Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Twilight Zone

Although it may not feel like it, spring has begun. The days and nights have become more equal in length and Pesach is approaching fast. This got me thinking a little bit about something about spring that many do not realize.

Most people are familiar with the fact that the days are longest in the summer, shortest in the winter, and medium sized in the spring and autumn. Because of this, it is generally assumed that the length of twilight follows the same general schedule. This, however, is not the case. The longest twilights are in the summer, but the shortest are in the spring and autumn and the winter has the more medium length twilight periods.

The evening twilight is a transition period between day and night. From a halachic perspective, part of this time is not known whether it is day or night and is treated as if it were both. It is somewhat interesting to see that it is during the fall and spring that this transition period is most brief. Spring and autumn posses a similar quality. They are both similar in weather and are often viewed as being the transition periods between the cold season to warm and vice versa.

It was also during the springtime that Klal Yisrael transitioned from being a group of slaves and emerged into a nation. The transition of spring is one of development and growth, both of produce and of our nation. Perhaps, twilight is shortest at this time in order for us to recognize that the transition into being a better and more complete person or nation does not always take a very long time. We were able to achieve the status of angels and stand at the foot of Har Sinai a mere forty-nine days after leaving Egypt as a bunch of low class slaves! Perhaps we can learn from the brief twilights of spring that although sometimes we see personal growth as a long and arduous process, if one puts all of his efforts into it then he will develop much more quickly then originally thought.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Sin of the Golden Sheep

Aharon was commanded to bring a calf and a ram as sacrifices as part of the dedication service for the Mishkan. Rashi teaches that the calf was to display that Hashem had forgiven Aharon for his participation in the Golden Calf. While it is possible that the ram had nothing to do with this sin, it is interesting to note that it is grouped with the calf seemingly displaying some sort of connection between the two.

Perhaps, the ram also displayed some element of the Golden Calf and it too was a display of Hashem's forgiveness and compassion. The Rema, in his Toras HaOlah, teaches that part of what Klal Yisrael were trying to do with the Golden Calf was to tap into the astrological forces symbolized in T'leh, the Ram, and Shor, the Ox. These two signs are those of Nisan and Iyar and historically these items have been worshiped or used for worshiping others. The reason, says the Rema, is that the spring is a time when growth and development occurs and, as such, displays the idea of bracha occurring. Naturally people want to "tap into" this concept and unfortunately served items that they felt displayed the concepts of spring.

The Rema continues to state that Klal Yisrael wanted to capture the essence of both of these signs so they took a calf. The calf is a young Shor and thus displays the qualities of that mazal, and while it is young and fragile is also reminiscent of a small sheep. So, in addition to Shor, T'leh was also represented in that famous sin. Perhaps, the ram that Aharon offered was also displaying this other element of that very sin of the Golden Calf. In addition to the calf of Shor, he also had a ram which is symbolic of T'leh.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

War of the Planets

Last year around Purim time I mentioned the fact that Esther is compared to many different celestial objects by various sources. Included in this list was the Moon, Venus and a star in the Pleiades star cluster. For more please click here.

I wanted to add one thought this year from Rabbeinu Bachye. Rabbeinu Bachye mentions how all the worldly events are reflected by the seven ancient planets (Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn) and their movements. Of these two are primarily luminaries, the Sun and the Moon. Two of them portend evil and those are Saturn and Mars. Two of them signify benevolence and those are Venus and Jupiter. Lastly, Mercury is somewhat neutral affecting good in a good way and bad in a bad way. Based on various methods of analysis Rabbeinu Bachye displays how Achashveirosh was symbolic of Saturn and Haman of Mars, thus the two evil planets can be seen seeking destruction. Mordechai was symbolic of Venus and Esther of Jupiter (this was not mentioned last year) and thus the benevolent stars are expressed.The struggle throughout the Megillah is symbolic of the overall struggle of good versus evil. (Rabbeinu Bachye Kad HaKemach Purim; Please look it up because I know I am not doing it justice by typing it in such a brief post and without much of the explanation)

Although he did not mention it, perhaps by using the overall method one can assert that Charvonah was Mercury as he switched from bad to good. It all depended on the situation.

Another point that I wanted to point out is that according to Rashi Esther is somewhat symbolic of the Moon. (Rashi Megillah 13a) Obviously Purim always falls on the 14 and 15 of the month which is when the Moon is becoming its fullest. This month's full Moon might look especially big to some because the Moon is at its closest to Earth in 18 years.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Day Night Day No Night

Parshas VaYikra primarily discusses many of the sacrifices that were brought in the Beis Hamikdash. (Shameless plug - I would encourage all to see Maseches Zevachim for detailed information about the sacrifices and ESPECIALLY to see my commentary on Zevachim in my sefer Tiferes Aryeh on Zevachim) One of the sacrifices is referred to as a Korbon Shelamim. The Korbon Shelamim is unique in that a portion is eaten by the owner of the sacrifice and the edible portions can be eaten for two days and the night in between. Most other korbonos are only eaten by the kohanim and only for a day and a night. The exceptions are the Korbon Olah of which nothing is eaten, and the Korbon Pesach which is not able to be eaten on the first day and only on the night afterwards. (See Zevachim chapter 5 for more details and also regarding the permissibility to eat non-Shelamim korbonos after midnight)

In his Toras HaOlah, the Rema informs us of much of the meaning behind the nuances of the Korbon Shelamim. The Rema maintains that this korbon demonstrates perfection and should therefore only be brought by very holy people. The name Shelamim means perfected and the reason the owner is allowed a piece of the animal to eat is because he is effectively stating that he is a perfected person and therefore capable of making a pact with Hashem by sharing a korbon. This, says the Rema, is why the only time we find a communal Shelamim is on Shavuos. Throughout the year we do not view the community in its entirety as being perfected since there are many sinners within our midst. However, Shavuos commemorates the time when we stood at Sinai like perfected angels and made a pact with Hashem to keep His Torah.

Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky zt"l suggests that prior to Matan Torah the day was considered to have started at daybreak and night followed the day. At Sinai when we accepted the Torah Hashem reversed the order and since then we begin our day with nightfall. (Also see Rashbam Bereishis and Seder Zemanim of Rav Y.I. Chaver zt"l) Korbonos, in general, have the night following the day since the korbon is eaten through the night that follows the day of its offering. This, says Rav Kaminetsky, reflects the idea that korbonos are a basic function of human existence and they preceded Matan Torah. They reflect a pre-Matan Torah concept and, therefore, they follow the order of the world of day prior to night as it was during Creation. (Emes LeYaakov Shemos 12:10)

The Shelamim shows the progression of man as he starts in the pre-Matan Torah world and elevates himself to the level of the world after the Torah was given. The korbon starts with day preceding night as it is offered in the daytime and able to be eaten then and through the night that follows. However, the Torah then allows the individual the following day, until sunset, to continue eating the korbon. Perhaps, since we are talking about a perfected person, he now is able to display night preceding day and he therefore continues into the next day and has his korbon end at the end of the new style day, at sunset. He displays a world of Torah and mitzvos and therefore his day ends at nightfall.

This can also shed some light as to why there is an opinion in the Gemara that states that only members of Klal Yisrael can bring a Shelamim.