Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Constellational Representation at Yaakov's Funeral

In the Parsha we are taught of the honorable funeral services given to Yaakov Avinu. (Bereishis 50:9-13) The Gemara teaches that when the procession came to Goren Atad the children of Eisav, Yishmael and Keturah came to war with Bnai Yisrael. However, when they saw that Yosef's crown adorned the casket of Yaakov they also placed their crowns there as a sign of respect. Between them they placed a total of 36 crowns. (Sotah 13a)

Before going into some symbolism that can be found in the above, let us first understand something about how the ancients viewed the night sky. All together there are 48 constellations that were accepted in ancient times. It is through these 48 that all the forces of nature were perceived to be flowing from the metaphysical realm into the physical. (See Ibn Ezra Shemos 33:21) Of these 48 there are 12 constellations that are considered to be the primary ones and these are the constellations of the zodiac. These twelve represent the main forces of nature. (Baraisa D'Mazalos 1) The other 36 are important, but considered somewhat subservient to these twelve.

Chazal compare the 12 Shevatim to the 12 constellations of the zodiac. (See Pesikta Zutrasa Shemos 1:2 as an example) Just like the metaphysical word actualizes into the physical world through the 12 zodiacal constellations, so too, the Shevatim bring forth the metaphysical realities into this physical world. However, that leaves one to question, who are the representatives of the lower 36 constellations?

In Zevachim we find that the commentators see the children of Avraham Avinu, other than Yitzchak, as more honorable than those of the other nations. Yet, they are not as honorable as Yitzchak. (See Maharsha and Keren Orah Zevachim 62b) Tosefos Shantz understands that the 36 crowns were those of the children of Eisav, Yishmael and Keturah. He states that 1-12 were of the 12 Yishmaelite nobles. 13-26 were of the generals of Eisav listed in the end of Parshas VaYishlach. The rest came from Keturah's children who had a total of 10 crowns. 27-32 were of the six son's of Keturah. However, in the listing of Keturah's children several grandchildren are listed. Tosefos Shantz understands that each firstborn son inherited his father's crown and did not establish a new nation, thus, that son's crown does not add to the total. He also do not count Dedan as having established a crown presumably because he did not establish a nation as seen by Targum Onkelos. That leaves Midyan's children who were Eiphah, who inherited his father's crown, 33 was of Eipher, 34 Chanoch, 35 Avidah and 36 was Elda'ah. (Tosefos Shantz Sotah 13a)

Fascinatingly, we see that when Yaakov died it was as if all the forces of nature came to honor him at his funeral procession. The twelve signs of the zodiac were the primary ones and they were displayed by his twelve sons who were carrying the casket. The other thirty-six constellations were shown by the established kingdoms that sprouted forth of Avraham's descendants. It was a monumental event that had all of nature mourning its loss!