Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Korban Pesach in the Sky

I have been told in the past that I am probably the only person who finds Divrei Torah on Parshas Bo that are about astronomy and have nothing to do with the mitzvah of Kiddush HaChodesh. (For example, did you ever wonder which star Paaraoh was referencing when he said, "Ra'ah is against you ...," or did you recognize that the verse that says that no dogs barked at the Jews is also discussing an astronomical event that was significant to the Egyptian people of that time? These ideas are discussed at length in my new book, The Secrets of the Stars, available here.) In order to hold my unique title I would like to share a few thoughts about a fascinating comment by the Rokeach regarding the Korbon Pesach.

The pasuk informs us that the Pesach had to be a male ovine creature, but that it could be either a sheep or a goat. (Shemos 12:5) The Rokeach teaches that these two choices symbolized the astronomical events that occured on that miraculous night in Egypt.

Every month the sun appears to be in a different place in the sky relative to the background stars. In fact, every month it has moved from being juxtaposed in front of one constellation and then appears to be occupying another. For example, in the month of Nisan it is in the constellation T'leh (Aries, the Ram), but in the month Iyar it has moved to the constellation Shor (Taurus, the Ox). Since when the sun is visible it is daytime, this means that the constellation that the sun is occupying will be rising with the sun. This is considered to be the mazal of the month. (Rashi Berachos 11b; these positions have shifted since ancient times and no longer does the sun occupy these positions in these specific months) In the month of Nisan, the one of the Pesach years ago, the mazal that rose at sunrise, and was therefore perceived to be in control, was that of T'leh. Additionally, says the Rokeach, if one takes the numerical value of the Hebrew word T'leh and that for blood, "Dam", he will find that they are equal. (Rokeach Shemos 12:5)

The Rokeach continues to describe more about the celestial happenings and symbolism of that night. Every two hours another mazal appears to be rising from the east as the sun (and background stars) makes its way across the sky from east to west. On the night of the Pesach of Egypt the constellation that was rising from the east at nightfall was Moznayim (Libra, the Scales). At midnight, the time that Hashem exacted judgment on the Egyptians and killed their firstborns, the mazal rising from the east was G'di (Capricorn[us], the Goat). Thus, we find that T'leh and G'di were in positions of power during this plague and we therefore serve Hashem by offering these two animals, sheep and goats in His service. Additionally, blood (the numerical equivalent of T'leh as stated above) symbolizes the planet Mars and that is a representation of death and blood and it was at this time that death and murder was happening in Egypt.(Ibid.)

Perhaps, there is more symbolism than just what was stated above. Besides the T'leh, G'di, and Mars being expressed; it would seem that Moznayim, the Scales, were also displaying something very important. Just like the mazal that rises at daybreak is considered to have influence, so too, the one that rises in the evening is considered to exert some force. The mazal of Moznayim is symbolic of the scales of judgment and this evening certainly was one of judgment. (Midrash Tanchuma Haazinu 1)

Even more is that there are seven ancient planets: the sun, moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Of these they can be split into two categories, the sun and moon in one and the other five planets in the other. Each of these entities is considered to rule over one (or two) of the 12 mazalos of the zodiac. Twelve obviously does not divide by seven evenly, so the method is not to give every planet an equal amount of mazalos to rule over. The sun and moon are each given one and the rest of the planets have two a piece. Mars has T'leh (Aries) as one of its mazalos. (Ibn Ezra Reishis Chachma 2) So, in addition to T'leh being powerful, its ruler (and planet whose symbolic expression of blood has an equivalent numerical value to itself) was also finding its expression.

Also of interest is where Mars was positioned that fateful night. Mars was to be found in the constellation D'li (Aquarius, the Water Bearer). D'li is the mazal of Klal Yisrael. (Ibn Ezra Shemos 31:18) The Rokeach teaches us that when the destructive deathly force of that night, the Mashchis, saw the blood of the Pesach on the doorposts he was confused and believed that death had struck those houses and he therefore turned away. (Rokeach Shemos 12:5) Mars and its death were prepared to strike even Klal Yisrael, in whose constellation Mars was occupying, but through the Dam, blood, of the mitzvah were saved


Anonymous said...

A question prompted by my 6 year old daughter:

Rosh Chodesh Shvat was yesterday January 25th. What then is reason for the secular calendar designating January 23rd as having the "New Moon."


Ari S. said...

That is a great question! The Molad is the estimated time of a lunar conjunction. That means that it is actually estimating a time when the moon is not visible, but about to begin the process of becoming visible. A lunar conjunction is when the moon is in line with the sun and earth so the sun's light is actually being completely reflected back into space with none of it seen from Earth (the reason why there is no lunar eclipse at this time, generally, is because the moon is usually a little higher or lower than the direct line, but in terms of the reflected light, there is no angle that it can be seen from Earth). From this point, the moon will start to "move" away from from the sun which will allow some of the light to reflect off the sides of the moon and make that sliver seen from Earth (first easy visibility is on average 24 hours after the conjunction). Our current calendar bases everything on the Molad and not the visibility. Additionally, the announced Molad is not intended to announce the actual conjunction, rather, the estimated conjunction based on hte average amount of time between conjunctions (29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes and 3 1/3 seconds) The actual conjunction can be significantly off from this estimation. Chazal only instated a calendar that would keep things in line with the seasons, but did not see the need to have the new months actually dependent on a real new moon. Averages accomplish this task. Sorry for the long winded answer.

Ari S. said...

I apologize, but even with all that I forgot a major point. Additionally, the Molad is taken into account for Rosh Hashana and from there we have a set amount of days per month (with 2 exceptions of cheshvan and Teves), so once th calendar is in "in motion" for the year then the Molad doesn't even have to be so close to Rosh Chodesh. (There are times when even Rosh Hashana is not on th day of the Molad, but that it is a whole different story.)