Monday, March 29, 2010

Goodnight Moon

The climactic moment of the Ten Plagues was the final one, the killing of the firstborns at midnight. Last year I posted about the star Sirius' connection to this event. This year I would like to add one more point to that post.

An entire lunar cycle (from our perspective) takes approximately 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes and 3 1/3 seconds. Since this tenth plague occurred on the 15th of the lunar month, that means that the moon was full.

Many notice that the moon is sometimes visible in the daytime and at other times at night. The basic overview of its rise and set times is that in the beginning of the lunar month it is visible in the afternoon and sets just after sunset. Every subsequent day it appears a little later in the day and sets a little later in the evening. In the middle of the month it rises at sunset and sets at sunrise and it then begins to rise after sunset and set in the morning until the cycle begins again.

When putting all this together, one can see that at midnight,the moment of the plague, the moon was full and at its peak. The sun, on the other, has its peak at midday and is at its lowest at midnight. The other nations of the world are compared to the sun (see Maharsha Yoma 20) and Klal Yisrael to the moon (see Midrash Tehillim 22). This was finally the moment when Klal Yisrael was shining and at its peak and their oppressors were at their lowest.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Halacha vs. History?

Most people are familiar with the fact that this Shabbos is referred to as Shabbos HaGadol. The common reason given for this title is that on the Shabbos prior to the first Pesach, the Exodus, Klal Yisrael took sheep, an Egyptian god, to be their Pesachim and the Egyptians did not harm them. This miraculous event is recognized by commemorating the Shabbos prior to Pesach as Shabbos HaGadol. (see Shulchan Aruch O.C. 430 and Mishna Berurah) The problem is that this does not seem to work out historically.

Seder Olam, a Baraisa written by Rebbi Yose the Tanna and cited throughout Shas, mentions that the fifteenth of Nisan in the year of the Exodus was a Friday. If so, then the tenth of Nisan, the day Klal Yisrael took their sheep, would have to be a Sunday. Shouldn't we then be celebrating Sunday HaGadol, then, instead of Shabbos HaGadol (or at least discard this reason to call this Shabbos "Shabbos HaGadol")?

The answer, perhaps, creates a more intriguing enigma then the one presented above. The Gemara in Shabbos (87b-88a) presents a machlokes in which the Rabbanan maintain that the fifteenth of that year was on a Friday and Rebbi Yose maintains that it was on a Thursday. If we follow Rebbi Yose's opinion, then our acceptance of this reason fpr Shabbos HaGadol makes sense. According to him the day Klal Yisrael took their sheep was Shabbos. The halachic practice is to follow Rebbi Yose's opinion regarding the halachic dispute that resulted from the historical record in Miseches Shabbos. Therefore, it stands to reason that we should be of his opinion. In addition, we generally follow Rebbi Yose's opinion in all disputes. (see Eruvin 46b)

(Parenthetically, Rebbi Yose's version of history has Matan Torah on 7 Sivan not 6. The Magen Avraham, and many other authorities have delved into this issue as it relates to our calling Shavuos, 6 Sivan, "Zman Matan Toraseinu.")

The question that one should ask now is, "Why did Rebbi Yose use the Rabbanan's date in his book, Seder Olam?" In fact, the Gemara in Shabbos quotes this Seder Olam by name and contends that Rebbi Yose does not see it as problematic to his personal opinion because he maintains that it reflects the Rabbanan's opinion. While we do find Rebbi Yose using other opinions in his Seder Olam (see Niddah 46b), they usually are halchically oriented and not focussed on the historical record. Since Seder Olam is focussed on history, I would have thought that all historical citations are his opinion, it is only the halachic matter that is brought in tangentially that we assume is not his own opinion. However, now, this is impossible to state as here it is the historical record that is the focus and the halacha that is tangential (Seder Olam does not even reference the halacha, it is only found in Shabbos). Rather, it is clear that he quotes other Tannaim's opinions even when presenting the history.

To show how this is much more dramatic than just a difference of one day (Sunday vs. Shabbos), consider the following. Assuming the records are accurate, then, the Rosh Chodesh dates would have to work out with actual visibility of the moon (using the first new moon after the vernal, spring, equinox). When looking back historically, the Rabbanan's 15 Nisan on a Friday, which produces a Friday Rosh Chodesh, works out for the year that Seder Olam places the Exodus 1311 B.C.E. (there appears to be another opinion of Rebbi Yehoshua that would maintain it was in 1312 B.C.E. and on a Tuesday, but that is beyond the scope of this post).

Since Rebbi Yose's Rosh Chodesh does not work out with this year he must be of the opinion that the Exodus was in a different year (the lunar visibilty of the new moon just prior to the equinox also does not work out for him). There are only two years that could reasonably fit with a Thursday Rosh Chodesh (and still keep with the Torah's chronology; albeit not with Seder Olam's chronology) and they are 1320 B.C.E. and 1324 B.C.E. Based on other Midrashic sources (Bereishis Rabbah 6 and the Yotzer for Prashas HaChodesh), the 1320 B.C.E. date is more likely although this is beyond the scope of this post.

This would mean that Rebbi Yose has a totally different record of history (not just a difference of one day) than the one presented by the work he authored on history!!! It is fascinating to see that he felt the need to create an entire work to preserve the history that reflects an opinion that is not his own!!! It also would mean that the convention of referring to the current year 5770 is really larger than the true number as it is based on Seder Olam which is 9 or 13 years longer than Rebbi Yose's number (assuming we use this as our reason for calling it Shabbos HaGadol)!!!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Thirteenth Tribe of Yisrael?

Most people are familiar with the concept that there are twelve signs of the zodiac. This idea comes from the fact that throughout the year the sun appears to travel through twelve of the eighty-eight modern constellations. As we circle the sun throughout the year, we continue to get a different vantage point relative to the stars of space. Since we perceive earth as being stationary, it looks as if the stars that create the backdrop of night are moving. As such, the arrangement of stars that occupy the area of the eastern sky at the time of sunrise change from day to day. Therefore, it appears as if the sun is moving from one constellation to another. It takes a month for one constellation to fully move from this position to the next. The constellation that occupied this position was considered to be the constellation of the month. Since there are twelve constellations that cross this area, there are twelve signs of the zodiac. (see Rashi Rosh Hashana 11b)

While the above statement is certainly an accurate account of the system, it has one major issue with it (besides the fact that the attributed signs have shifted since this system was implemented, but that is something for another discussion). THERE ARE THIRTEEN CONSTELLATIONS THAT OCCUPY THIS AREA, NOT TWELVE!!! These thirteen are: T'leh/Aries, Shor/Taurus, Teomim/Gemini, Sartan/Cancer, Aryeh/Leo, Besulah/Virgo, Mozayim/Libra, Ophiuchus, Akrav/Scorpius, Keshes/Sagittarius, G'di/Capricorn(us), D'li/Aquarius and Dagim/Pisces. (In case you haven't guessed it, Ophiuchus is the one with no corresponding sign of the zodiac.) This was true even in the times of Chazal and the Ibn Ezra records all thirteen, yet does not mention the issue that there are only twelve signs.(see Ibn Ezra Reishis Chachma) And no, it does not make sense that one should be reserved for a leap year and correspond to Adar Sheini because the sun passes through all thirteen every year and at the time it is in Ophiuchus it is considered to be in the sign of Akrav/Scorpius.

After reading a comment by Rav Yonasan Eibshitz on this week's haftarah, I came up with a theory to resolve, at least partially, the mystery behind this discrepency. The haftarah starts with:

עם זו יצרתי לי תהלתי יספרו: ולא אתי קראת יעקב כי יגעת בי ישראל

"This nation I have created to tell of my praises. But Yaakov has not called to me; for Yisrael has become tired of me."

In his Ahavas Yehonasan, Rav Eibshitz explains that Hashem has thirteen attributes and it is through Klal Yisrael that the world can recognize that all these thirteen attributes are really just expressions of the one God. It is, therefore, through Klal Yisrael that Hashem's oneness is perceived. This is accomplished via the thirteen shevatim. Each shevet embodies a different one of Hashem's attributes. When the world recognizes that these thirteen tribes are really one nation, they also can comprehend that the thirteen atrributes of Hashem are not all separate entities. In this way Klal Yisrael was created to tell of Hashem's praises

Although we generally refer to the shevatim as being only twelve, if one counts Levi, who is a shevet, and Menashe and Ephraim, who divided Yosef into two shevatim, there are thirteen. They are: Reuven, Shimon, Levi, Yehuda, Yissachar, Zevulun, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Ephraim, Menashe and Binyomin. Rav Eibshitz then cites from the pasuk in the haftarah that said עם זו, "this nation". The numerical value of זו "this" is thirteen. This displays that "this nation, meaning the thirteen tribes of this nation, were set aside to express Hashem's praises.

When I saw this I realized that the same issue that seems to be expressed in the constellations (there being thirteen and only recognized as twelve) exists within the shevatim, too. There are thirteen shevatim, but we generally refer to them as only twelve. When Levi is included then Menashe and Ephraim are counted as one, Yosef. When Menashe and Ephraim are included, then Levi is not. Since Chazal compare the twelve shevatim to the twelve signs of the zodiac (see Bamidbar Rabbah 2), this oddity, occurring in both the constellations and shevatim, must be more than coincidental.

The mystery unravels a little more when one delves deeper into the symbolism of Ophiuchus. Every constellation is depicted as some sort of object, creature or human. Ophiuchus is the Serpent Bearer and carries the snakes of the constellation Serpens. Ophiuchus is symbolic of man's familiarity with sin and his willingness to handle snakes, the symbol of sin (it was the snake that tempted the first humans to eat the forbidden fruit). Since the twelve signs of the zodiac correspond with the twelve tribes, then this element must be showing an element that still requries perfection.

The tribes only display Hashem's praises when they act in unison and follow God's commandments. Ophiuchus is displaying the element present in Klal Yisrael, and every individual, that has not yet decided to do so, rather, this element is still familiarizing itself with sin. Therefore, the tribes can only be expressed as twelve and not thirteen. The zodiac is, therefore, also expressed as being somewhat deficient. Perhaps, when Klal Yisrael perfects herself, we will find a more complete representation of her in the sky and the thirteenth constellation will be realized as a sign of the zodiac, as well.

Utilizing the same methodology of Rav Eibshitz, this can be seen in the pesukim cited above. The latter part stated:

ולא אתי קראת יעקב כי יגעת בי ישראל

"But Yaakov has not called to me; for Yisrael has become tired of me."

The wording "for Yisrael has become tired of me" has in it the word בי "of me". Technically, the Hebrew could also be read as "for Yisrael has reached בי". The word for tired has the same pronounciation and spelling as that of reached, יגעת. The numerical value of בי is twelve. The new meaning is then "For Yisrael has reached twelve." In this context, Hashem is saying that Yisrael is not telling His praises because they have reached twelve. Based on the understanding above, it is thirteen that they are striving for, but they are still falling short. We are still waiting for the realization of all thirteen shevatim.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Too Much Chiddush for Rosh Chodesh!

Rav Shternbach (Moadim UZ'manim vol. 1 19) presents an interesting and brilliant suggestion to explain why it was necessary for Moshe Rabbeinu to view the new moon of Nisan of the Exodus prophetically. The questions one may ask regarding this opinion, though, are:

1) Is Rav Shternbach taking too literal of an approach to a piyut, perhaps, it is meant to be taken metaphorically?

2) What does one do when the information provided does not work out historically/astronomically?

Rav Shternbach quotes from the yotzer to Parshas HaChodesh that the lunar conjunction (the moment the sun, moon and earth are in a direct line) of Nisan in the year of the Exodus was at midday. Since the new moon is visible only after six hours from this point in time (see the Superhuman Sight post from August 5 in order to reconcile this seemingly impossible fact), Moshe Rabbeinu required seeing it prophetically. Moshe was located in Egypt and the conjunction is calculated, halachically, based on Yerushalayim time, therefore, the moon would really be big enough to be visible approximately ten minutes before sunset. Although it would be big enough, the fact that the sun would not have set in Moshe's location would mean that he would not be able to see such a faint moon. Therefore, Hashem allowed him to view it prophetically.

Let us first address the second question raised earlier. What does one do with the fact that this information does not work out historically. If one recalculates the year of the Exodus (based on the classic midrashic literature) he will find that the lunar conjunction was not at midday precisely, rather, it was in the middle of the afternoon!

Perhaps, the reconcilliation comes from the answer to the first question asked above. If one looks at the source of the piyut, Bereishis Rabbah (6), he will notice that the purpose of the fact of the conjunction being expressed as midday is not to be specific, rather, it is to say that it happened post midday. That being the case, one could suggest that these words were not meant to be taken literally as "midday", rather, just used to convey the general purpose of the Midrash. Once that has been resolved the question no longer starts. Of course, once resolved in this fashion, the pshat expressed in Moadim U'Zmanim no longer seems viable. The proof of this suggestion is that it is the one taken by the earlier commentaries. Rashi's comments to the Midrash explicitly state that midday is not to be taken literally, rather, the author of the Midrash is to be understood as expressing the conjunction as happening in the afternoon.

With this information (and reading the rest of the astronomical information provided by the Midrash and piyut) one can actually see how the Midrash and piyut astoundingly are synchronized with the actual celestial happenings of that day!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Holy Cosmic Cows!

In this week's parsha we read of the Egel HaZahav and in the maftir of the Parah Adumah. Rashi teaches that many nuances of the Parah Adumah were in order to bring forgiveness for the sin of the Egel HaZahav. A parable is given that a child of a maidservant of the palace dirtied the palace. When this was noticed, the king ordered the mother to clean up for her child. So too, the mother cow, the Parah Adumah, is required to clean up after her child, the Egel HaZahav.

One can ask (as the Rishonim have), why did Klal Yisrael decide to make an image of a calf as opposed to a different form. The Ibn Ezra in his short commentary suggests that it may be based on similar reasons as to why the people of India worship cows, but he does not elaborate on this concept. It has been suggested that these people worship these animals because of the following astronomical reason.

As has been posted in the past, over hundreds of years the stars' positions in the night sky shift slightly. For example, the constellations have moved enough from the time of Chazal until the present that based on the constellations themselves we should say that Nisan is the month of Dagim because the stars of Pisces rise with the sun in Nisan.

If one looks at the positions of the stars as they were at the time of Creation he will notice that the spring equinox occurred in the constellation Shor/Taurus. Essentially this means that on the first day of spring the sun would be located in this constellation. This eventually shifted into T'leh/Aries and is now in Dagim/Pisces.

This point in the sky was given extreme significance in ancient times because it coincided with the beginning of the growing season and was symbolic of development. In fact, it was often seen as symbolic of that entire time period in history. Therefore, people at the time worshipped cows which are the physical representation of the constellation Shor. Even after the stars shifted, the people held onto their old beliefs and continued to worship these animals, hence the practices in India.

Interestingly enough, we are taught that Bnai Yisrael corrected Adam HaRishon's sin when they received the Torah at Har Sinai. Perhaps, the people felt, incorrectly, that they wanted to replicate the order of the world as it was in Creation. Therefore, when they chose symbol of the nature of their worship, they chose that which represented the time period of the time of Creation, a calf. Of course, this was incorrect and this was not what Hashem wanted.

Fascinatingly, the brightest and most recognizable star in Shor is Aldebaran. Aldebaran is an extremely red star. When Hashem granted a way to eradicate the sin, He did so through the Parah Adumah (as mentioned above). Perhaps, this alludes to the redness of the most recognizable star in the constellation. It could be a way to show that we are, in fact, becoming purified and reaching the level of Adam HaRishon prior to his sin. We are restoring the world to its original perfected form prior to sin as the people in the Wilderness intended. This world has Shor in its leadership post, but the proper method of expressing this is not with idolatry and images, it is through the exact method prescribed by Hashem!