Sunday, August 5, 2012

Ancient Roots For Oxen (Amended)

When describing the bountiful plenty that Hashem will bestow upon us when we keep the Torah, the pasuk refers to cattle and sheep as follows:

"שגר אלפיך ועשתרות צאנך"

"The offspring of your cattle and your flocks of sheep." (Devarim 28:4)

While this is not the only time these words are used, they are used infrequently enough that the Rishonim feel it necessary to translate the words. (See their writings to Devarim 7:13) The words "שגר אלפיך ועשתרות" are usually not those found for offspring, cattle and flocks. Rather the more common "ילידי בקר ועדרים" seem more appropriate. (See Rashi Devarim 7:13)

The Ibn Ezra comments that the word usage may have some profoundly astronomical/astrological connection that was uncovered by "A great commentator from Sefarad," but the wording found in the Ibn Ezra's comments are difficult to understand and many have debated what he actually meant. (See Ibn Ezra Devarim 7:13)

While I am not sure if the following is what the Ibn Ezra intended, it does seem to be a plausible theory. It is important to recognize that the stars we see in the night sky appear to be in the same relative positions on any given day of the year. Meaning, if I go outside on August 5 of any given year at any specific time (at any given location), the stars seen in the sky will be identical to those seen the year before and the year after on that date at that time (at that location). While this seems to be the case, the truth is that the stars "move" approximately one degree every 72 years and thereby over large periods of time things will no longer appear the same. Over the course of any individual's lifetime (other than those that lived to biblical ages) one will not perceive this shift (called axial precession or the precession of the equinoxes). This phenomenon causes the mazal of any given month to appear to shift over long periods of time. For example, in the time of Chazal the mazal of the month of Adar was Dagim (Pisces) because that was positioned "behind" the sun that month. Nowadays Dagim has the sun "behind" it during the month of Nisan. This phenomenon has been mentioned by the Ibn Ezra in his foreword to Sefer HaTaamim and by the Rambam in his Mishneh Torah (see Yesodei HaTorah 3:7). The mazal of Nisan was given significant importance in ancient times since it displayed new growth and beginning. (See Ibn Ezra's Sefer HaTaamim)

When the world was created the mazal of the month of Nisan was Shor (Taurus) which has been symbolized by a bull since extremely ancient times. Later, due to the shift of axial precession, it shifted into the mazal of T'leh (Aries) which is shown as a ram or sheep. Perhaps, the expression of an ox as an אלף is because like the letter אלף it was first in the first position mazalos. The word שגר is perhaps used to describe the offspring of this ox because שגר often carries the connotation that the item has been cast away, as if rejected (see Jastrow's translation of this word). The flocks of sheep are perhaps referred to as עשתרות from the word עושר meaning riches. Since after the ox was cast away the mazal moved to T'leh enriching it and associating with it riches. (See Ibn Ezra's Reishis Chachma 2) In fact, Chazal deduce from this wording that raising sheep is very profitable and makes one rich. (Chullin 84b)

Additionally, the tenth month of the year, Teves, was associated with the sign of G'di (Capricorn[us]) during the time period that Klal Yisrael were leaving Mitzrayim. It remained with this association throughout the time of Chazal. Thus, the tenth month is associated with ovine creatures since a g'di is a goat which is a subcategory of the word in our pasuk, צאן. Perhaps, the עשתרות also has roots in the word עשר which means ten.

4 comments:

ilanissima said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ari S. said...

There was a post that questioned if the above meant that we are currently under the mazal of dagim. I am not sure why the one who posted it took it down, I thought it was a great question. The answer is sort of. Each month has its own mazal, but whatever constellation is in place at Nisan is considered to lead the rest. (See Ibn Ezra's Sefer HaTaamim) Therefore, when the world was created they were more influenced by Shor (Taurus), then it switched to T'leh (Aries) and now it is Dagim (Pisces). The way some refer to these are as ages, so we are in the Age of Pisces. The next shift will put us in the Age of Aquarius. Unfortunately, in recent times this has been associated with all sorts of new age philosophies, but the Rishonim seem to address these concepts on a different level (and without the new age distortions).

Anonymous said...

An unrelated issue. I have found something interesting in R' Zadok Hakohein. Would you be able to shed some light on it? Divrei Chalomos, 9.
[ט] ל י ל ש״ק חצא ברכו״ת. חלם לי פי׳
מ״ש(שבח קנוירמ״ב) דמאי צדק
בממרב אהדרנא לי׳ למזרח כי ישראל נמשלו
לכוכבים מד כל אחד יש כוכב ברקיע [וכן
הוא בתיקונים חי׳ כ״ח עג םע״א (בד׳
מנטובה ובד״ת בהקדמה א׳ ד״ה קם סבא)
דצדיקייא ככוכבים וכל א׳ אית לי׳ כוכב] וכפי
השתלמות הנפש כן הוא הארת אותו כוכב.
ואברהם אע״ה ראש אומה הישראלית כוכבו
הוא כוכב המזהיר הנראה בכל לילה ראשון
לכל הכוכבים בסמוך ללבנה ומאיר ביותר
כידוע ולאוחו כוכב הראו צדק [ע״ש
אברהם אע״ה שדרשו עליו בב״ר (פ׳ מט)
קרא דאהבחצרקוכן פשטי׳ דקרא מי העיר
ממזרח צדק שפירשו בו על אברהם אבינו
קרי לא״א צדק ועל שמו קראו כן גס לכוכבו.
כי מה שנא׳ מינה מספר לכוכבים לכולם
שמוח יקרא היינו בשם הראוי לו לפי כוחו
הנמשך מאור הנפש מא׳ בנ״י שהוא כנגדו.
ולפיכך אין שום ארם יכול לקרוא שמוה
לכוכבים רק הש״י] ועד שלא נשלם אאע״ה
בחכליח שלימוחו ולא זכה עדיין ללידה יצחק
ולהיו׳ אב לאומה הישראליה ושיהי׳ ההשחלשלו׳
ממנו לא הי׳ אוחו כוכב מאיר ומזהיר כלל
בתתילה להיות ראש לכוכבים. ולא ניכר אורו
רק בסוף הלילה סמוך לשקיעת הלבנה [כי כבר
התחיל להאיר מצד אור עצמו אבל הי׳ מדיין
בתכלית הקוטן וההעלם] וזהו דקאי במערב
ששם הלבנה שוקעת בסוף הלילה. ומזה הבין
דהוא ערירי ואין שום השתלשלות נמשך ממט
ואתריו. ואמר לו מהררנ׳ למזרת שהוא בתתילת
הזריחה דאדרבא אתה ראש לכל השתלשלות
אומה הישראלית וראשון לכל הכוכבים. וזה
כשנשלם וזכה ללידת יצתק והשתלשלות האומה
ממט אז ־ התחיל להזרית אותו כוכב מיד
בתתילת הלילה צמזרת כמו שהוא היום

Ari S. said...

Unfortunately I do not think I am able to help much. He is stating that every Jew has a star in the sky that mimicks his behavior (a concept found in Sefer Enosh). Based on how bright he shines on Earth, that is how much the star will shine. Avraham Avinu was given the star "Tzedek" which began to shine brightly only when Avraham reached his potential. This star is the first one whose light is visible after sunset because it is the brightest and it is seen close to the moon. Prior to Avraham's accomplishments it was only seen after moonset and that demonstrated that it was weak and not able to shine forth in competition with the moon. I am at a loss as to what he is describing especially since Tzedek is considered to be Jupiter by the Rishonim and Midrashim and Jupiter is not the brightest star (although it is very bright and considered king of the planets by the other nations), Venus is the brightest and sometimes Mars can outshine Jupiter. Also, the moon is in different positions every night and throughout the night and the stars (and planets) also change throughout the year. I am assuming he is talking about a mystical concept and it may not be something perceptible to the physical eye. I apologize for the delay in getting back to you. I was traveling and my email was down, as well.