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.