Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Magically Disappearing Source of an Astrological System

Due to Rosh Chodesh's occurrence this Shabbos, the regular Haftarah will not be read. While I plan IY"H to post something astronomical about the Rosh Chodesh Haftarah later this week, I found an amazing astronomical reference within VaEira's normal Haftarah, as well. While referencing Egypt, Yechezkel HaNavi states (Yechezkel 29:4),

"והדבקתי דגת יאריך בקשקשתיך וגו'"

“and I will cause the fish of your rivers to cling to your scales, etc.”

Rav Yehonasan Eibshitz zt”l (Ahavas Yehonasan) makes the following assertion. There are two astrological systems. One based on the twelve signs of the zodiac (which most are familiar with) and one based on the seven “planets” that are visible to the naked eye, the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn (see Shabbos 129b and Rashi’s commentary). However, the zodiacal system is a more spiritually pure one and the seven planetary system is one that is more physical. Therefore, the lower level system can be accessed via magic and the higher one cannot.

Rav Eibshitz states that it is well known that the kosher animals and fish are placed under the influences of the higher level and the non-kosher ones are under the lower level. He states that a fish, דג, has the numerical value of seven connoting the seven planets, but the word for scales, קשקשת, equals 1,200. These scales are the attribute that can be used to classify a fish as being kosher. When removing the zeroes from 1,200 (מספר קטן) this reference conjures up the number 12 indicating the twelve signs of the zodiac.

Therefore, Paroh, the one being cursed in the prophecy, was being told that even with all of his magicians, he will be ensnared by that which is represented by the twelve zodiacal signs. Even though he may be capable of distorting and manipulating the purely physical, he will never be able to overpower the spiritual component of the world.

While this is a fascinating understanding, perhaps, more amazing to me is the concept in general. The earlier astrological sources all indicate that all species are influenced by both systems (see Ibn Ezra’s Reishis Chachma). Jews, usually the equivalent of the “kosher human”, are certainly expressed as being subjected to both influences (see Shabbos 129b, Shabbos 156a and Pesikta Zutrasa Shemos 1:2). When citing his source, Rav Eibshitz only states “as is found” and does not indicate an exact place. Rav Eibshitz takes for granted that the reader is familiar with this concept, yet, it seems so elusive. Obviously, such a reknowned talmid chacham in all of Torah, including the mystical side, clearly has a source, and he must have known that the Talmudic, Midrashic and Rishonic literature present difficulties (although, undoubtedly, he would be able to resolve these issues easily). Whatever he is citing must have been something that was widespread in his time, and yet, it does not seem to have been preserved up to the present. Any suggestions?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

beats me.