Monday, January 30, 2012

Adar Sheni and Amalek

Towards the end of the Parsha we read about the war with Amalek. Yehoshua was charged with leading the army to combat this formidable foe. The classic commentaries to Tanach with regard to Shaul HaMelech's campaign against Amalek teach us that the Amaleki were proficient in the occult and were especially educated in the ways to harness the astrological forces to their benefit. Rabbeinu Bachye maintains that in the battle discussed in this week's parsha that Amaleki chose soldiers who were destined to live out the year based on their astrological sign.

By utilizing such a "draft", the Amaleki were confident that they could not be defeated since their soldiers were unable to be killed. Rabbeinu Bachye mentions that this is why it was necessary for Yehoshua to choose men to go out to war. The pesukim in our Parsha state that Yehoshua was charged with selecting men to go out to fight. Rabbeinu Bachye is of the opinion that this was not merely a command that Yehoshua assemble an army. Yehoshua was charged with finding people with the correct astrological signs so that the Israelite army would also be comprised of men who were unable to fall in war. This, says Rabbeinu Bachye, is why when Yehoshua's offensive was successful that the pasuk mentions that the enemy was weakened. They were only weakened because they could not be defeated entirely. The enemy soldiers became weak and tired of battle, but there were no actual casualties of war since the soldiers were unable to be killed in battle.

Rabbeinu Bachye makes it seem that the individuals mentioned had specific astrological signs and that is what protected them. The Chizkuni takes a slightly different approach. The Chizkuni also is of the opinion that the Amaleki were harnessing the forces of the astrological signs and that Yehoshua was charged with selecting Israelite warriors who had appropriate astrological signs to combat them. Unlike Rabbeinu Bachye's interpretation, the Chizkuni felt that the Amaleki were using the astrological forces directly to fight the Israelites. Therefore, the Chizkuni states that the men chosen to fight Amalek were not those who had specific astrological signs, rather, they were those who had no astrological sign whatsoever. Yehoshua was charged with gathering men who had been born in Adar II. The Chizkuni maintains that Adar II has no mazal since all twelve have been assigned to the earlier twelve months. Since they were not bound by mazal, the Amaleki would not be able to use astrology to combat them.

This approach of the Chizkuni is fantastic because based on Rashi (Rosh Hashana 11b) and the Ibn Ezra (Reishis Chachma and Sefer HaTaamim) it would seem that the astrological signs are based on the solar calendar and that which we state that the lunar months align with the signs is only based on the average years. In a solar calendar there are always twelve months and all months are assigned a sign. The Chizkuni would seem to argue with this premise and state that the signs are based on the lunar months. Perhaps the Chizkuni would actually maintain that the nations of the world who only have the solar calendar would have their signs based on the solar calendar, but the Jews would be based on the lunar calendar. If that is true then this technique of Yehoshua was a surprise defense that the Amaleki had probably not counted upon. The Amaleki, only familiar with the solar calendar, would have no understanding of what it would mean to have a person that has no mazal since they have no such month of Adar II. Yehoshua, on the other hand led an army of signless warriors and routed this archenemy of ours.

I find it interesting to mention something written by Rav Dovid Cohen in his Masos Kappai. Rav Cohen points out that Ephraim and Menashe were compared to fish by their grandfather Yaakov when he blessed them in Parshas VeYechi. Sometimes we find that Ephraim and Menashe are considered like one Shevet and are referred to as Shevet Yosef, and other times we find that they are two and called by their own names. This is similar to Adar, symbolized by the astrological sign of fish, which is sometimes one month and other times, like this year, two. It is important to note that Yehoshua was a scion of Ephraim and it was he who led this army in this week's parsha.

On a different note, often I have heard people try and prove the existence of aliens from this week's Haftarah. See here for a discussion of this topic.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Stars Fell on Egypt

Hashem informs Moshe that He will harden Paaroh's heart and then Hashem will punish the Egyptians and take His hosts, His nation of Bnai Yisrael from Egypt. (Shemos 7:3-4) The word "hosts" is generally applied to the celestial objects and attests to the fact that they display Hashem's might and rule over the world. Rabbeinu Bachye points out that Bnai Yisrael are compared to the stars and are therefore worthy of this title. Both the stars and Bnai Yisrael represent the connection of this world to the next, they both display how Hashem controls all of nature. (Rabbeinu Bachye Shemos 7:4)

I was wondering if, perhaps, there was some additional meaning and a reference to the stars themselves. Perhaps, one could read the verse as stating that Hashem was taking out His hosts AND His nation of Bnai Yisrael. In this regard there are two entities being freed, the first is Bnai Yisrael and the second is the multitudes of celestial objects.

We know that the Egyptians had a distorted view of the world and therefore practiced pagan idolatry. The purposes of these practices most often was to connect with the astrological forces which were perceived as gods. (See Rambam's description of Avodah Zarah in the beginning of Hilchos Avodah Zarah) In fact, the Meiri mentions that all Egyptian practices and even their daily life was centered around astrology. (Meiri Pesachim 5a)

The celestial objects, meant to display Hashem's glory, had effectively been "taken captive" and enslaved by the Egyptians. The Egyptians were using the celestial objects in acts of defiance against Hashem instead of their appropriate use which would be to recognize Hashem's greatness. Just like the Jewish nation was enslaved, so too, the stars that represent Klal Yisrael were subjugated.

Most of us are familiar with what is, perhaps, the most famous Ramban on Chumash. Towards the end of Parshas Bo the Ramban shows how the Makkos were effectively a teaching tool to show that Hashem controls the world and that He is still in charge. This concept is the antithesis to the Egyptian philosphy. Instead of all the various celestial forces being independent forces of nature, it is Hashem that is really the Force of all forces and He is completely in control. The Makkos effectively displayed Hashem's taking of His stars back. Once Hashem showed that He was in charge, the stars could no longer be seen as deities, rather, they displayed His phenomenal might. Thus, Hashem took both Bnai Yisrael and His hosts of stars from Egypt.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Reflections of the World, Klal Yisrael, and the Sky

The ancients saw the sky as comprised of 48 constellations and 7 planets (the sun, moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn). Of the 48 constellations, 12 were given more significant status and are considered to be the primary constellations. These are the twelve signs of the zodiac. All of nature was considered to be influenced by all these factors.

For example, the week is comprised of seven days and each one is assigned a different planet as its representative. (Ibn Ezra Reishis Chachma 4; also see Rashi Berachos 59b) The world is also considered to be divided into 7 major regions. Eretz Yisrael is considered to be the center of these. Rabbeinu Bachye references this when discussing the order in which the Shevatim are listed in the beginning of this week's Parsha. The Shevatim are listed as: Reuven, Shimon, Levi, Yehuda, Yissachar, Zevulun, and Binyamin. Rabbeinu Bachye points out that Binyamin is out of place in this list. As the last born he should be after his older brother Yosef. Rather, he is chosen to be the seventh in this order because the Beis HaMikdash was destined to be in his portion of Eretz Yisrael. Just as Eretz Yisrael is the seventh region of the world, so too, Binyamin is listed as number seven. Rabbeinu Bachye then asks how Eretz Yisrael can be considered to be the seventh since it is the middle region and must therefore be considered to be the fourth of seven. To this he responds that it is comparable to Shabbos. Shabbos is listed as the seventh day of the week in the manner in which we talk. However, Shabbos is sometimes referred to as being the central day of the week. From Wednesday on we focus on the coming Shabbos, and through the following Tuesday we are still feeling the holiness of the previous. Thus, although it is perceived as the middle and central day, it is also numbered as seven. So too, Eretz Yisrael is the middle and central portion of the world, but it is also number seven. (Rabbeinu Bachye Shemos 1:2-3)

Moshe Rabbeinu was also numbered seven if one thinks about it. If one follows the generations from Avraham Avinu, Moshe was the seventh. The list is: Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Levi, Kehas, Amram, and Moshe. He was born on the seventh day of the month (interestingly enough it was of the twelfth month, see later in this post about the symbolism of twelve). It is of note, that his natural birthdate should not have been 7 Adar, rather, he was born prematurely. His natural birthdate would have been 6 Sivan (the day upon which Hashem gave us the Torah years later). (See Rabbeinu Bachye Shemos 2:2) All these number sevens seem to show the culmination and completion of world and a representation of a more perfected state.

The number twelve also shows completion of the natural order of events. There are twelve months and twelve Shevatim. Chazal compare the 12 Shevatim to the 12 mazalos. (See Pesikta Zutrasa Shemos 1:2 as an example) In Moshe's prophetic vision in the Parsha, Hashem tells him, "This is my name eternally, etc." (Shemos 3:15) Rabbeinu Bachye points out that the numerical value for the Hebrew for "this" is equal to 12. Hashem was teaching Moshe some deep understandings of His name. Kabbalistically one can take the four letter name of Hashem and rearrange it in 12 different fashions. (See Shaarei Orah of Rabbeinu Yosef Gikatilla and Bnai Yisaschar who assign a different configuration to each month/mazal of the year). If one puts all the configurations together he will have a total of 48 letters and this is considered to be the 48 lettered name of Hashem. (Rabbeinu Bachye Shemos 3:15) How fascinating that Hashem encoded the way this world works to also have 12 primary constellations, but to also have a total of 48 when viewing the sky as a whole.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Was Yissachar Really the One to Regulate the Calendar?

We are taught that the bracha given to Yissachar in this week’s parsha is a reference to the fact that his children were experts in astronomy. In fact, the Rambam takes for granted that there used to be many volumes written by the descendants of Yissachar that detailed the celestial movements (Kiddush HaChodesh 17:24). As such they were able to determine the appropriate times for Rosh Chodesh as well as other complexities within the calendar. This is seen by his comparison to a donkey which is capable of shouldering a heavy yoke in order to carry it for its master.

Perhaps, the similarity does not end there. The pasuk tells us that he has no rest and that he sleeps outside of the city. This might be part of how Chazal knew to specifically apply Yissachar’s yoke to the necessary knowledge of astronomy. As any astronomer knows, one must leave the city in order that the pollution and city lights not interfere with his observations (yes, even back then the heat from the fires and the associated lights would create viewing problems). Also, it is obvious that the astronomer must be awake in the nighttime and, therefore, he will not be getting much rest.

The question that one might ask is that it seems from the Gemara in Rosh Hashana (24-25) that the household of the nasi, the descendants of David HaMelech (from Yehuda not Yissachar), was charged with this knowledge (see Superhuman Sight post of August 5). This apparent contradiction can, perhaps, be resolved by the Radak’s commentary to Divrei HaYamim 1 12:32. The Radak mentions that it was necessary for the king to play a role in the process of implementing the calendar.

It would seem that Yissachar was never the one who actually made the calendar, he was just the advisor to the king. The king, himself, would make the final determination whether he wished to listen to Yissachar’s advice. Therefore, after the monarchy had been abolished, it was the king’s descendants, the houshold of the nasi, that were empowered with this decision making. This is similar to the donkey in the bracha. The donkey is not carrying the burden for himself, he is merely shouldering it for his master. Yissachar’s extensive knowledge of astronomy was not intended to be used by Yissachar, rather, the king would implement it, as necessary.

To leave off with an oddity found regarding the earlier pasuk from Divrei HaYamim, the Targum seems to mention that Yissachar was also alloted the task of serving as the official astrologers of Klal Yisrael. It would seem that they would read the stars for astrological signs and determine (and, perhaps, advise the king) of the future events and of the necssary actions that Klal Yisrael must take. This is an amazingly fascinating explanation because this practice is something that is deemed to be a biblical prohibition (see Y”D 179). For more on this
click here.

Also, for a celestial description of Yaakov's funeral click here.