Monday, January 17, 2011

Raining Angels in Shevat

In our Kedusha we sanctify Hashem's name just like the heavenly angels. The framework of our Kedusha is found in this week's Haftarah which is Yeshaya's prophetic vision of the angelic beings sanctifying Hashem's name. In both this vision and in our Kedusha we recall that the angels call from "This one to the other and say, 'Holy, holy, holy, etc.'"

Rav Yehonasan Eibshitz zt"l offers a reason for the angels calling to each other prior to the sanctification. He states that the metaphysical construct of our universe is such that the physical realm is mirrored by the realm of the astrological forces above it, and that realm is mirrored by the angelic beings above that. Hashem "resides" above all this and He showers upon the angelic beings His will which they then shower down upon the astrological forces which in turn shower this countenance upon our world. Thus, when the angels are calling from one to another they are really showering down from one level to that below it in order to rain upon our world Hashem's glory.

Perhaps, one can understand this concept with a little more clarity when the following point is added. Rabbeinu Bachye mentions in several places (as does the Maharsha) that the Hebrew word for "this", the word used to express each angel that is calling to the other, has a numerical value of twelve. The significance says Rabbeinu Bachye (and the Maharsha) is that the expression of Hashem's glory is often found in items that are symbolised by the number twelve. In this world there are the twelve tribes of Yisrael. In the astrological realm there are the twelve signs of the zodiac and in the angelic realm there are twelve distinct groupings of angels that correspond to these lower realms. Thus, based on Rav Eibshitz's explanation, one can see how the expression of this calling to one another of the angels seems to really be the demonstration of the twelve angels showering upon the twelve signs of the zodiac which then shower upon the twelve tribes of Yisrael.

Perhaps, part of the connection of this week's Haftarah to the Parsha can be seen in this light. When Yisro joins Klal Yisrael in the Wilderness he mentions that he has now become aware that Hashem is greater than all the other gods. Rav Eibshitz questions this statement as it makes it seem as if the other gods have power, but that Hashem is greater. This is clearly not a true statement since Hashem is the Force of all forces. Rather, explains Rav Eibshitz, Yisro was mentioning that it would appear as if evil things were supposed to happen to Klal Yisrael and its leaders based on the astrological signs. The Gemara teaches that Avraham Avinu's astrological sign suggested that he was never to have a child. Moshe Rabbeinu was supposed to have drowned based on his celestial influence. However, Hashem turned these forces around and made them shower good upon Avraham and Moshe. Rav Eibshitz suggests that Hashem used the force itself to shower good as opposed to just ignoring it completely to display that the force is really just acting out the will of Hashem. It is not that it has power and that sometimes Hashem's power is greater, rather, it is merely a way through which Hashem Himself influences the world. Similar astrological events were prevalent through Kriyas Yam Suf and Yisro was actually stating that he now knows that Hashem controls the astrological forces, which had unfortunately become known as gods to the other nations. He was not saying that they have power, rather, he was saying that they just shower forth Hashem's power into this world.

In this regard we see that both the Parsha and Haftarah display Hashem's power through the methods in which He chooses to affect this world. He chooses to shower upon the angels His will and they do the same to the astrological forces which then continue to do so to Klal Yisrael. It is interesting to note that in all that was mentioned above, the prime entities that Hashem's will is showered upon are the twelve tribes of Yisrael.

It would seem that it is through the twelve tribes that the rest of the world is able to recognize that Hashem is the controller of the universe. This is certainly what happened with Yisro. It is fascinating to point out that we are currently in the month of Shevat. The Midrash homiletically expresses the meanings of the names of the months. Shevat's name comes from the word Shevet which can mean a rod or staff. This month's name represents the harsh rains that come down like a rod or a staff that comes down harshly upon its victim. The Midrash continues that this is clearly only a reference to how things are in Eretz Yisrael since it is depicting the rainy season as it is in that region and not how it is elsewhere in the world.

The month's names are not Hebrew, rather, they were taken from the Babylonians while we were in exile. It is fascinating to see that even the Babylonians expressed the concept of rains being showered down from heaven from the perspective of Yisrael (in this case the land which is reserved for the twelve tribes of Yisrael). Whether they were aware of it or not, they recognized somehow that Hashem's will, expressed as being showered upon humanity like rain, comes through Yisrael.

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