Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Month of Everything Idolatrous

I saw this Rabbeinu Bachye this week and thought I would share. Although frowned upon, in war a soldier is technically allowed to take what is called an Aishes Yefas Toar. Essentially, he is allowed to take a female captive to be his bride. Prior to marriage he must allow her one month to mourn her parents that she was taken from. (Devarim 21:13)

Rabbeinu Bachye cites from various Midrashic literature to demonstrate that this month is a time for her to separate herself from the idolatrous practices that she had been raised with. Rabbeinu Bachye points out that representation of the major celestial orbits that influenced the beginnings of idolatry take place throughout the course of one month. In thr course of this month, there are days that show the sun's apparent celestial motion. There are also weeks that contain seven days dedicated to the seven ancient plabets: the sun, moon, Mercury, Mars, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn. Lastly, during the course of a month one sees the full orbital movement of the moon around earth. Thus, her waiting a month allows her to remove herself from these items, once considered deities. At each point she sees that her gods were powerless and could not save her. (Rabbaeinu Bachye Devarim 21:13)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Season's Greetings

In the central bracha of Shemonah Esrei for Yomim Tovim we state,

"מקדש ישראל והזמנים"

"[He] Who sanctifies Yisrael and the seasons."

Many have questioned why we mention the seasons in this blessing and the famous answer is that it is Yisrael that sanctifies the seasons. Without a Beis Din, the calendar does not take effect and without the calendar there cannot be Yomim Tovim. Therefore, unlike Shabbos which will be sanctified regardless of the actions of the Jewish nation, the Yomim Tovim's sanctification is only as a result of Yisrael. Hence we mention the sanctification of Yisrael first, as if to say that they are sanctified and then they can make holy the holidays.

Although one could still state that the above is the reason that Yisrael is mentioned first, it seems that Rabbeinu Bachye offers a different explanation of this wording. In this week's parsha we are informed that we must have Pesach in the season of spring (אביב). (Devarim 16:1) Rabbeinu Bachye mentions that our holidays are all time sensitive. Pesach must be in the spring at the time of the barley harvest. The word אביב, says Rabbeinu Bachye, literally means the sheath, which is the component of wheat that produces the kernels. Spring is called by this name because it is the time when this growth is being realized. Shavuos must be during the wheat harvest and Sukkos must be during the gathering season.

Rabbeinu Bachye continues to state that this is the reason that we reference the sanctification of the זמנים (seasons), and do not reference the wording found in the Torah of מועדים (holidays). The focus is the season and not the holiday itself. Therefore, the focus of the bracha is on the integral part of the sanctification which is the season upon which the holiday is dependent. Interestingly, Rabbeinu Bachye also mentions that אביב is a contraction of אב יב which means that father of the twelve months. This is because Nisan is the first of the twelve months. (Rabbeinu Bachye Shemos 13:4)