Friday, November 1, 2013

Yaakov and Eisav's Interesting Birthdays

We are taught of the birth of Esav and his twin brother Yaakov in this week's Parsha. (Bereishis 25:25-26) Esav became a hunter and a man of trickery; Yaakov, on the other hand, preferred to stay inside and remain pure and innocent. (Ibid. 25:27 and Rashi's interpretation) If one looks through Rabbeinu Bachye's commentary throughout this portion he will notice that Rabbeinu Bachye attributes Esav's disposition due to the fact that his astrological sign was Mars. Presumably he is discussing that which the Gemara mentions that if one is born under the astrological influence of Mars he has a disposition to be bloodthirsty. (See Shabbos 156a) Thus, says Rabbeinu Bachye, Eisav's children inherited this tendency.

The question that one should ask is that if Eisav and Yaakov were twins then shouldn't they have the same astrological influence? This influence is a function of the day of the week upon which the child is born and not based on the exact location of the celestial objects in the sky. If it were the latter, perhaps, one could argue that the slight shift of the planet was sufficient to render its force on the second child too weak to exert influence. However, since it is clear from Rashi that it is a function of the day of the week, this should not be the case. The way it works is that each of the seven ancient planets is assigned a day of the week: Sunday is the sun, Monday the moon, Tuesday is Mars, Wednesday is Mercury, Thursday is Jupiter, Friday is Venus, and Shabbos is Saturn. (See Rashi Berachos 59b and Ibn Ezra Reishis Chachma) It is also important to note that it is unreasonable to assume that there was a long delay between the birth of Eisav and Yaakov since the pasuk teaches that Yaakov was holding onto Eisav's heel. (Bereishis 25:26)

Although, one could argue that Yaakov also had this disposition, but was able to channel it properly, this does not seem to be what Rabbeinu Bachye is saying. I would like to offer the following theory to resolve this matter. Perhaps, Eisav was born in the daytime just before nightfall, and Yaakov was born right afterwards, but after night. Just like each day has its planet, so too, each night has one as well. Motzei Shabbos is Mercury, Sunday night is Jupiter, Monday night is Venus, Tuesday night is Saturn, Wednesday night is the sun, Thursday night is the moon, and Friday night is Mars.

Interestingly, Mars is considered to influence Tuesdays, so if Eisav were born just before nightfall, then Yaakov would have been born on the night prior to Wednesday. That night is considered to be the influence of Saturn. Fantastically, Saturn is considered to be the influence of Klal Yisrael as a whole just like Mars is the influence of Eisav and the nation that came from him. (Ibn Ezra Reishis Chachma 4)

While I could have also mentioned that Eisav was born at night and Yaakov in the day and have chosen Friday night and Shabbos day, and this is certainly plausible (interestingly, Friday night is also Mars and Shabbos day is Saturn), it would seem more likely that it was Tuesday to Tuesday night. The Jews are compared to the nighttime and the other nations to the day, thus if the comparison stems from their ancestors then it would make sense that they were born at these respective times. (See Rabbeinu Bachye Shemos 12:2)

A small proof that something like this happened can be seen in the pesukim that describe the birth of these twins. When describing Yaakov's birth the pasuk says, "And after this his brother came out and his hand was grabbing the heel of Eisav, etc." The word for "after this" in this pasuk is אחרי (acharei). (Bereishis 25:26) Rashi teaches that when this word is used it shows that this event did not happen immediately after that which preceded it in the pesukim. The word used for "afterwards" that shows immediacy is אחר (achar). (Rashi Bereishis 15:1) As mentioned earlier, it is impossible to say that Yaakov's birth was not immediately after Eisav's since he was holding his brother's heel as he was born. Rather, I would suggest that this word is chosen to show that although the births happened one after the other, since the day changed from Tuesday to Tuesday night, it did not seem as if it was so immediate.


3.141592653589793238462643383279502884197169399375 said...

I haven't checked the Rabbeinu Bachye, but from the relevant gemara and Rashi, the influence of the planets (known as kochvei lechet, or "moving stars") changes every hour. Each planet rules for one hour at a time, in the following order whose mnemonic is שצ"מ חנכ"ל: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury, Moon. The sequence begins with Saturn on Tuesday evening, repeating itself every seven hours, for a total of 24 repetitions of the cycle throughout the week.

The assignments you describe for each day of the week are actually the correct assignments for the first hour of the daytime. Similarly, the assignments you describe for each night of the week are the correct assignments for the first hour of the evening.

So in fact there are 24 points during the week when Mars' rule ends and another planet's rule begins:

Saturday night 11 p.m.;
Sunday 6 a.m., 1 p.m., 8 p.m.;
Monday 3 a.m., 10 a.m., 5 p.m., 12 midnight;
Tuesday 7 a.m., 2 p.m., 9 p.m.;
Wednesday 4 a.m., 11 a.m., 6 p.m.;
Thursday 1 a.m., 8 a.m., 3 p.m., 10 p.m.;
Friday 5 a.m., 12 noon, 7 p.m.;
Saturday 2 a.m., 9 a.m., 4 p.m.

After Mars, the Sun always rules, so your inference about the Jewish people being influenced by Saturn would seem out of place.

Also, I'm not sure "astrological sign" is the correct term. That usually refers to the twelve "mazalot", the constellations of the ecliptic, each one lasting a month, not the hourly rule of the "moving stars".

Ari S. said...

While the planets exert influence one after the other on an hourly rate, it is quite clear that the one the begins the day/night is the overall influence for that day/night. Thus, Tuesday morning during the first hour the influence is both primarily and secondarily Mars. The second hour, though, would primarily be Mars and secondarily be the sun. This is why Rashi mentions the mnemonic to remember which one begins which day/night. This also becomes very apparent from the Ibn Ezra's works on astrology, Reishis Chachma and Sefer HaTaamim.

In fact, the names of the days of the week reflect this idea in many cultures. In English we have only retained SUNday, MO(o)nday and Satur(n)day; however, in many of the Romance languages it goes the whole way through. In Spanish, for example, Tuesday is Martes (from Mars, Wednesday is Miercoles (Mercury), Thursday is Jueves (Jupiter from the word Jovian) and Friday is Viernes (Venus). French works out well, too. The focus of the post was on the primary influence and not that of the secondary. Based on that, it is clearly not only out of place, but extremely accurate.

Regarding the terminology used, I am just translating the word mazal as astrological sign. Rabbeinu Bachye (on the parsha) and the Ibn Ezra (in the sefarim mentioned above) both refer to the system of planets as mazalos. The Gemara in Rosh Hashana 11b refers to asterisms as mazalos (i.e. Kimah which is an asterism and Kesil which happens to be a constellation, but not one of the zodiacal signs) and the Ibn Ezra (Shemos 31:18) refers to all 48 of the ancient constellations as mazalos. It seems that the word mazal just refers to objects and influences coming from the sky.

Some have suggested that it comes from the word nozel meaning to drip and that the word shows how these items influence/drip to our planet. Others (like the Mefaresh on the Rambam's Mishne Torah) have suggested that it comes from a word that means to move and they support this from Arabic words. Thus, it applies to the objects that appear to move across the sky throughout the year. So, it would seem that these terms are actually used for all these objects, not just the twelve zodiacal constellations, and my translation was, in fact, correct. Although, I concede that in common usage more often than not it is meant to refer to the twelve of the zodiac.

Red Cow said...

We totally enjoyed that chidush.

Let's take it one step further, shall we? We once heard from a tzadik that Yaakov Avinu wanted to grab some of the kedusha from Eisav by grabbing on to his heel (עקב)- and that's were Rabbi Akiva (עקיבא) came from (notice the same root between Ekev and Akiva). As Rabbi Akiva was the son of converts it is very possible that he descended from Eisav.

So let's take your chidush one step farther and suggest perhaps that Esav's foot was born under the same mazel as Yaakov. Could be?

Anonymous said...

I love that last one!