Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Did Yaakov Leave the Solar System?

After Yaakov Avinu fled Lavan's house, Lavan chased after Yaakov. When the two met up, Lavan says to Yaakov that had Yaakov informed him that he was leaving then Lavan would have made a going away procession complete with joy, song, drum, and lyre! (See Bereishis 31:27) I find it very interesting that Lavan specified drum and lyre as the instruments of choice.

The way the cosmos is described in classical rabbinic literature is to have Earth in the center and several concentric spheres around it. Each sphere contains a planet, stars, or other celestial object. There are a total of nine spheres and going from ninth to first they are: the sphere that rotates the inner spheres, the fixed (regular) stars, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury, and the Moon. Rabbeinu Bacheye teaches that people are able to express the celestial concept of each sphere through various musical instruments. These are expressed in the order from outer sphere to inner sphere in Tehillim 150. (Rabbeinu Bacheye Shemos 32:19)

As such, the instruments Lavan specified correspond to Jupiter (drum) and Saturn (lyre). It is of note that these correspond to the last objects of the solar system prior to entering the sphere of the regular stars. The regular stars are divided into constellations and the primary ones are the twelve constellations of the zodiac. Numerous statements of Chazal compare these twelve constellations to the twelve shevatim. (See Bamidbar Rabbah 13, for example). Although only eleven of these twelve were born at the time Yaakov fled Lavan's house, perhaps, Lavan was saying that had he known Yaakov was going to leave because the shevatim were almost complete then he would have sent him off appropriately. How better to display this send off than by showing that Yaakov was on the cusp of having the twelve shevatim! By celebrating with the last two objects of the solar system, Lavan would be showing how Yaakov was on the cusp of transcending this realm and completing the shevatim who correspond to the next sphere, the eighth.

There are several chapters in my upcoming book from Israel Book Shop, The Secrets of the Stars that focus on the correlation between the shevatim and the zodiac. Keep your eyes open because it should be in stores in about a week and a half.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Fighting in Kislev

As mentioned in the last post, this Sunday is Rosh Chodesh! We will be beginning the month of Kislev. Every month has its mazal and the mazal of Kislev is Keshes, Sagittarius.

One of the first things that might catch one's attention is that the association between Keshes and Kislev seems pronounced in the imagery used to describe Keshes. Keshes is an archer and is the only one of the mazalos that depicts a warrior. Channukah is celebrated in Kislev and is the only holiday that we have that celebrates a military victory. While Purim certainly discusses salvation from murderous people, the focus there is how we were saved by Hashem using what appeared as political methods to save His nation. The association between Keshes and this time of year predates Chanukkah by many many years, so it is interesting to see that this mazal ended up with this month. Interestingly, resisting hellenism was crucial in the Channukah story. Perhaps, the appeal was that often times the Greek philosphy was so similar to Torah true concepts that it was appealing. The subtle differences, however, made the world of a difference. For some perspective on this see this earlier post,
Midrash Similar to Mythology.

Another aspect why Keshes is associated with Kislev is that the root of the word Keshes is "KSL" which also refers to Kesil, another name for Orion/Sirius. (See Torah Sheliemah Miluim Parshas Bo 177) It is during this month that this bright constellation/star rises and therefore the entire mazal is called by its name. An interesting fact is that that makes this the only month that the name of the mazal is based on a constellation other than the zodiacal one that is the mazal itself. I would love to hear if anyone has any suggestions why this is the case (other than the obvious "because Sirius is the brightest star in the sky).

I finally have more of a timeline for when The Secrets of the Stars will be available!!! It is at the printer now and in a week and a half should be at the publisher. The subsequent week it should be in bookstores! That means that it will hopefully be in stores just in time for Chanukkah! So please keep your eyes open and let's hope it will be a mazaldikke sha'a!!!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Avraham's non-Yisrael Stellar Descendants!

Just like a map of the United States is subdivided into individual states, the entirety of the night sky is mapped out and divided. In ancient times the sky was subdivided into forty-eight distinct regions called constellations. Twelve of these had significant status because they are in the portion of the sky that the sun crosses in a daily basis. These are called the twelve mazalos (T'leh, Shor, Teomim, etc.), or the constellations of the zodiac (Aries, Taurus, Gemini, etc.). The other thirty-six occupy the other parts of the night sky. (Ibn Ezra, Reishis Chachmah 1) Interestingly the total is forty-eight, as mentioned above, and the gematria of the word kochav is also forty-eight!

There are numerous midrashim that compare the twelve shevatim to the twelve mazalos. (See Bamidbar Rabbah 13) The question one may ask is, "What, if anything, is symbolic of the other thirty-six. Perhaps, the answer can be found by looking at the children of Avraham Avinu. Avraham's primary descendants equal forty-eight in total. Of these, twelve are the twelve shevatim, and the other thirty-six are the primary other offspring. All of these offspring became great nations as we will discuss shortly.

The twelve shevatim are the obvious: Reuven, Shimon, Levi, Yehudah, Dan, Naftali, Gad, Asher, Yissachar, Zevulun, Yosef, and Binyamin. These are the most primary descendants of Avraham, thus, they are represented by the primary part of the sky. The other thirty-six are tallied by Tosefos Shantz. (Tosefos Shantz, Sotah 13a) They are the twelve nobles of Yishmael which are mentioned in the end of this week's parsha, (Bereishis 25:12-16) the fourteen leaders from Eisav found in Parshas Vayishlach, (Bereishis 36) and the ten offspring of Keturah found in this week's parsha. (Bereishis 25:1-4)

While the offspring of Yishmael and Eisav are easy to count, how one delineates only ten for Keturah is a bit confusing because the parsha lists fewer than ten actual children and more than ten when all the generations listed are mentioned. The following seems to be the method described by Tosefos Shantz. The first six are: Zimran, Yakshan, Medan, Midyan, Yishbak, and Shuach. (Bereishis 25:2) Tosefos Shantz seems to be of the opinion that the listed firstborns of these original six do not count as extra because they are considered to replace their fathers and did not form a new nation. The other grandchildren mentioned are considered to add to the greater number. If the Torah listed them, then presumably they became great nations and each nation that came from Avraham is recognized as another constellation in the sky.

Thus, Yakshan has two children mentioned; Sheva and Dedan. (Bereishis 25:3) Sheva replaces his father so the total is still six, but Dedan should presumably add to the count and now we arrive at a total of seven. Midyan had five children: Aiphah, Aipher, Chanoch, Avidah, and Elda'ah. (Bereishis 25:4) Aiphah replaces his father leaving us the younger four to add to the count. No other offspring are mentioned, other than three of the next generation born to Dedan.

The problem is clear to see, though. The total from the paragraph above is eleven and there should only be ten! Who is extra? Dedan is clearly the extra number. It is quite obvious that Tosefos Shantz must be of the same opinion as Onkelos. The pasuk mentions that Dedan sired Ashurim, Letushim, and Leumim. (Bereishis 25:3) Onkelos, however, does not understand these to be names of individuals who subsequently became nations. Rather, he translates these as being descriptive words for non-descript nomadic tribes. Since no great nation came from Dedan he is not counted in the total and we have our thirty-six!

Avraham was promised by Hashem in a few places that his children would be like the stars of the heaven. Most attribute this characteristic to Bnei Yisrael. However, from the above it is clear that all of Avraham's graet descendants find their place amongst the stellar objects. Bnei Yisrael might be the primary ones, but the other thirty-six are great in their own right. They too have descending from this great man!

In the middle of the parsha we are taught of the test that Eliezer devised in order to see who would be fit to marry his master's son. While many assume he was trying to find a girl with good attributes, some assume the entire test was baseless superstition. For more download my kuntras about astrology and superstitions

Also, keep an eye out for my new book within the next month, The Secrets of the Stars.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sarah's 127 Years

In the beginning of the parsha we are immediately informed that Sarah Imeinu was 127 years old upon her passing. There are numerous midrashic statements that focus on the fact that all of her years were lived to the fullest. Sarah maximized her time in this world and Chazal teach that these 127 years are an expression of completion. Similarly, we find that Achashveirosh ruled over 127 countries and we are taught that this is a way to express his dominion over the entire world. In fact, there are even midrashim that compare Sarah to Queen Esther based on this number.

What about the number 127 connotes the idea of a completed unit? Perhaps the answer to this question lies in the night sky. There are 12 mazalos, constellations, that each are considered to rule over one month. Most people are somewhat familiar with this concept, even if they do not understand the dynamic by which each month is designated to its mazal. Additionally, Chazal discuss the fact that there are seven objects in the sky that move independent of the stars. These objects are: the sun, moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Every hour is considered to be under the rule of one of these planets and each of the seven days of the week is also designated as under the influence of one of these seven objects. Besides the hourly dominance, these objects can always be found in one of the 12 mazalos and the combination of mazal and object project an influence to this world.

Chazal express all of nature somehow being showered upon us from the metaphysical heavens through these 12 mazalos and 7 objects. As such, all of nature and all the happenings of this world come through these items. Thus, it is clear how the number 127 shows completion. 127 is the number 12 and 7 put together (not added, but written side by side). 127 shows the epitome of a complete existence. Sarah was able to live such a full life that her years are able to be expressed by this very symbolic number.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Springtime Akeidah

This week's Parsha contains the tremendously powerful and emotional story of Akeidas Yitzchak. We are taught that Avraham Avinu woke early in the morning and did not hesitate to begin the journey to slaughter his beloved son to his even more beloved God. On the third day Avraham raised his eyes and saw the opportune place from afar. It was at this point that he left his entourage behind and continued the journey with only himself and the son to be the sacrifice, Yitzchak Avinu. (Bereishis 22:3-8)

Rav Yehonasan Eibshitz points out that if Avraham awoke early to travel, then the commandment to perform this task was presumably given the day prior. Additionally, it was on the third day of travel that the place was spotted and, therefore, it is reasonable that Avraham and Yitzchak continued that day's journey and the Akeidah occurred on the following day. Rav Eibshitz also cites a Midrash that tells us that Yitzchak's soul left him during the ordeal and that he was resuscitated back to life. Since Chazal tell us that the truly righteous only die on the anniversary of their birth, the day of the Akeidah must have been Yitzchak's birthday, or the date on which Klal Yisrael would later bring a Korbon Pesach. If true, reasons Rav Eibshitz, then the day of the commandment to designate Yitzchak as a korbon would have been 10 Nissan. This is the date on which many years later Klal Yisrael would be commanded to reserve their sheep to be Korbonos Pesach. Yitzchak, a firstborn to his mother, was designated on this day in order that in later generations the firstborns of Klal Yisrael would be saved from Makkas Bechoros, the killing of the firstborns, because of the mitzvah of Korbon Pesach. (See Tiferes Yehonasan Bereishis 24:4)

As mentioned last week, keep your eye's to the skies, or at least to the bookstores. The Secrets of the Stars should be going ot print this week and hopefully we be in stores in a month or so!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Quality not Quantity

Firstly, let me let everyone know that, b"H, the book is finally almost ready to go to print! The cover and typesetting have been completed and we are just going through it very quickly to make sure that everything is in order. Keep your eyes open for it, hopefully it should be in stores in about a month or so!!!

In the Parsha we find that Avraham Avinu is informed by Hashem that his children will be comparable to the stars. Many commentators explain this to be a description of the characteristics of the children and not that it represents the number of offspring. Based on Rav Yehonasan Eibshitz's explanation I would like to offer the following short explanation.

Unlike planets which reflect the light of the sun, stars produce their own light. Due to processes of nuclear fusion happening in the center of the star, the entire star is illuminated and radiates brilliantly. So too, every member of Klal Yisrael shines in his own right. He is not shining because of "reflected light" from others, rather, he has a brilliant core that can brighten even the darkest places.

Additionally, from our perspective many of the stars are not visible. Many of them are too far from us and we are unable to perceive their light. Others have interstellar dust and debris that block their light from reaching us. This, too, is expressive of the inner beauty of the nishamos of Klal Yisrael. Even if they have strayed very far away and their glory cannot be seen on the outside, or if they have external inhibitions which do not allow for their light to be seen on the outside; nevertheless, their inner beauty is present and shines!

Lastly, in this week's Parsha, Avraham Avinu is told by Hashem to walk in front of Him and be perfect. The Rambam, Ramban, and many others explain that this perfection is the same mentioned by Hashem in Sefer Devarim when He commands Klal Yisrael to be perfect with Him. Included in that mitzvah is the commandment to refrain from predicting via astrology. The Rosh's son Rebbi Yehuda felt that this mitzvah represents the essence of the entire Torah and that the reason for the elongation of the exile is due to our lack of observance of this mitzvah. To understand why please feel free to
download a free copy of it here.