Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Next Week's Eclipse

As next week's solar eclipse approaches I couldn't help but think of a quick thought that I mentioned in the appendix of The Secrets of the Stars. It is interesting to see that in the year of the Exodus as Klal Yisrael were approaching Har Sinai there was a solar eclipse, too. That eclipse occurred on Rosh Chodesh Sivan just as this upcoming one will happen in close proximity to that date.

Solar eclipses always occur on or very near to Rosh Chodesh because in order for them to happen the sun, moon, and earth must be in a straight line, syzygy (note: this is a great Scrabble word). This alignment is, by definition, a molad. Due to the fact that our calendar is based on calculations and estimates, the calculated molad and the actual molad can fall on different dates. Thus, eclipses do not always occur on Rosh Chodesh itself.

As the pesukim teach us, we battled Amalek in the second half of the month of Iyar. On the first of Sivan we camped, in united fashion, at Sinai and were given the Torah shortly afterwards. The solar eclipse that occurred on that Rosh Chodesh would have been recognized as being extremely symbolic. Chazal teach that such eclipses symbolize bad tidings for the other nations of the world. Klal Yisrael, often seen as being represented by the moon metaphorically, would be seen as blocking the light of the sun, often considered to metaphorically represent the other nations.

After decimating the superpower of the world, Egypt, and the battling our formidable foe, Amalek, we were about to receive that which defines us and our destiny the Torah. Sandwiched in between these events was a demonstrable event that displayed that there was to be a new nation to shed light unto the world Klal Yisrael. May we soon merit to live up to that very high standard which is required of us!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Patience is a Virtue

In this week's parsha (for those in chutz la'aretz), we find a discussion about waiting for the fifth year prior to eating produce outside of Eretz Yisrael. In the fourth year the produce is only able to be eaten in Yerushalayim, and in the first three it is prohibited completely. Just after this portion the Torah prohibits one to eat the flesh of an animal while it is still convulsing from being slaughtered (this translation is based on Chazal's interpretation; they also attribute to this prohibition that one may not eat prior to davening, and that one may not eat from a sacrifice prior to its blood being appropriately sprinkled on the altar). Following this prohibition are the prohibitions of acting superstitiously and divining the future through astrological means.

The juxtaposition of these mitzvos is confusing as there does not seem to be much similarity between them. Perhaps, reading these portions from the Rambam's perspective allows one a possible answer. The Rambam famously rejected astrology and superstitions as being anything more than foolishness. He writes in many places that adherence to these ideas is antithetical to Torah values since the purpose of man is to ascend from the beasts via his superior intellect and to use this intellect to serve God. By making use of these pseudosciences, one is essentially rejecting that which is demanded of him.

Thus, perhaps, the Rambam understood that these mitzvos demonstrate that one must exercise patience prior to acting. The section dealing with produce clearly shows that one must wait the necessary amount of years prior to partaking of his harvests. Not eating while an animal is still convulsing also demonstrates that one need to be patient and wait until the appropriate time arrives to eat from his recently slaughtered animal (the other examples that Chazal attribute to this mitzvah that I mentioned above demonstrate this same point). Using superstitions and astrology , according to the Rambam, demonstrate the same idea as well. Part of the reason that these practices came about was because people were quick to take anecdotal evidence and attribute the cause of many of events to these superstitions or stellar objects. Had the people thought things through a little more philosophically (or perhaps scientifically) they would not notice a true cause and effect relationship. These practices are often perpetuated due to a lack of patience to examine and understand phenomena objectively. Therefore, from this viewpoint it makes perfect sense why these mitzvos can be found grouped together. Whether or not one subscribes to the philosophy of the Rambam with regard to these matters, the lesson learned is a good one. Exercising caution and patience prior to coming to conclusions is a value we should all try to instill in ourselves and children.