The Mazzaroth (Zodiac)
By Hillel ben David (Greg Killian)
Midrash Rabbah - Esther VII:11 With Kislev came the merit of Hanukah, with Tebeth the merit of Ezra-Nechemiah (Nehemiah), as it says, And the children of the captivity did so. And Ezra-Nechemiah (Nehemiah) the priest... were separated... in the first day of the tenth month... and they were finished with all the men that had married foreign women, etc. (Ezra-Nechemiah (Nehemiah) X, 16 f.). With Shebat came up the merit of the Men of the Great Synagogue; for on the twenty-third of that month all Israel gathered together to take counsel about the concubine of Gibeah and the graven image of Micah. When the month of Adar came up, he found no merit in it and he began to rejoice. He then turned to examining the signs of the Zodiac. In the sign of the Lamb he found the merit of Passover, as it says, Every man a lamb, according to their fathers’ houses (Ex. XII, 3). In that of Taurus (ox) was found the merit of Joseph who was called ox, as it says, His firstling bullock, majesty is his (Deut. XXXIII, 17); and also the merit of the offering, as it says, When a bullock, or a sheep, or a goat is brought forth, etc. (Lev. XXII, 27). In Gemini (twins) was found the merit of Peretz and Zerach who were called twins, as it says, Behold, twins were in her womb (Gen. XXXVIII, 27). In Leo (lion) was found the merit of Daniel who was from the tribe of Judah which is called lion, as it says, Judah is a lion's whelp (ib. XLIX, 9). In Virgo (virgin) there was the merit of Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, who were like a maiden that knows no man except her husband; so they did not change their God or their law and clung to their Judaism. Libra (scales) is Iyov (Job), as it says, O that my vexation we weighed, and my calamity laid in the balances (Iyov (Job) VI, 2). Scorpio is Yechezkel (Ezekiel), as it says, Thou dost dwell among scorpions (Ezek., 6). Sagittarius (bowman) is Joseph, as it says, But his bow abode firm (Gen. XLIX, 24). Capricornus (kid) is Jacob, as it says, And she put the skins of the kids of the goats upon his hands (ib. XXVII, 16). Aquarius (water-carrier) is Moses, as it says, And moreover he drew water for us (Ex. II, 19). On reaching the sign of Pisces (fishes) which shines in the month of Adar, he found no merit in it and rejoiced saying, ‘Adar has no merit, its sign has no merit, and what is more, in Adar Moses their master died.’ He, however, did not know that on the first of Adar Moses died and on the first of Adar he was born. He said: ‘Just as fishes swallow one another, so I will swallow them.’ Said the Holy One, blessed be He, to him: ' Wretch! Fishes sometimes swallow and sometimes are swallowed, and now it is you who will be swallowed.’ Said R. Hanan: The same thing is intimated by the verse, Whereas it was turned to the contrary, that the Jews had rule over them that hated them (Est. IX, 1). R. Tanhuma said: And the Lord said not that He would blot out the name of Israel (II Melakim (Kings) XIV, 27), but what He said was, For I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek (Ex. XVII, 14)
XII. Miscellaneous Thoughts
The word Mazal does not literally mean "luck."
The Hebrew word Mazal, which literally means the astrological zodiac sign or the luck which comes from the stars, has been said to really be composed of three words: makom, z'man, limmud, being in the right place at the right time and knowing how to utilize opportunities.
"Mazal" is literally associated with the 12 signs of the Zodiac, which are called the "Mazalot," but we use the word in a way which means more than just the Zodiac. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto explains that there is a multi-leveled conceptual system through which HaShem interacts with the physical Creation. In other words, "energy" which originates with HaShem travels through this system and eventually reaches us. At some point along the way, this energy is said to pass through the Mazalot, the stars and the planets, which then transfer it to the rest of Creation. This explains how people trained in astrology may know what will happen to an individual in the future. They are "reading," through the configuration of the Mazalot, the energy that is yet to be delivered. However, we are actually forbidden to engage in the prediction of the future via astrology even though it may work. The source of this prohibition is, "You shall be tamim (pure, perfect, simple) with the HaShem your G-d."
Mazal ("sign," pl. mazalot):
1. a spiritual conduit of Divine beneficence (from the Hebrew root "to flow" [nozel]).
2. specifically, the thirteen tufts of the "beard" of Arich Arpin.
3. a physical embodiment of such a spiritual conduit, such as a star, planet, constellation, etc.
4. specifically, the twelve constellations of the zodiac.
5. According to our sages, the Jewish People are not under the influence of the mazalot (Shabbat 156a).
God chose not to give the Torah in Nisan or Iyar, for the mazal of Nisan is a lamb and the mazal of Iyar is a bull and neither is capable of singing praise. Rather, He gave the Torah in Sivan, for the mazal of Sivan is twins, who have hands with which to clap and legs with which to dance.
In Kabbala and Chasidut, it is explained that the thirteenth mazal transforms the entire set of mazalot into attributes of mercy. This is because numerically, twelve is a closed, rigid, perfect system; reflected in the physical world by the twelve lunar months and the twelve signs of the zodiac; in the Jewish people, by the twelve tribes; in the spiritual realm, by the twelve permutations of the letters of the Divine Name Havaya, and so on. In each of these sets, however, there is a (sometimes hidden) thirteenth element that adds the flexibility and adaptive quality that makes the set alive, pliable and viable. This is perhaps most clearly evident with regard to the twelve lunar months. In the Jewish calendar, a thirteenth month is added in 7 out of every 19 years in order to align the lunar year with the solar year. Here, the thirteenth lunar month makes the twelve original ones into an empathic system that can coexist with its solar “mate.” Similarly, the thirteenth tribe, Levi, officiates at the Temple, reconciling the twelve tribes of the Jewish people with their “mate,” HaShem.
What do we mean when we say "Mazel Tov"? We are saying a brief prayer at this time which is strongly influenced by the Mazalot, that Hashem will ensure that the "energy" that is sent will be only for good.
Chodshei Hashanah (Part Fifteen)
Adar Sheni -- The Second Month of Adar (Based on the work Chodesh B'chodsho, p. 116)
The Jewish Leap Year has thirteen months, while an ordinary year has twelve months. There is a hidden connection between the twelve months, and the twelve tribes -- the twelve sons of Yaakov/Yisrael (Jacob/Israel). If so, what is the significance of thirteen months?
Yoseif (Joseph) was of such vital importance to the family that he is sometimes thought of as a tribe, sometimes as one of the Fathers. The word "Yoseif" comes from the root "to add," "to be extra." Yaakov's blessing to Yoseif was that Yoseif's own sons would be counted as Yaakov's sons, as tribes themselves (Beraishis [Bereshit (Genesis)] 48:5). Yoseif is the one who has added to the tribes, and he himself disappears, converting into a patriarch -- a father of tribes.
The two tribes emanating from Yoseif make thirteen. Thus, an ordinary year corresponds to the twelve original sons; the leap year, to thirteen tribes, counting the added sons of Yoseif. (Sefas Emes, Beis Yisrael).
Good fortune comes to the Jewish People during Adar (Talmud, Ta'anis 29b). Evil forces have no effect on someone born during the Second Month of Adar, for no sign of the zodiac corresponds to the thirteenth month. Thus, the Second of Adar is essential to Israel and its faith, for it is said: Ein Mazal B'yisrael -- Israel is not bound by the astrological signs (or by scientific laws of determinism). (Chidah)
The miracle of Purim occurred during the Second Adar (Talmud Yerushalmi Megilah, chapter 1, halachah five).
The encyclopedia Judaica also indicates that there is a relationship between the mazzaroth and the tribes that is detailed in:
Yal., Ex.418; Yal., I Melakim (Kings) 185
The Encyclopedia Judaica indicates that "mazalot" in 2 Melakim (Kings) 23:5 indicates "planets".
II Melakim (Kings) 23:5 He did away with the pagan priests appointed by the kings of Judah to burn incense on the high places of the towns of Judah and on those around Jerusalem--those who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and moon, to the constellations and to all the starry hosts.
The planets as mentioned in scripture:
Saturn (ht,ca - Shabtai - Kevan) is found in:
Amos 5:26. But you shall carry Sikuth your king, and iyun, your images, your star-god, which you made for ourselves.
The planet that influences Tevet, Shabbtai (Saturn), symbolizes the power of contemplation which characterizes the Shabbat experience: Refraining from the mundane, the world of the transcendent is revealed... (Seasons of the Moon - Tevet)
Venus - (vdub - Nogah, Meleket haShamayim, the queen of heaven). This is understood from from the fact that cakes are baked for her. Among the Assyro-Babylonians the cake-offerings were called “the bread of Ishtar” (Venus). This usage is found in:
Yirimiyah (Jeremiah) 7:18. The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings to other gods, that they may provoke me to anger.
Jupiter (esm - tzedek - Gad “fortune”). This is a supposition. It is found in:
Yeshayah (Isaiah) 65:11 "But as for you who forsake HaShem and forget my holy mountain, who spread a table for Fortune and fill bowls of mixed wine for Destiny,
There is some speculation that “Destiny”, in the above verse refers to Venus.
Mars, Madim, is not to be found in the Bible. The root, though, is found. The root is Edom:
123 'Edom, ed-ome'; or (fully) 'Edowm, edome'; from 122; red [see Gen. 25:25]; Edom, the elder twin-brother of Jacob; hence the region (Idumaea) occupied by him:-Edom, Edomites, Idumea.
This word means: (very) red or (very) mad. The red connection with Mars is obvious. The use of this root in the understanding of “mars” is in:
Yeshayah (Isaiah) 63:1-6 Who [is] this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? this [that is] glorious in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of his strength? I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save. Wherefore [art thou] red in thine apparel, and thy garments like him that treadeth in the winefat? I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people [there was] none with me: for I will tread them in mine anger, and trample them in my fury; and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments, and I will stain all my raiment. For the day of vengeance [is] in mine heart, and the year of my redeemed is come. And I looked, and [there was] none to help; and I wondered that [there was] none to uphold: therefore mine own arm brought salvation unto me; and my fury, it upheld me. And I will tread down the people in mine anger, and make them drunk in my fury, and I will bring down their strength to the earth.
Dobin says: “Mars is the planet of intense energy, and the word takes it’s meaning from astrological understanding of the nature of the planet, Mars. Both intensity of action and redness are implied in the Hebrew name of the planet. Mars was known to be the planet which causes strife and war...”
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Bereshit (Genesis) 11:27-32 This is the account of Terah. Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran. And Haran became the father of Lot. While his father Terah was still alive, Haran died in Ur of the Chaldeans, in the land of his birth. Abram and Nahor both married. The name of Abram's wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor's wife was Milcah; she was the daughter of Haran, the father of both Milcah and Iscah. Now Sarai was barren; she had no children. Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there. Terah lived 205 years, and he died in Haran.
"Ur of the Chaldeans" literally means "Light of the Astrologers".
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The Encyclopedia Judaica indicates that 1 Divrei HaYamim (Chronicles) 12:33 indicates that the tribe of Issachar were the astronomers of Israel:
1 Divrei HaYamim (Chronicles) 12:33 of the Issacharites, men who knew how to interpret the signs of the times, to determine how Israel should act; their chiefs were 200, and all their kinsmen followed them;
The blesssing of Bereshit (Genesis) 24:1 is interpreted as the gift of astronomy - Tosefta Kid. 5:17.
Bereshit (Genesis) 24:1 Abraham was now old and well advanced in years, and HaShem had blessed him in every way.
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"Twelve constellations have I created in the firmament, and for each constellation I have created thirty hosts, and for each host I have created thirty legions, and for each legion I have created thirty cohorts, and for each cohort I have created thirty maniples, and for each maniple I have created thirty camps, and to each camp I have attached three hundred and sixty five thousands of myriads of stars ..." (Tractate Berachos 32a) This passage of the Talmud is mysterious. Is this the number of stars in the Universe? The number of stars stated in the Talmud is 1.06434 X 10^18. The number of stars in the Universe estimated by modern science in somewhere between 10^18 and 10^20.
Mazzaroth (The Constellations)
The very first place in the Torah that we find the word mazzaroth, it is spelled out every seven letters in Bereshit (Genesis) 4:26 through Bereshit (Genesis) 5:1. What did Josephus say about Seth and his offspring? (Jospehus, attributes the origin of astrology to Seth, the offspring of Adam. (Antiquties of the Jews, Chapter 2:3).
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The astrological sign for the month of Shevat is Aquarius, the water bearer, or as it is called in Hebrew, "D'li," "the pail." The pail draws water from its source, and brings the water to where it is used. We find the comparison between water and Torah often in the writings of our Sages. In Shevat, we are supposed to recognize that our task is to act as the "Torah bearer" and to draw from the Torah so that the Torah is properly used. The fact the New Year for Trees falls under this sign is of course no coincidence. Most obviously, trees need water for their survival, and the needed delivery of water to the trees so that fruit forms is a focus on the New Year for Trees. The deeper significance arises from the comparison made in the Torah (Devarim 20:19) of "for the trees of the field are like man." Man, like trees, needs "water" for sustenance. Just as physical water enables a tree to bring forth fruit, so too does the Torah, spiritual water, enable man to bring forth fruit. As we mentioned before, this requires work and toil. So that we remember that we have help in our task, we celebrate the New Year for Trees on the 15th day of the month. Until the 15th day, the moon has been growing in light. The 15th day is typically the day of the full moon. It signifies the completeness and fullness that we have right when we are born - we have been taught the entire Torah. We start our toil realizing that G-d was there to help us, to plant a seed within us.
The 15th day of Shevat is a day on which we pray that growth should begin. Trees should get the water they sorely need so that they bear fruit. Man should properly immerse himself in Torah so that he reaches his full potential. The 15th day of Shevat is a day on which we recognize that G-d is there to help us with our endeavors. He provides us with what we need to be successful, although our success depends on our efforts as well. Tu B'Shvat should be the start of a truly fruitful year for all of us.
(Based on Sefer B'nai Yesaschar)
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The Validity of Astrology
The discussion regarding the validity of astrology is found in the Talmud Shabbat 156a as follows:
It was recorded in Rabbi Joshua ben Levi’s notebook: He who [is born] on the first day of the week [Sunday] shall be a man without one [thing] in him - What does ‘without one [thing] in him’ mean? Shall we say, without one virtue? Surely Rabbi Ashi said: I was born on the first day of the week! Hence it must surely mean, one vice. But Surely Rabbi Ashi said: I and Dimi ben Kakuzta were born on the first day of the week: I am a king (head of the academy) and he is the captain of thieves! Rather it means either completely virtuous or completely wicked. [What is the reason? Because light and darkness were created on that day.] He who is born on the second day of the week will be bad-tempered. What is the reason? Because the waters were divided thereon. (Division or disunity is caused by bad temper, Rashi) so will he be estranged from other people through his temper). He who is born on the third day of the week will be wealthy and unchaste. What is the reason? Because herbs were created thereon. (Herbs multiply very rapidly and also continually intermingle with other herbs.) He who is born on the fourth day of the week will be wise and of a retentive memory. What is the reason? Because the luminaries were suspended [thereon]. He who is born on the fifth day of the week will be generous. What is the reason? Because the fish and birds were created thereon. (Which are fed by G-d’s loving kindness.) He who is born on the eve of the Sabbath will be a seeker. Rabbi Nahman ben Isaac commented: A seeker after good deeds. He who is born on the Sabbath will die on the Sabbath, because the great day of the Sabbath was desecrated on his account. Raba son of Rabbi Shila observed: And he shall be called a great and holy man. (Maharsha: Not all born on the Sabbath die on the Sabbath, but only those who are very holy.)
Rabbi Hanina said to them, [his disciples]: Go out and tell the son of Levi, Not the constellation of the day but that of the hour is the determining influence. He who is born under the constellation of the sun will be a distinguished (bright and handsome) man: he will eat and drink of his own and his secrets will lie uncovered; if a thief, he will have no success. He who is born under Venus will be wealthy and unchaste [immoral]. What is the reason? Because fire was created therein. He who is born under Mercury will be of a retentive memory and wise. What is the reason? Because it [Mercury] is the sun’s scribe. He who is born under the Moon will be a man to suffer evil, building and demolishing, demolishing and building. eating and drinking that which is not his and his secrets will remain hidden: if a thief, he will be successful. He who is born under Saturn will be a man whose plans will be frustrated. Others say: All [nefarious] designs against him will be frustrated. He who is born under Tzedek [Jupiter] will be a right-doing man [tzaddik] Rabbi Nahman ben Isaac observed: ‘He who is born under Mars will be a shedder of blood. Rabbi Ashi observed: Either a surgeon, a thief, a slaughterer, or a ‘mohel’ (a performer of ritual circumcision). Rabbah said: I was born under Mars. Abaye retorted: You too inflict punishment and kill.
It was stated. Rabbi Hanina said: The planetary influence gives wisdom, the planetary influence gives wealth, and Israel stands under planetary influence, (yesh mazal leyisrael). Rabbi Johanan maintained: Israel is immune from planetary influence, (eyn mazal leyisrael).
The Talmud goes on to bring many proofs that Israel is immune from planetary influence:
Now, Rabbi Johanan is consistent with his view, for Rabbi Johanan said: How do we know that Israel is immune from planetary influence? Because it is said, Thus says the L-rd, Learn not the way of the nations, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven, for the nations are dismayed at them: they are dismayed but not Israel.
Rab too is of the opinion that Israel is immune from planetary influence. For Rab Judah said in Rab’s name: How do we know that Israel is immune from planetary influence? Because it is said, and he brought him forth from abroad.(Genesis 15:5) Abraham pleaded before the Holy One, blessed be He, ‘Sovereign of the Universe! one born in mine house is mine heir.’ ‘Not so,’ He replied, ‘but he that shall come forth out of your own bowels.’ ‘Sovereign of the Universe!’ cried he, ‘I have looked at my constellation and find that I am not fated to beget child.’ ‘Go forth from [i.e., cease] thy planet [gazing], for Israel is free from planetary influence...
From Samuel too [we learn that] Israel is immune from planetary influence. For Samuel and Ablat were sitting, while certain people were going to a lake. Said Ablat to Samuel: ‘That man is going but will not return, [for] a snake will bite him and he will die.’ ‘If he is an Israelite,’ replied Samuel. ‘he will go and return.’ While they were sitting he went and returned. [Thereupon] Ablat arose and threw off his [the man’s] knapsack, [and] found a snake therein cut up and lying in two pieces. Samuel said to him, ‘What did you do (to be saved)?’ ‘Every day we pooled our bread and ate it; but to-day one of us had no bread, and he was ashamed. I told them that "I will go and collect [the bread]". When I came to him, I pretended to take [bread] from him, so that he should not be ashamed.’ ‘You have done a good deed,’ said Samuel to him. Then Samuel went out and lectured: But charity (righteousness) delivers from death;(Proverbs 10:2) and [this does not mean] from an unnatural death, but from death itself.
From Rabbi Akiba too [we learn that] Israel is free from planetary influence. For Rabbi Akiba had a daughter. Now, astrologers told him, On the day she enters the bridal chamber a snake will bite her and she will die. He was very worried about this. On that day [of her marriage] she took a brooch [and] stuck it into the wall and by chance it penetrated [sank] into the eye of a serpent. The following morning, when she took it out, the snake came trailing after it. ‘What did you do?’ her father asked her. ‘A poor man came to our door in the evening.’ she replied, ‘and everybody was busy at the banquet, and there was none to attend to him. So I took the portion which was given to me and gave it to him. ‘You have done a good deed,’ said he to her. Thereupon Rabbi Akiba went out and lectured: ‘But charity delivers from death’: and not [merely] from an unnatural death, but from death itself.
From Rabbi Nahman ben Isaac too [we learn that] Israel is free from planetary influence. For Rabbi Nahman ben Isaac’s mother was told by astrologers, Your son will be a thief. [So] she did not let him [be] bareheaded, saying to him, ‘Cover your head so that the fear of heaven may be upon you, and pray [for mercy]’. Now, he did not know why she spoke that to him. One day he was sitting and studying under a palm tree; temptation overcame him, he climbed up and bit off a cluster [of dates] with his teeth. (The tree did not belong to him. - This story shows that head-covering was not so common, though regarded as conducive to piety. - From these stories we see that belief in planetary influence was not entirely rejected, but that these Rabbis held that it might be counteracted by good deeds.)
In his famous Letter on Astrology, Rambam vigorously denounced belief in any astrological influence over human life. He described the philosophical opposition to astrology as a thoroughly naturalistic one which did not allow for the influence of the stars. The correct Jewish belief, in his view, agreed with this and also accepted the notion of G-d’s Providence, thereby utterly rejecting any astrological influences. Rambam declared that he had read all the extant astrological books, and decried the fact that people naturally give credence to any doctrine that is recorded in a text, even if it is nonsense. Yet most medieval philosophers, including Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra, believed in astrological influences and even went so far as to claim that empirical evidence supported this belief. No less a radical thinker than Rabbi Levi ben Gershon (Ralbag), was a firm believer in the effects of the stars upon human life, and based his position on empirical evidence.
Ramban (Responsum 282) and Nimukei Yosef (Sanhedrin, Chapter 7) explain that the study of astrology is not forbidden. They note that though the Talmud above (Shabbat 156a) states: "There is no mazal (celestial, source of influence) for Israel," there were sages who did not share that view. Thus, even though the latter was a minority opinion, the fact that it exists demonstrates that astrology is not nonsense, nor is involvement in its study forbidden.
[In that context (see also the Ra'avad, Hilchot Teshuvah 5:5), the statement from Shabbat can be explained as follows: The mazalot (stars and signs of the zodiac)exert influence on the world. A Jew, however, can rise above these influences and exercise total free will.]
The Mazzaroth (Zodiac) web page
The Watchman home page