Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Torah's Twilight Zone

A fascinating theory that totally turns the concept of how day and night work in Judaism has been proposed by Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky zt"l in his commentary to this week's parsha. The Torah states that one is forbidden to leave over meat from his korbon pesach. All meat must be eaten prior to dawn. (Shemos 12:10) Rashi informs us that one would have thought that the prohibition was not to leave over meat till after sunrise, but the wording in this pasuk teaches that the time period is dawn and not sunrise (dawn is the twilight period prior in which there is light, but the sun is not visible above the horizon).

Rav Kaminetsky ponders why one would have thought that the time period discussed is sunrise. Regarding all other Torah matters dawn is considered to be the beginning of day. Why is it that in this specific instance that sunrise would have been more applicable had the Torah not specified that this mitzvah is similar to the rest?

Firstly, Rav Kaminetsky suggests that prior to Matan Torah day preceded night (this is also the opinion of the Rashbam in Bereishis on the pasuk of there being evening and morning for the cessation of a day of creation) and he cites many instances where this is clearly expressed. Regarding korbonos, day also appears to precede night as most korbonos are able to be eaten on the day they are slaughtered and the following night (with the exception of a shelamim). Also, the limbs of the korbonos were processed on the mizbeach throughout the night the follows their slaughtering. (Although, see Tosefos Menachos 49a - 49b who seem to have a different understanding)

Secondly, even after Matan Torah day is normally defined as when the sun is above the horizon and night is when it is below and twilight is night (even for non-kodshim mitzvos). The doubt of when night begins that is referred to as bein hashmashos is not a doubt of when day becomes night, rather, it is when the date changes (there is no bein hashmashos in the morning twilight in the post-Matan Torah world). This doubt is going to occur at the time period when the date should be changing, so prior to Matan Torah this occurred in the morning and after Matan Torah it happens in the evening. This means that, nowadays, at sundown on Friday it is night. However, we are uncertain if it is Friday night and it has not become Shabbos, or if this time period is attributed to Shabbos and it is the night of Shabbos. The day has become night, but we don't know whether it has become the next date.

Therefore, prior to Matan Torah, and referring to kodshim, one could have thought that the prohibition of leaving over meat would be from sunrise because that is when it would certainly be the next day. Since the date change happens in the morning, there is an amount of time that would have been bein hashmashos (prior to Matan Torah and for kodshim). The Torah, therefore, clarified that this prohibition starts from the earliest possible time to be called the next morning and that is dawn and not sunrise. Effectively making no bein hashmoshos for kodshim ever (see Rambam regarding leaving over meat from a shelamim as he seems to support this theory; also see my Tiferes Aryeh Zevachim chapter 32, available at, regarding if one needs to wait on the first night of Pesach to make kiddush).

This general concept is also discussed at great length by Rav Yitzchak Isaac Chaver zt"l in his Seder Zemanim, although he attributes the twilight period to daytime and not night.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Yeshaya HaNavi's New World Order?

The astronomical reference in this week’s Haftarah is pretty fantastic. Although many of these posts are theories, I have found that there is a disproportionate amount of wording in Sefer Yeshaya that often has a dual meaning in the astronomical sense (Yechezkel is a close second). Because of that, it seems that when one encounters some of these underlying themes in this sefer that it is hard to discount them. Also, has to realize that the average person was as in tune with the stars, their movements and representations (they were perceived to be the ideas of nature and necessary for their agricultural society) and would certainly see these references as being obvious (like allusions in poetry or literature that are referencing contemporary issues).

The pasuk states (Yeshaya 66:3),

"שוחט השור מכה איש זובח השה ערף כלב מעלה מנחה דם חזיר מזכיר לבנה מברך און וגו'"

One who slaughters an ox [is as if he] has struck a man, the offering of a sheep [is like] the killing [by means through the back of the neck] of a dog, the giving of a flour offering [likened to] pig’s blood, the burning (see Metzudos) of frankincense is a forced blessing, etc."

The prophet is discussing the order of the world as man develops. At first the prophet focuses on the destructive path of man (as seen above) but the end of the chapter details the end of times when order will be restored and the wicked punished. It is interesting to see that the aforementioned verse seems to contain a very astronomical idea.

As we all know, there are four season and they start on the dates of the two equinoxes and two solstices. These dates are not just points in time, but the placement of the sun in the sky on these dates is integral. The location against the backdrop of stars is also referred to by the names of equinox and solstice. These areas were given significant weight by all ancient civilizations (see Ibn Ezra’s Sefer HaTa’amim).

At the time of Creation these four points were located in Shor/Taurus, Aryeh/Leo, Akrav/Scorpius, D’li/Aquarius. Over long periods of time, the stars appear to drift from their original place and, by the time of Chazal, these points shifted to being in the location of T’leh/Aries, Sartan/Cancer, Moznayim/Libra and G’di/Capricorn. Currently they have shifted even more and are in: Dagim/Pisces, Teomim/Gemini, Besulah/Virgo and Keshes/Sagittarius. The next shift will be similar to the first one mentioned, but with the order having D’li first and Akrav last. The shifts will continue in that fashion causing one to state that there are three basic makeups of these four points over the course of this world’s lifespan.

When analyzing the pasuk above, one sees that every grouping of three has two objects that seem to refer to two points of four from each set. All show the destruction of that item and could be showing that that item’s importance was being destroyed as the sun will no longer be placed in it during these important times.

The slaughter of an ox is compared to the striking of a man. The ox is the first point mentioned, Shor, and D’li, the last point, is considered to be a human pouring water and described, astrologically as human (see Ibn Ezra’s Reishis Chachma and Sefer HaTa’amim). The next grouping has a sheep and a dog. The sheep is T’leh, the first of the second set, and the dog, perhaps, is referencing Sartan. The dog is described as being killed from the back of its neck. If one looks to the constellations representing dogs in the sky, Canis Major and Canis Minor, he will see Cancer/Sartan, riding on the back of their necks. The next reference is the offering of flour and the blood of a pig. This seems to be showing the in between stage of the second and third set. (The first switching of sets had primarily happened in the time of Yeshaya , so perhaps, from the first to second set the prophet saw no need to discuss the in between motion.) In the hand of the Besulah is the star Spica and it is considered to be represented as stalks of wheat (see Ibn Ezra’s Reishis Chachma) and it is on the edge of Besulah. On the edge of Cancer is a star pattern that the Ibn Ezra tells us is represented as an iron pig (Reishis Chachma). Finally, the frankincense and the forced blessing can be shown as Dagim and Besulah. Dagim is considered to rule over many species plant life, including frankincense, and the way to describe the destruction of a Besulah would be to discuss the idea of her being forcibly taken (this is how Chazal reference the act of forcibly taking a woman as Ones, force). Therefore, perhaps, the "forced" blessing is showing the destruction of the Besulah.

Throughout the exile these changes of stellar position have all happened. Perhaps, the future will bring us something new. This can be seen in the phrase used by Yeshaya later in the Haftarah (Yeshaya 66:22),

"כי כאשר השמים החדשים והארץ החדשה אשר אני עשה וגו'"

"Because like the new heavens and the new world that I make, etc."

May we all merit to seeing this realization soon.

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?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Moshe Rabbeinu's Birth and Demise Seen in the Stars?

Rashi (Shemos 1:22) mentions that the Egyptian astrologers recognized the day which Moshe Rabbeinu was born as the day of the birth of the Jewish savior. They were, apparently, also able to see that he would eventually have some failure associated with water (this actually took place with the event when Moshe Rabbeinu hit the rock in Parsha Chukas). Therefore, Paroh decreed that all boys born that day, even Egyptian, must be killed by being thrown into the river.

When looking back to the year of Moshe Rabbeinu's birth (1392 B.C.E.) and the day on which he was born 7 Adar, one can, perhaps, see a little bit of what these astrologers saw. Saturn was entering into the constellation Pisces. Saturn is considered to be the planetary influence of the Jewish people (Ibn Ezra's Reishis Chachma). Pisces is considered to be the constellation that influences the Jewish people's houses of worship (Ibn Ezra's Reishis Chachma), and is associated with water as it is depicted as fish. While entering, Saturn could be viewed as the sign of the Jews finally finding its place of success, in the shul.

Interestingly, on the eighth day after his birth (his bris) Venus came extremely close to Saturn. Venus is associated with fertility (Ibn Ezra's Reishis Chachma) and at the bris is when the male child is considered completed. This celestial spectacle would been seen as the growth and development of this new savior. It also would have been easily predicted in advance by the Egyptian astrologers.

Even though, as mentioned by Rashi, the Egyptians did not know whether this savior was Jewish or not, since the eight day has significance to the Jewish people as being this day of completion, its occurrence would not have been discounted. So, perhaps, the Egyptian astrologers saw the entering into Pisces and deduced that the birth of the savior was possible, but they still could have thought that this was not indicative of the birth certainly occurring. Saturn is the slowesr moving naked eye planet, but it still makes a complete circle around the night sky over a thirty to forty year period. Maybe thirty to forty years later would signify the birth when Saturn would return to this position. However, once they saw that Venus would be touching it eight days later, they knew that this had to be the time of the actual birth.

How did they deduce that Moshe Rabbeinu would experience failure with water? Perhaps, they had seen a couple months earlier, when Moshe Rabbeinu was developing as a fetus, that Mars touched Saturn while in the constellation Aquarius. Mars does not come this close to Saturn on a regular basis. It can be centuries in between events like this from any given location. Mars, associated with death and blood (Ibn Ezra's Reishis Chachma) would be seen as affecting Saturn and, interestingly, it was occurring in the constellation Aquarius, the Water Carrier. Aquarius is seen as a man pouring out water from a bucket. The obvious connection would be to assume that the savior of the Jews, expressed by Saturn, would meet his demise, as seen with Mars, in the context of water, Aquarius.

(It is also of note that in the Midrash Rabbah, Rashi's source, the Midrash states that the astrologers made this prediction when Yocheved was pregnant with Moshe Rabbeinu. That seems consistent with this supposition because they would have begun making their predictions from that point and would use the future calculated events to continue their theories. Therefore, the Midrash and Rashi, if my theory is correct, are both accurate).

Perhaps, the most fascinating aspect of this entire theory is how it came to fruition. We know that Moshe Rabbeinu passed away 120 years later and it was punishment for hitting the rock (which brought forth water and showed the accuracy of the Egyptian prediction) that denied his entry into Eretz Yisrael. That year, and that day of his death, Saturn was in the same place as it was on the day of his birth; a place of water. Interestingly (although I don't know exactly what to make of the following), on day thirty of his passing, the last day that Klal Yisrael mourned Moshe Rabbeinu, Mars, Venus and Mercury all came extremely close (within a few degrees) of Saturn. This is an unusually rare event!!! Since I am not an astrologer, nor do I pretend to understand or study astrology (I have learned through some sifrei rishonim about it in order to understand some other ideas, such as astronomy, that they espoused), I don't know exactly what the significance of this event is, but I can tell you that any self respecting astrologer in those days would have seen it as a truly astronomical event.