Friday, November 1, 2013

Yaakov and Eisav's Interesting Birthdays

We are taught of the birth of Esav and his twin brother Yaakov in this week's Parsha. (Bereishis 25:25-26) Esav became a hunter and a man of trickery; Yaakov, on the other hand, preferred to stay inside and remain pure and innocent. (Ibid. 25:27 and Rashi's interpretation) If one looks through Rabbeinu Bachye's commentary throughout this portion he will notice that Rabbeinu Bachye attributes Esav's disposition due to the fact that his astrological sign was Mars. Presumably he is discussing that which the Gemara mentions that if one is born under the astrological influence of Mars he has a disposition to be bloodthirsty. (See Shabbos 156a) Thus, says Rabbeinu Bachye, Eisav's children inherited this tendency.

The question that one should ask is that if Eisav and Yaakov were twins then shouldn't they have the same astrological influence? This influence is a function of the day of the week upon which the child is born and not based on the exact location of the celestial objects in the sky. If it were the latter, perhaps, one could argue that the slight shift of the planet was sufficient to render its force on the second child too weak to exert influence. However, since it is clear from Rashi that it is a function of the day of the week, this should not be the case. The way it works is that each of the seven ancient planets is assigned a day of the week: Sunday is the sun, Monday the moon, Tuesday is Mars, Wednesday is Mercury, Thursday is Jupiter, Friday is Venus, and Shabbos is Saturn. (See Rashi Berachos 59b and Ibn Ezra Reishis Chachma) It is also important to note that it is unreasonable to assume that there was a long delay between the birth of Eisav and Yaakov since the pasuk teaches that Yaakov was holding onto Eisav's heel. (Bereishis 25:26)

Although, one could argue that Yaakov also had this disposition, but was able to channel it properly, this does not seem to be what Rabbeinu Bachye is saying. I would like to offer the following theory to resolve this matter. Perhaps, Eisav was born in the daytime just before nightfall, and Yaakov was born right afterwards, but after night. Just like each day has its planet, so too, each night has one as well. Motzei Shabbos is Mercury, Sunday night is Jupiter, Monday night is Venus, Tuesday night is Saturn, Wednesday night is the sun, Thursday night is the moon, and Friday night is Mars.

Interestingly, Mars is considered to influence Tuesdays, so if Eisav were born just before nightfall, then Yaakov would have been born on the night prior to Wednesday. That night is considered to be the influence of Saturn. Fantastically, Saturn is considered to be the influence of Klal Yisrael as a whole just like Mars is the influence of Eisav and the nation that came from him. (Ibn Ezra Reishis Chachma 4)

While I could have also mentioned that Eisav was born at night and Yaakov in the day and have chosen Friday night and Shabbos day, and this is certainly plausible (interestingly, Friday night is also Mars and Shabbos day is Saturn), it would seem more likely that it was Tuesday to Tuesday night. The Jews are compared to the nighttime and the other nations to the day, thus if the comparison stems from their ancestors then it would make sense that they were born at these respective times. (See Rabbeinu Bachye Shemos 12:2)

A small proof that something like this happened can be seen in the pesukim that describe the birth of these twins. When describing Yaakov's birth the pasuk says, "And after this his brother came out and his hand was grabbing the heel of Eisav, etc." The word for "after this" in this pasuk is אחרי (acharei). (Bereishis 25:26) Rashi teaches that when this word is used it shows that this event did not happen immediately after that which preceded it in the pesukim. The word used for "afterwards" that shows immediacy is אחר (achar). (Rashi Bereishis 15:1) As mentioned earlier, it is impossible to say that Yaakov's birth was not immediately after Eisav's since he was holding his brother's heel as he was born. Rather, I would suggest that this word is chosen to show that although the births happened one after the other, since the day changed from Tuesday to Tuesday night, it did not seem as if it was so immediate.

Sweet Fifteen

Rabbeinu Bacheye does an interesting calculation to show us exactly how old Yaakov and Eisav were at the time that Yaakov purchased the bechorah from Eisav. Avraham was 100 years old when Yitchak was born and 140 when Yitzchak married (Yitzchak was 40 when he married Rivkah). Yitzchak and Rivka were unable to have children for 20 years which brings the total to 160. Since we are taught that the day of the sale was the day of Avraham's passing, we can figure out exaclty how old Yaakov and Eisav were. Avraham lived a total of 175 years, this means that at the time of this sale Yaakov and Eisav were 15. Rabbeinu Bacheye points out that they had to be at least 13 from the fact that they are referred to as men in this segment and prior to 13 they would only be referred to as boys. (Rabbeinu Bacheye 25:27)

It is interesting to point out that this world is considered to have been created with the letter heh and the next world with a yud. (Menachos 29b) Heh is the fifth letter and yud is the tenth. Together they equal fifteen. There are countless drashos that focus on Eisav wanting this world and disregarding, even degrading, the World to Come. It is interesting to see that the age of the participants in this exchange express the idea of this world and its interaction with the next.

As an aside, this segment of the Torah seems to display that Avraham was not born on Pesach. Rebbi Yehoshua maintains that Avraham and Yaakov were born in Nissan. While many might naturally assume that this would have been on Pesach, from the sugyah itself it seems that is not the case and the parsha reinforces that. The sugyah maintains that Yitzchak was born on Pesach, the fact that Avraham and Yaakov's births are only described as in Nissan implies that they were not on Pesach. A close look at Rashi seems to also make this seem to be the case. The parsha reinforces it, though. If this sale happened on the day Avraham died then we can assume it was also his birth. This concept is taken for granted in this exact sugyah. If so, Yaakov made bread for Eisav, so presumably it was not Pesach. (It is possible it was matzoh, but it does not seem like it.) (See Rosh Hashana 11a; for more on why Yaakov gave Eisav bread see my Tiferes Aryeh Shas Inyan Mechiras Habechorah or click here.)

When is Rosh Chodesh?

Because this Sunday is Rosh Chodesh, we will not be reading the regular Haftarah. Instead we will read about the story in which Yehonasan tries to determine if his father, Shaul Hamelech, intends to kill Dovid or not. The setting for the story is at a meal that is taking place to commemorate Rosh Chodesh.

As mentioned in previous posts, Rabbeinu Chananel is of the opinion that Rosh Chodesh was never determined based on witnesses coming and testifying before the court. Rather, the court determines the time of the new Moon based on traditional calculations and sanctifies the day of Rosh Chodesh accordingly. Interestingly, the passage read for this week's Haftarah is cited by Rabbeinu Chananel to prove his point.

In the Haftarah we are first informed that Yehonasan is aware that there will be a festive meal for the following day. The reason for the meal is that the next day was going to be Rosh Chodesh. Rabbeinu Chananel uses this point to show that if Rosh Chodesh were based on testimony, there would be no way that Yehonasan would be aware of the next day being Rosh Chodesh. Perhaps witnesses would not show up and it would not be Rosh Chodesh. Rather, it must be that there was a set calculation that was used to determine when Rosh Chodesh would be and Yehonasan must have known when it was.

In our calendar, not based on testimony, we often times celebrate two days of Rosh Chodesh. This occurs when day thirty of the month is not declared to be the first of the next month. In these situations day thirty and the following day, the first of the next month, are sanctified as Rosh Chodesh. In the Haftarah we see that Yehonasan mentions that there were two days of festivities. As such, Rabbeinu Chananel mentions that this displays that they had the same basic system we have now and that everything was based on calculation. (See Rabbeinu Bacheye Shemos 12:2)

The question one can ask is why are the above considered to be proofs. Perhaps, every thirtieth of the month they would celebrate as Rosh Chodesh. If that day was sanctified based on testimony then there would be no party the following day. If not, then the next day would be considered Rosh Chodesh, as well. Maybe Yehonasan was aware that it was impossible for there to have been witnesses that first day because maybe the Moon was not visible. Or maybe, the comment of there being a party the next day was made late in the day with the assumption that it was improbable that witnesses would come if they had not done so already.

If the concept of Rosh Chodesh being decalred without witnesses is new to you, you are not alone. The Rambam vehemently disputed this as a valid opinion. Click here to see where I discussed the possibility of a rabbinic cover up of these details in order to hide these facts.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Metzoraim are from Saturn

Throughout the discussion of the Metzorah, the Rishonim make note of the similarity between it and the Parah Adumah and it and the goat sent to Azazel on Yom Kippur. Like the Parah Adumah, cedar wood, crimson wool and hyssop is used in the service. Additionally, the impurity periods last for seven day increments with regard to both the Metzorah and the one who is purifying via the Parah Adumah. Rabbeinu Bachye also compares the following aspect: the Parah Adumah makes the impure pure and the pure impure, tzaraas has the same effect. If one were impure due to tzaraas and then it spread to his entire body he becomes pure due to the tzaraas. The Metzorah's sacrifices are like those of the goat sent on Yom Kippur as both this goat and the bird that is sent away are not offered in the Temple rather they are sent to a distance. They both also have a companion that is offered in the Temple.

The Parah Adumah and the goat sent to Azazel are considered to have similar meaning the Ramban mentions that both symbolize our purification from the evil forces associated with Eisav and Mars. The goat is sent to the vast wilderness and appears as if it is coming to appease the evil force of Mars which is considered to have affect over this region. The Parah Adumah is red and this color is symbolic of the red planet and the goat is symbolic of the se'irim (demons) that are considered to be controlled by the planet Mars. All these ideas of the underworld and death (for which the Parah purifies) are considered to be the domain of Eisav.

Rabbeinu Bachye points out that the Metzorah's sacrifices are coming for this same idea but not as extreme. The bird is sent away, but not all the way to the wilderness. Perhaps, this concept is expressed by the fact that the impurity for which the Metzorah is receiving forgiveness is not as extreme as death itself. It is for tzaraas which makes the individual separate from humanity and renders him like he is dead, but he is not physically dead.

Interestingly, there are two planets that are considered to have evil influence. The first is Mars and that is the one mentioned with Parah Adumah and the goat of Yom Kippur. The other is Saturn. Saturn is associated with all sorts of physical ailments and the Ibn Ezra specifies tzaraas specifically with regard to this planet. (See Reishis Chachma) Perhaps, these purification processes display the prescribed service to free oneself of the influences of these malevolent planets.

BlackBerry® App

I am happy to announce that the AstroTorah BlackBerry® App is now available, compatible with all devices, including the new BB10 devices.

Apps for other WeeklyShtikle blogs are available as well.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Pesach is in the Winter This Year (Rambam)

Many are familiar that Pesach is supposed to begin the spring. The way the Rambam clearly defines spring has this year's Pesach occurring one day too early and in direct conflict with the biblical directive. In earlier times Pesach has even occurred prior to the scientific definition of spring. I recently wrote a paper that discusses this topic. It is a very non-technical (in terms of scientifc definitions and mathematical equations) paper, it mainly focuses on the talmudic and rishonic discussions and also the historical development of the standardized calendar. It is available for free download here.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Adar, Moshe Rabbeinu and Purim

Although the names of the months are Babylonian in nature, Chazal still analyze them and display hidden meanings that are encoded into these names. Adar is from the word Adir which means mighty and this month's name displays this quality since it was in this month that Moshe Rabbeinu was born.(See Torah Sheleimah Miluim Parshas Bo P.177)

I find it interesting that the meaning that the Midrash gives is based on what many would consider a secondary aspect of this month. When asked, most people respond that the defining feature of this month is Purim (obviously this year there are two Adars, see previous post regarding which one is the true Adar)! Although at first glance the choice of the Midrash seems confusing, perhaps, it really is nothing of the sort. We know that the reason Haman was happy when his lottery fell on Adar was because he thought that the month brought with it bad luck to Bnai Yisrael. Moshe Rabbeinu died on 7 Adar and this, thought Haman, showed that Bnai Yisrael have misfortune in this time. Of course, Haman's mistake was that he did not focus on the fact that Moshe was born in this month (7 Adar), as well.

Although this month did bring with it the sadness of the passing of Moshe, because he lived we received the Torah and are able to keep Hashem's mitzvos. The goodness that was bestowed upon us due to this month is more of the focus than the tragedy that later befell. As we are taught, it was the lack of adherence to specific mitzvos in the Torah that caused the initial decree of destruction of the Jews by Achashveirosh. Later, it was their repentance and determination to come back to the Torah that brought about salvation.

When one looks at Adar he can either see tragedy or reason for celebration. The difference in perspective is dependent on whether one views the Torah and its mitzvos as something important. To Haman who did not, he only saw the tragedy that came to Klal Yisrael because Moshe died in this month. In Haman's mind, had Moshe not died he would still be ruling the Jews and no other nation would be able to conquer them. It was only because Moshe died that Bnai Yisrael found themselves under Achashveirosh's rule and now susceptible to annihilation. Moshe's birth had become insignificant in his eyes because his impact, thought Haman, was no longer felt.

Of course to those with proper perspective they realize that Moshe's impact was not lost because it was not just his leadership that was important. The Torah and mitzvos are eternal and therefore the focus of Adar is really Moshe's birth and reflecting on the Torah that was given through him and that impact still exists. Thus, so long as the Jews were seeing things in Haman's way they were subjected to the evils of Adar and the month displayed the death of Moshe. Once they came around to see things properly the month's nature itself changed. The focus was now on the birth and the month displayed good tidings.

Therefore, the Midrash's choice of Moshe's birth over Purim seems very logical. It was because of this birth that Purim was able to happen.