Thursday, October 1, 2009

Koheles' Foolish Orion

As Sukkos approaches, once again, I start to wonder if there is some astronomical symbolism that can be found in Koheles which is always read on Sukkos.

In the beginning of the sefer (1:6), Koheles clearly describes that path of the sun throughout the sky (from the perspective of an observer in the northern hemisphere). Later, Koheles begins to constrast the qualities of a fool with those of a sage. He starts by stating,
"הֶֽחָכָם֙ עֵינָ֣יו בְּרֹאשׁ֔וֹ וְהַכְּסִ֖יל בַּחֹ֣שֶׁךְ הוֹלֵ֑ךְ"
which essentially means that fools choose to walk in darkness, whereas, a sage will go out when he can see.

The word used for fool is "כסיל" which is is also used elsewhere to refer to the constellation Orion. I have always wondered if there is deeper symbolism that can be found. If one looks in the sky, he will see that Orion and Sagittarius are at opposite ends of the celestial sphere. They are both armed and ready to hunt.

In the times of Chazal (precession of the equinoxes has caused the night sky to shift since their times), for most of the summer, Orion was primarirly above the horizon in the daytime. Every successive day of the summer, Orion is visible for a little bit more of the night, until, finally, in mid-winter it is out for the entire night (perhaps, this sheds light as to the name כסלו for the month that Orion is out for the entire month and in which it peaks in the sky). Sagittarius has the exact opposite qualities. In fact, it rises with the sun in Cheshvan and only afterwards starts to make its nighttime appearance.

Maybe Koheles was saying that the sage chooses the right times to go out of his home, either in the day, or in the warm summer nights. The fool, however, goes out during the cold winter nights, and stays indoors during the summertime (right next to the burning sun, in fact). As stated above, we read Koheles in the autumn when Orion is about to come out of hiding and Sagittarius is going home to rest.

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