Monday, July 26, 2010

15 Av/Shvat = Redemption from the Seasons

As most people know, most of our holidays occur at different seasonal periods throughout the year. Pesach and Sukkos are a the first full moon after the equinoxes. Rosh Hashana is on or around the autumnal equinox and Chanukah, when we light candles/oil is around the winter solstice when the days are getting longer. Tu B'Av seems to be no exception and, in fact, seems to mirror Tu B'Shvat.

There are two moderate seasons, spring and fall, and two extreme ones, summer and winter. The summer months are Tammuz, Av and Elul and the winter ones are Teves, Shvat, Adar. The first of each month has the solstice which is when the days either are at their longest, summer, or shortest, winter. The second month of the extreme month marks the halfway point of the season, more specifically the middle of the month meaning the 15.

As such, both Tu B'Av and Tu B'Shvat mark the day when the extremeness of the season is beginning to wane. Both dates also show that the end to the extremeness of our exile is ending. On Tu B'Shvat we consider it the call to the spring and some have equated it with he call to the end of the exile which is compared to the harshness of winter (see Targum and Rashi Shir HaShirim 2:11), and Tu B'Av marks the day when the bitterness of 9 Av is felt to recede. (Bava Basra 121) In fact, the Gemara mentions that it is on Tu B'Av that the sun begins to lose its strength and this is one of the defining features why this day is considered to be important. (Ibid.) The Maharsha compares the sun to the force of the other nations, and it is apropros that we feel the relief of the harshness they imposed on us on 15 Av when the sun is losing its power. (Maharsha Yoma 20b)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Sun Didn't Shine in the Wilderness

The pasuk states (as seen at the top of the blog),

"כי היא חכמתכם ובינכם לעיני העמים"

"For this is your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the nations." (Devarim 4:6)

The Gemara understands that this is specifically referring to astronomical and (according to Rashi) astrological knowledge. The predictions of the celestial orbits and movements (and according to Rashi) and predicting future events is something that is able to be tested thus making this the wisdom that is the glory of the nation. (Shabbos 75a) I find it interesting that this knowledge of the sky is only mentioned in this parsha within the context of Moshe Rabbeinu preparing Klal Yisrael to enter into the land of Yisrael.

Also interesting is that later in the parsha we are taught that we need to be careful lest we look upwards and begin to serve the sun, stars, etc. (see Devarim 4:19) Why is it only now that Moshe was nervous, why not 40 years earlier when we left Egypt? To state that he was nervous because we would be living amongst nations that served these objects seems to be difficult from the pasuk itself. The pasuk mentions that we would be swayed after seeing the celestial objects and not the fact that we would be living amongst idolators.

Rabbeinu Chananel maintains that for the duration of Klal Yisrael's existence in the Wilderness they were unable to see the sky. During the daytime the clouds of glory obscured their vision and the fiery pillars did the same at night. (see Rabbeinu Bachye Shemos 12:2) Therefore, perhaps it was only now that this nation was to enter Eretz Yisrael and finally see the night sky that they would be able to utilize their mastery of the celestial objects for astronomy and astrology. It was only at this time that Moshe Rabbeinu felt it fit to discuss this wisdom and understanding. In addition, now that they could delve into these studies with the visual tools in addition to the mathematical calculations, they would, perhaps, become enamored by the sky and fall prey to their evil inclination and begin to serve these items. Therefore, Moshe needed to warn them of this tendency. For until this point, when they would look up they could not see these items, they only saw the glory of Hashem.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Wilderness, the Torah and Elvis

In this week's Parsha we are taught about the 42 travels of Klal Yisrael as they followed Hashem in the Wilderness. Interestingly enough, if one discounts the starting location, Rameses, and counts the seven travels that were repeated (not mentioned directly in the Parsha, but mentioned by Rashi Bamidbar 21:4) then he will have a total of 48.

This is interesting because most Rishonim are of the opinion that the minimum amount of lines in a Sefer Torah is 48, but some maintain it is 42. Both opinions are predicated on the number of travels of Klal Yisrael. (Keses HaSofer 13:3 and Lishkas HaSofer 13:6) Essentially what also can be gleaned from this discussion is that one can calssify the travels into 48 total with 7 being a subcategory. This confluence of 48 and 7 happens many times throughout the Torah (often with a perceptible 42).

The Levi'im were given a total of 48 cities in Eretz Yisrael, of which 42 were regular and the rest were designated cities of refuge. There were also 7 main Levite positions in the Beis HaMikdash. Once again, 48, 7 and an idea of 42.

The Torah contains a minimum of 48/42 lines as mentioned above, and is also acquired via 48 methods of acquisition. (Avos 6:5) Interestingly enough, if one divides the books of Moshe into the most possible ways of division he will have 7, Bereishis, Shemos, VaYikra, Bamidbar up until VaYehi BiNsoa, VaYehi BiNsoa, Bamidbar afterwards and Devarim. (I will mention later how the 7 can sometimes be divided into a primary 5 and a secondary 2 which is certainly applicable here.)

There were 48 male prophets and 7 female prophets whose prophecies are pertinent for all generations. (Megillah 14a) While I suspect there is some element of 42 that can be seen regarding this, unfortunately I do not know what it is. There is dispute as to who is included in this list and some Rishonim (i.e. Rashi) state that they only know of 46 and do not know who the other two are. Perhaps, if we were more aware, definitively, of the list, we would figure out a way to segment it into 42 and 48.

Also, there are 48 constellations and 7 planets whose influence is considered to affect this world. (Ibn Ezra Shemos 33:21) Interesingly, the numerical value of the word for star, כוכב, is 48. When taking out the 3 northern polar constellations and the three southern (as they appear to be moving the celestial sphere) one has 42. As mentioned before, sometimes the seven can be divided into 5 and 2. In this case, the Sun and Moon are in a class of their own; Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, the other planets, are not nearly as bright or large (from our perspective).

I believe the common factor that all these items contain is that they are vehicles through which Hashem's glory is displayed. As such they all have similarities in number (why 48, 42 and 7 might be another post). Klal Yisrael's travel through the Wilderness, and subsequent (and current) exiles have been to express Hashem's glory unto the world. The Torah is the ultimate expression of Hashem's grandeur. The Levi'im help Klal Yisrael attain a relationship with Hashem in the Beis HaMikdash and by working the Mikdash they allow Hashem's kingship to be seen. The prophets directly bring forth the word of Hashem and instruct the people how to spread forth the glory of Hashem. The constellations were created in order to display Hashem's glory unto the world. (Braisa D'Mazalos) I do not find it coincidental that in order for a rainbow to shine (the Gemara in Berachos mentions that this is a display of Hashem's glory) the Sun must be hitting the droplets of water at a 42 degree angle. Although I do find it coincidental that the king, Elvis, died at age 42.