modern creation".

Based on Scaliger's testimony and the above proof, it seems that Plancius and Bartsch were aware of the older asterism and decided to include it into the sky as a constellation (by the way, there is no reason to suspect that they intended to present this as their own creation, rather, it is very possible that they just intended to upgrade an asterism of ancient to the status of constellation in order to divide the sky into smaller parts). Scaliger's alleged sighting in the Persian source would have included a picture of the animal (it was common to draw the stars with fancy artistic representations of their associated items behind them) and it stands to reason that Plancius was aware of this information. Therefore, they would have known the Persian unicorn's true identity, which would probably be identical to the Ibn Ezra's.

There has been speculation as to the possibility of the unicorn being a giraffe. The giraffe has two horns on the top of its head, but another bump in the middle of its head. If it is the unicorn, then, what Chazal meant when they said an animal with one horn between its eyes was that in addition to two regular horns it had a third in between its eyes. The translation as unicorn would, then, be in error. If the giraffe is the only species of unicorn mentioned then, perhaps, the above stellar discoveries put a little doubt on this assertion (in addition to the asterism/constellation being called Monoceros as opposed to Triceros). There is another constellation created by Plancius and charted by Bartsch, Camelopardalis. In case you haven't figured it out, camelopardalis means giraffe in Latin (originating from the Greek) and Plancius was dedicating this region of the sky to this animal (once again, camel = gamal, o = u and pardalis = bardalis, a spotted cat like an ocelot; this would show the Hebrew equivalent of a mix between a camel and bardalis, a giraffe does look something like a mix of the two). The fact that there was another constellation created by the same people indicates that the two cannot be one and the same. The depiction that is in use, stemming from Plancius and Bartsch, is a horselike creature with a horn on its head.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Blasphemous Bread of Permanence

As I was continuing to review this week's parsha, Emor, I had a theory to explain something that has bothered me for awhile. At the end of the parsha we are taught of the convert whose mother was from Dan and father from Egypt. (see Mizrachi and Gur Aryeh as to why he is considered a convert) This individual was blasphemous and put to death for his actions.

Rashi teaches that he initially went out with one of two complaints. He found it preposterous that the Showbread in the Mishkan was placed on the Shulchan for nine days prior to being eaten. He also felt that his tent should be able to be placed in the camp of Dan since his mother was from Dan. When he was informed that he was wrong he blasphemed.

When Korach argued that a talis that is completely sky blue should not need tzitzis, we find that the commentaries give a metaphoric explanation for his choice of argument. What could the convert in our parsha have been insinuating with his remarks about the Showbread?

In the Mishkan there were two vessels that were placed across from each other, the Menorah and the Shulchan (both mentioned in the portion prior to the blasphemer). The Rema, in his Toras HaOlah, cites earlier sources that contend that the Menorah symbolized the concept of the seven planetary influences. There are seven "planets" that are visible to the naked eye: the sun, moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Depending on which constellation they are residing in, these planets exert influence on earth. The Menorah had seven branches, each lit for the purposes of shining light. The seven influences are thus shown to shine forth their power. The Shulchan, however, had twelve pieces of Showbread placed on it. There is another system of astrology in which the twelve constellations of the zodiac are seen to exert their influence. Unlike the planets, though the constellations are still relative to another. The planets, on the other hand, wander from one constellation to the next; each going at its own pace.

As we have mentioned in the past, Rav Yeshonasan Eibshitz contends that the system of twelve constellations is more pertinent to the Jews and the system of seven to the other nations of the world. This seems to be echoed by the fact that numerous sources compare the twelve tribes of Yisrael to the twelve constellations.

Perhaps, what this blasphemer intended was of a philosophical nature. He was wondering why Klal Yisrael can camp so proudly with their banners, yet, the newcomers who chose this way of life are not allowed into the camp permanently. They may trade and walk through, but they may not pitch their tent. These holy individuals have have wandered around and had chose to join Hashem's nation should be allowed equal expression. He was asking why the Showbread should contain "stale" bread, the bread that has been there for days and not a fresh piece, one that was just made.

The Showbread shows the twelve stagnant elements and also the twelve tribes. These are the ones that have not wandered and their permanence is expressed as an encampment. (the twelve constellations are considered to camp in exactly the same formation as the camping of the tribes see Midrash HaGAdol Bamidbar 2) While those that have wandered into these "constellations", the planets (or converts) have influence and are very holy, they are not the same as the originals. Their influence can shine as they wander into and fuse with the constellations, but they are not part of the "kahal" itself. They are not able to pitch a tent of permanence. Those who come and join exert influence and are placed in the Mishkan, but the Showbread is not its place. The Showbread keeps its bread for a duration of time, it does not continuously change and show wandering.

With this concept, one can appreciate the mesiras nefesh that a convert takes. He knowingly joins a nation in order to serve Hashem even though he recognizes he will feel like an outsider. He cannot have permanence (he is also not given land in Eretz Yisrael), yet, he sacrifices it all for his determination to esrve Hashem. Perhaps, this is why his vessel produces light. We can see and recognize and learn from this individual what fiery passion is truly necessary!

(I apologize if this was somewhat unclear, it was typed in a hurry).

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

No Martians in the Mikdash

I happened to see an interesting explanation from Rav Yehonasan Eibshitz that was so similar to last week's post that I could not help but post it for this week. The Haftarah for this week's parsha, Parshas Emor, comes from Yechezkel (44). In it the Navi describes what the service in the Beis HaMikdash will be like in the future. There are many discrepencies between this description and the service as described in Chumash and the Gemara tells us that for this Sefer Yechezkel was almost left out of Tanach. (Shabbos 13b) Finally Chananya ben Chizkiyah reconciled the discrepencies and it was allowed.

Interestingly, many commentaries still discuss the literal translations of the words and do not address the above mentioned issue. Rav Eibshitz seems to take this path and, therefore, provides insight into one of these perplexing verses. Yechezkel tells us that the Kohanim will wear linen garments when serving in the inner sanctum and will not have any wool on them. (Yechezkel 44:17) This is in stark contrast with the description of their clothing as described in the Chumash. There we are taught that their clothing contained both linen and wool, a combination prohibited for others to wear and referred to as Shaatnez.

Rav Eibshitz explains that linen is often times referred to as שש which is also the word for "six". In addition it is referred to as בד, a word whose numerical value is six. (see chapter 13 of my Tiferes Aryeh for more on this numerical value and how it seems to be a "hava ameinah" of the Gemara) Mystically it is a garment that brings together (in a cleansing way) the natural forces of six of the seven planets (the ancients recognized all items that moved independent of the regular stars to be planets. As such they talked of seven planets; the sun, moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. The others are not visible to the naked eye and are, therefore, not discussed). The only planet it does not contain is that of Mars.

Mars connotes judgement and harshness (see last week's post) and has no place in the future worship of Hashem. (Rav Eibshitz points out that shrouds are of linen since Hashem will save the dead from judgement). In the past the Kohanim wore wool in their clothing because we had to contend with the evil forces and even "bribe" them to do the proper service of Hashem (see last week's post). In the future, however, things will be more perfect and we will no longer have wool in the clothing of the Kohanim.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Satan: Our Martian King of Earth

The Ramban and Rabbeinu Bachye reveal to the public what the Ibn Ezra considered to be a mystical secret. They state that the goat taken to Azazel as part of the Yom Kippur service is actually a symbolic show of bribing the Satan. The Satan is the evil inclination that resides in all of us and on Yom Kippur we rise above it and act like angels. As such, Hashem prescribed an offering that, on the surface level, appears to be a pacification of the Satan. This, then, enables us to completely serve Hashem without his interference. Obviously, we are not really worshipping Satan, as that would be idolatrous, this is a commandment from Hashem and is serving Hashem, but its symbolism is something to be taken to heart.

The planets and stars are considered to be the place where the spiritual realm of heaven and the physical realm of earth meet. As such, all events determined by heaven are considered to flow down upon us through the stars and planets. The Ramban and Rabbeinu Bachye contend that Mars, מאדים, is considered to be the force of the Satan (and demons) and connotes evil, death and destruction. The desolate wilderness is considered to be under his rule and it is there that this goat is taken. All animal life is considered to be influenced by the celestial objects and goats are considered to be under the rule of Mars, as well. (see Ibn Ezra Reishis Chachma for more detail of this concept) It happens to be fascinating that the other ancient civilizations also perceived Mars as a cruel and deadly influence. Usually it has been associated with death and war. (See Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos) The Parah Adumah, red heifer, is also a display of this, says the Ramban, but that is not the discussion of this post.

Rabbeinu Bachye furthers that the numerical value of מאדים is identical to that of המלך, "the king". It is our evil physical inclinations, ruled by the Satan, that, unfortunately, seem to govern and run our lives. The Satan, therefore, appears to be the king of this world. I find it fascinating that our prayers from Rosh Hashana through Yom Kippur (the time being discussed) focus on calling Hashem "our King". We change a blessing in our Shemonah Esrei from calling Hashem a holy God to calling Him a holy King. The chazzan starts the Yom Tov prayer with the word המלך, that same word that normally equals Mars, but in this context we make clear that it is Hashem who is the real king. In another piyut we contrast the Heavenly King with the destitude king, usually considered to be man, but, perhaps, truly referring to the Satan.

It would seem that these days, at the beginning of our year, are supposed to state emphatically, that although it normally seems that the king is Mars, we are proclaiming that Hashem is truly the king!!!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ancient Influences of Outside Cultures

The names of the Hebrew months that we currently use are not biblical or even Hebrew! In fact, the Yerushalmi (Rosh Hashana 1:2) states that these were the secular names used by the Babylonians and we took them with us when we returned to Eretz Yisrael after this first exile. Many years ago archaeologists uncovered an ancient stone in the ancient city of Nineveh that confirmed this fact.

The question that arises is that if these are secular names, why is it that we find sources that "darshan" them. For example, a Midrash teaches that the month beginning this evening, Iyar, is called אייר from the root אור meaning light. It was in this month, contends the Midrash, that Bnai Yisrael received the manna with "shining countenance" and it was also then that Hashem shined his glory for them with the clouds of glory that escorted them in the Wilderness. (see Torah Sheleimah Miluim Parshas Bo pp. 177-178) It seems odd that the ancient Babylonians would care to call their months by names that exalt the Jewish nation.

Some, like the Bnai Yisaschar (Nisan Maamar 1), contend that Aramaic is a holy tongue and we know that the Torah was given in "Targum" in addition to its Hebrew version. Ancient Targum, literally translation, is in Aramaic. As such, these names are inherently part of the language and reflect the true nature of the word (in this case month). Interestingly, the people who use it, presumably, do not know the true origin of their native tongue. While not an outright question on this approach, it seems odd that some of these names are also names of Babylonian gods. In fact, the Midrash mentions that Tammuz is referred to as Tammuz because that is the name of a pagan god (this has been confirmed historically with a Babylonian god) and the Jews practiced idolatry in this month when they made the Golden Calf. It seems peculiar that the name of a pagan god should have been the inherent nature and name of a month.

Others have suggested that when the rabbinic authorities allowed this element of secular culture to permeate into Jewish culture (see Ramban Shemos 12:2 who contends that not only did they allow it, but they advocated its practice), they gave it a Jewish spin to make it distinctly Jewish. (see Torah Sheleimah cited above)

Regardless of what the origins of these names of the months are, it is clear that all agree that they did not start off being Jewish. How fascinating it is to note that here we have our culture that took a part of another culture and thousands of years later the originators are gone and the only ones preserving the Babylonian tradition are the Jews!!! Hashem's countenance shone upon us in Iyar that protected and sustained us throughout the harshness of our exile in the Wilderness and, apparently has never ceased. It has protected us throughout the rest of our exiles. Those who have persecuted us have fallen to the wayside and ironically the only remnant left is through their oppressed nation that has far outlasted them!!!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Goodnight Moon

The climactic moment of the Ten Plagues was the final one, the killing of the firstborns at midnight. Last year I posted about the star Sirius' connection to this event. This year I would like to add one more point to that post.

An entire lunar cycle (from our perspective) takes approximately 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes and 3 1/3 seconds. Since this tenth plague occurred on the 15th of the lunar month, that means that the moon was full.

Many notice that the moon is sometimes visible in the daytime and at other times at night. The basic overview of its rise and set times is that in the beginning of the lunar month it is visible in the afternoon and sets just after sunset. Every subsequent day it appears a little later in the day and sets a little later in the evening. In the middle of the month it rises at sunset and sets at sunrise and it then begins to rise after sunset and set in the morning until the cycle begins again.

When putting all this together, one can see that at midnight,the moment of the plague, the moon was full and at its peak. The sun, on the other, has its peak at midday and is at its lowest at midnight. The other nations of the world are compared to the sun (see Maharsha Yoma 20) and Klal Yisrael to the moon (see Midrash Tehillim 22). This was finally the moment when Klal Yisrael was shining and at its peak and their oppressors were at their lowest.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Halacha vs. History?

Most people are familiar with the fact that this Shabbos is referred to as Shabbos HaGadol. The common reason given for this title is that on the Shabbos prior to the first Pesach, the Exodus, Klal Yisrael took sheep, an Egyptian god, to be their Pesachim and the Egyptians did not harm them. This miraculous event is recognized by commemorating the Shabbos prior to Pesach as Shabbos HaGadol. (see Shulchan Aruch O.C. 430 and Mishna Berurah) The problem is that this does not seem to work out historically.

Seder Olam, a Baraisa written by Rebbi Yose the Tanna and cited throughout Shas, mentions that the fifteenth of Nisan in the year of the Exodus was a Friday. If so, then the tenth of Nisan, the day Klal Yisrael took their sheep, would have to be a Sunday. Shouldn't we then be celebrating Sunday HaGadol, then, instead of Shabbos HaGadol (or at least discard this reason to call this Shabbos "Shabbos HaGadol")?

The answer, perhaps, creates a more intriguing enigma then the one presented above. The Gemara in Shabbos (87b-88a) presents a machlokes in which the Rabbanan maintain that the fifteenth of that year was on a Friday and Rebbi Yose maintains that it was on a Thursday. If we follow Rebbi Yose's opinion, then our acceptance of this reason fpr Shabbos HaGadol makes sense. According to him the day Klal Yisrael took their sheep was Shabbos. The halachic practice is to follow Rebbi Yose's opinion regarding the halachic dispute that resulted from the historical record in Miseches Shabbos. Therefore, it stands to reason that we should be of his opinion. In addition, we generally follow Rebbi Yose's opinion in all disputes. (see Eruvin 46b)

(Parenthetically, Rebbi Yose's version of history has Matan Torah on 7 Sivan not 6. The Magen Avraham, and many other authorities have delved into this issue as it relates to our calling Shavuos, 6 Sivan, "Zman Matan Toraseinu.")

The question that one should ask now is, "Why did Rebbi Yose use the Rabbanan's date in his book, Seder Olam?" In fact, the Gemara in Shabbos quotes this Seder Olam by name and contends that Rebbi Yose does not see it as problematic to his personal opinion because he maintains that it reflects the Rabbanan's opinion. While we do find Rebbi Yose using other opinions in his Seder Olam (see Niddah 46b), they usually are halchically oriented and not focussed on the historical record. Since Seder Olam is focussed on history, I would have thought that all historical citations are his opinion, it is only the halachic matter that is brought in tangentially that we assume is not his own opinion. However, now, this is impossible to state as here it is the historical record that is the focus and the halacha that is tangential (Seder Olam does not even reference the halacha, it is only found in Shabbos). Rather, it is clear that he quotes other Tannaim's opinions even when presenting the history.

To show how this is much more dramatic than just a difference of one day (Sunday vs. Shabbos), consider the following. Assuming the records are accurate, then, the Rosh Chodesh dates would have to work out with actual visibility of the moon (using the first new moon after the vernal, spring, equinox). When looking back historically, the Rabbanan's 15 Nisan on a Friday, which produces a Friday Rosh Chodesh, works out for the year that Seder Olam places the Exodus 1311 B.C.E. (there appears to be another opinion of Rebbi Yehoshua that would maintain it was in 1312 B.C.E. and on a Tuesday, but that is beyond the scope of this post).

Since Rebbi Yose's Rosh Chodesh does not work out with this year he must be of the opinion that the Exodus was in a different year (the lunar visibilty of the new moon just prior to the equinox also does not work out for him). There are only two years that could reasonably fit with a Thursday Rosh Chodesh (and still keep with the Torah's chronology; albeit not with Seder Olam's chronology) and they are 1320 B.C.E. and 1324 B.C.E. Based on other Midrashic sources (Bereishis Rabbah 6 and the Yotzer for Prashas HaChodesh), the 1320 B.C.E. date is more likely although this is beyond the scope of this post.

This would mean that Rebbi Yose has a totally different record of history (not just a difference of one day) than the one presented by the work he authored on history!!! It is fascinating to see that he felt the need to create an entire work to preserve the history that reflects an opinion that is not his own!!! It also would mean that the convention of referring to the current year 5770 is really larger than the true number as it is based on Seder Olam which is 9 or 13 years longer than Rebbi Yose's number (assuming we use this as our reason for calling it Shabbos HaGadol)!!!