Sunday, February 27, 2011

Shabbos Sky Watching

Every Shabbos morning we sing the Keil Adon prayer. It is a very beautiful description of how Hashem has empowered the luminaries to shine forth and how they are completely subservient to Him. There is a lot of mysticism hinted to in this prayer and it mentions the idea of the Merkava as well as containing some very deep kabbalistic secrets.

Interestingly, as the Abudraham points out, one can find a hint to the five planets that are visible to the naked eye: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus and Mercury. The last verse reads,

"שבח נותנים לו כל צבא מרום"

"Praise is given to Him from the hosts of the heaven."

If one takes the first letters of the primary words; shin, nun, kaf, tzadi and mem, he will find that they can spell Shabsai (Saturn), Nogah (Venus), Kochav (Mercury), Tzedek (Jupiter) and Maadim (Mars). Thus, all the naked eye luminaries are found in this prayer. The sun and moon were mentioned in the earlier verses and the other five are hinted to in this verse.

Additionally, if one looks at how many words there are in between each comma he will notice that there are 5 then 5, then a bunch of 4's and finally the last two are 6 and 6. The first two segments, each of five, says the Abudraham, represent the Ten Commandments. All the verses that have 4 per segment equal a total of 72 which represents one of Hashem's holy names which contains 72 letters. The last two segments, each of 6, represent the twelve signs of the zodiac. Thus, not only are all the luminaries hinted to in this prayer, but the twelve signs of the zodiac can be seen as well.

The Abudraham was certainly far more familiar with the mystical intricacies and the nuances and style used by this prayer's composer. Had it not been for his commentary I would gave suggested one other piece. The verse above that hinted to the planets also contained the word לו. For some reason the Abudraham felt the composer was not alluding to anything with this word. Had it not been for this statement I would have suggested that the lamed that begins this word is hinting to Levana (moon) and then six of the seven luminaries would have been mentioned in this verse. Why is the sun the only not mentioned you ask? Well, I would have suggested that is because it is mentioned in the earlier verse when we are told that "Hashem called to the sun and it radiated light." If so, why is the moon hinted you may ask, since the moon was mentioned in that same verse as it says, "He saw and affixed the shape of the moon?" To this I would have responded that that verse is really only discussing the moon because by doing so it gives perspective to the sun's purpose. The Abudraham states that the meaning of that verse is that Hashem called to the sun in order for it to shine light. Hashem then created the moon so that many would recognize that the sun has a counterpart and it is therefore not befitting to worship the sun. Thus, the moon is not really being mentioned in that sentence to tell us about the moon, rather, that verse is focused on the sun.

In fact, the Rokeach gives a very detailed commentary on this prayer, as well. In it he shows how this prayer is mainly discussing the sun. The segments of 4 each which are what the bulk of the prayer is comprised is viewed as pairs of 4 which equal 8. The Rokeach then discussed how there are 8 angels that are charged with carrying out the solar motion and there are a total of 72 every day. Thus, we have these segments of pairs of four which total 72. With all this I would have suggested that six of the seven luminaries are hinted to in that other verse and the seventh, the sun, is the focus of the entire prayer. However, I gladly defer to the Abudraham as his knowledge of the mysticism and the nuances and style of the composer is clearly far greater than mine.


Ari S. said...

I also would like to point out another fact about the word, "Lo," which the Abudraham feels is the exception to those that reference the planets. The numerical value of this word is 36. There are 48 constellations in total. Twelve are the signs of the zodiac and the other thirty-six are the lesser images found in the night sky. (Ibn Ezra Reishis Chachma 1) Perhaps this word sticks out to symbolize these 36 lesser forms. Therefore, the 7 planets are referenced between the sun and moon in the verse itself, the other 5 are seen in the acrostic created by the later verse. The last stanza symbolized the twelve signs of the zodiac as there are twelve words and this word "lo" displays the remaining 36 forms. If so, then all the major celestial objects recognized by Chazal would be found in this prayer.

Phil said...

Shevach nosnim lo... I've been sharing this shtikle for a couple of years now to teenagers. When I learned of your website, I wanted to see if you had talked about this acronym. Alas, you did! I'm curious if you think that the acronym of the six planets was placed in the poem on purpose, or if it's just one of those things that happened to work out.

Ari S. said...

Based on the commentaries of the Abudraham and Rokeach, I find it very unlikely that this reference is coincidental.

micha berger said...

Ari S. 36 could refer to the Zodiac itself, as there is an idea of three stars being fundamental to each Zodiacal constellation. Admittedly I only know of this idea being in Babylonian star catalogues from the period of Kassite rule. Meaning, the idea that the Zodiac is 36 stars in 12 constellations appears in writings by Avraham avinu's contemporaries. Millennia before the paytan and whatever symbolism he wanted in his poem. But, could be some legacy of this idea lasted in later cultures.