Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Birkat HaChamah - Pirkei D'Rebbi Eliezer

(Make sure to read all posts on Birkat HaChamah here)

I do not believe that one can really begin to understand the sod of Birkat HaChamah without learning Pirkei D'Rebbi Eliezer about the solar cycle.

Particularly chapter 6 discusses, in a rather cryptic way, the correlation of the sun and the moon. The internal contradictions point to something very deep. (Please note in some printings it is chapter 6, others it is chapter 7. The chapter starts with the words Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakkai)

On the one hand, the exact halachic length of the lunar cycle is mentioned. However, there is a cycle concept introduced for the Molad progression. Namely, if we take the Molad to occur at the hour of a certain planet, like Shabbtai, for example, which one will it land in in the next month, and twelve months later?

In order to give over this answer, we must assume round numbers of hours. This is in the exact same chapter where we are told the length of the month down to the number of chalakim.

We are shown that if we assume no leap years (i.e. every year is always 12 months, no Adar II), that the Moon has a cycle of 21 years.

Now, as an aside, we see here that the first Molad is taken as the same moment that the Sun was created, i.e. Tuesday night 6pm, the day of the Spring Equinox, not in line with our system of calculating the Molad, based on the first Molad to have occurred by the end of Elul, BaHaRaD.

So the beginning of the 21 year cycle and the beginning of the 28 year cycle start at the same moment, what is the logical thing to do? That would be to determine the point how often the two cycles start at the same time. The earliest amount of time for this is 84 years, because 21 * 4 = 28 * 3.

We have now introduced an 84 year cycle to the mix. But what is it based on?

84 years * 365.25 days, we get 30681 days.

84 years * 354 days (approximate lunar year length), we get 29736 days.

Subtract one from the other and get 945 days differential. So the significance is not that the events occur at the same time at all (or in the same calendar year).

That all being said, it is further asserted that 84 years is the time it takes for one hour to pass for Hashem. If we take 1000 years and divide by 12 hours, we get 83 and a 1/3 years per hour, a value stated explicitly in chapter 48.

That, however, doesn't necessarily explain 84 years. The math presented is contradictory. Every 84 years they line up. Is that 84 lunar or solar years? I would theorize that we are directed to make a brachah on the solar, and not the lunar. The solar takes precedence. The number 84 is 12 times 7, the 7 leap years and the 12 simple years, the 19 year cycle.

That is part of the sod.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The GR"A on Zachu/Lo Zachu

The GR"A teaches different teachings on Yeshayahu 60:22 (B'Itah Achishenah) and Chazal's take on it from Bavli Sanhedrin chapter 11.

Zachu - Moshiach ben Yosef

In the hagahot of the GR"A on the Rambam's halachot on Moshiach, a teaching is brought to resolve the disagreement between the Rambam and the Raavad.

The Rambam holds that the world will continue as normal, whereas the Raavad holds that the world will shift to a miraculous nature. The GR"A there says that these are both the words of the Living G-d.

He goes on to explain: Tana D'vei Eliyahu teaches that the years 4000-6000 are 2000 years of Moshiach. The GR"A explains, if we merit, from the year 4000 onward we can have Moshiach ben Yosef come and rule over us. Moshiach ben Yosef is from the side of Din, so whether or not he comes is dependent on our actions alone. How early in this time period he arrives is dependent on how much zechut we have.

Moshiach ben David, on the other hand, is from the side of Chesed, so this cannot be merited, as this is against the concept of Chesed. When Hashem decides to give us this gift, and we cannot change this.

So to summarize, if we merit it, Moshiach ben Yosef can come at any time between the year 4000 and the time of the advent of Moshiach ben David.

Keitz B'Itah

In the GR"A's peirush to Sifra Ditzniuta, chapter 5, the GR"A boldly states that not only does he know the final Keitz B'Itah, but also he says how to figure it out yourself. Of course he does not make it easy. A logical inference limits it merely to 5751-5834 (the 10th hour, in which Adam HaRishon sinned), whereas the GR"A is quoted elsewhere that the Geulah can really be defined down to a single year. The implication from the way he writes there is that he is going by the classic understanding of Zachu/Lo Zachu.

The Middle Path in Kol HaTor

In Kol HaTor, an interesting problem is raised regarding the interpretation of Chazal of B'Itah Achishenah. The thing is, Chazal's drash is not according to any sort of pshat. Let's look at the pasuk again:

The smallest will be for a thousand, and the young lad for a mighty nation, I am Hashem, in its time, I will hasten it.

So the real "pshat" is that at a certain point, the time of the Geulah will be moved up. When will that be? When the first pasuk is fulfilled, that we will reach the level of a thousand (ad v'lo bichlal, 999) and a mighty nation.

This takes us back to the drash on the 4 paths of Geulah that I wrote about a few months back. We have the ability to choose the way the Geulah comes. We can arrive at the level of Teshuvah required and then we will be redeemed (the Rambam says in Hilchot Teshuvah that this would be immediate), Hashem will compel us to do Teshuvah, we can wait for the last moment, or we can do the actions of the Atchalta in the role of Moshiach ben Yosef.

Therefore the "pshat", if you would pardon the term, is as follows:

If we do our efforts here from below and advance on the path that is laid out before us, fulfilling the goals of Moshiach ben Yosef, then we will arrive at level of 999, and at that point, the Geulah will be sped up. Then the Moed of the Keitz will come towards us instead of vice versa.

Please note on the word "pshat" that I used here. The GR"A is quoted as saying in Even Shleimah that until you understand the sod of a pasuk, you cannot be certain that you understand the pshat. The two must match or the pshat is wrong.

Eilu v'Eilu...

It turns out that all four paths converge in the end.

  1. The Teshuvah we need at this time to merit the Geulah is both within our personal space (the daled amot of halachah) as well on the national level, of us doing Teshuvah here in Eretz Yisrael.
  2. The Diaspora will be eliminated one way or the other in the near future, by our desire or by way of refuge. I am starting to believe that there will be less obvious warnings than the last time the Diaspora was in danger.
  3. Hashem is pushing Am Yisrael closer and closer to the Keitz Meguleh, forcing our hand on a regular basis towards Tikkun (Why is it so hard to establish a state for the Arabs here?)
  4. The Keitz Mechuseh, the final appointed time, is rapidly approaching. The Keitz is not at the end of the 10th hour.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Geulah - Miraculous or Natural

The Rambam states in chapter 11 of the Laws of Kings and Their Wars

Do not think that the King Moshiach needs to do signs or wonders, or make something new in the world, or revive the dead, or other such things like the stupid people say; it is not so. For we see that Rabbi Akiva was a great sage from the Sages of the Mishnah, and he was a supporter of Ben Koziba (Bar Kokhba) the king, and he would say about him that he was the King Moshiach And he, and all the Sages of his generation, thought that he was the King Moshiach, until he was killed (for) sins; and because he was killed, it was made known that he wasn't Moshiach, and the Sages did not ask of him a sign or a wonder.

The Raavad says on that halachah the exact opposite. He states the the opposite of the Rambam; Bar Kokhba was required to perform a miracle in front of the Sages, and because he couldn't, the Sages killed him.

Obvious contradiction. Seems straight forward, let's check to see the source for each.

Talmud Bavli Sanhedrin 93b has the Raavad's version.

Talmud Yerushalmi Taanit 24a has the Rambam's version.

While the source of each story here tells us something, it is not exactly what we are looking for. What is necessary, however, is a basic analysis of the concepts in the Tanach. The Sin of the Spies and its aftermath show the situation clearly. Am Yisrael was commanded to take action - capture the Land, but due to the Lashon HaRa of the spies, decided not to. Then the next morning, the Ma'apilim decided to go in to Eretz Yisrael on their own initiative and capture the Land. They were told not to by Moshe, and decided to ignore that command.

One second they are advised action is needed to achieve the perfection of Geulah, the next they are told that it won't work; action is forbidden.

Yeshayahu told the people to stand firm, Yehudah would not fall to the kingdom of Ashur.

Yirmiyahu told the people to surrender, rebellion would cause the downfall of Yehudah and the destruction of Yerushalayim.

On Shabbat Chol HaMoed Succot we read Kohelet. In chapter 3, verse 1, we read:

For all there is a time, and a season for every desire under the heavens.

In the Tanach, there is a time to act, and a time to pray. And then Galut Bavel came. How did we know how to act before then? Hashem let us know. But now, the time of prophecy was over. Hashem would no longer direct us how to balance action and reliance on above.

  • There are two approaches that we see through the course of Jewish history: Act towards the goals of the Geulah, and if it doesn't work out, then the failure indicates that it isn't Hashem's will
  • No need for action, everything will come in a miraculous manner from above

And thus we see in the same Rambam a quote from Shmuel:

There is no difference between this world and the Days of Moshiach except the servitude of the nations (i.e. in the future, we will no longer be subservient to the other nations)

The Raavad again disagrees and says that the Geulah will come in a miraculous manner on the clouds of heaven (quoted from Daniel).

The GR"A says there that both are true:

  • The Rambam refers to the Days of Moshiach ben Yosef.
  • The Raavad refers to the Days of Moshiach ben David.

The GR"A there is making a big Chiddush. It would seem from a reading of the Rambam and the Raavad there that the Rambam refers to the manner of a "poor man riding on a donkey", meaning the poor-man's Geulah, natural in essence. The Raavad, on the other side of the coin, refers to on "the clouds of heaven", or miraculous Geulah. In Sanhedrin 98a it says if we are Zocheh, it will be on the clouds of heaven, and if not, like a poor man riding a donkey.

The GR"A's chiddush here is that both of them will occur. Zachu and Lo Zachu are not talking about two different scenarios but two different stages of the same scenario. That is our center line, balance between natural and miraculous.

This topic somewhat includes the topic of the Sanhedrin, but I will leave that for another time.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Torah and Science

It is a fact plain to the eye. According to a simple reading of many classic Jewish texts, our tradition is incorrect about science in more than a few instances. The religious Jew generally sees two ways to (actively) approach this problem (as opposed to just saying it doesn't matter).

  1. The Torah was given to Chazal, but not science. Modern science can be trusted as being authoritative, as Chazal were simply using the tools of their time. If they would be alive today, they would have adjusted their rulings and statements to be in line with modern science. (Generally, this brings many quotes from the Rambam)
  2. All of the words of Chazal are necessarily true and beyond dispute. If there is a conflict between modern science at what we see in Chazal, science is wrong. (Some add to this that science has a dishonest agenda of proving Torah to be false)

I do not want to get in to the details of this dispute, as there are volumes online about it already due to the debate of the ban on Rabbi Slifkin's books. The point here is that these two points of view seem to take themselves as exclusive. Either the findings of science are true, or the statements of Chazal are true. There is no in between.

But there is a center line in Kabbalah. In the book Pitchei Shearim, by Rav Yitzhak Isaac Chaver (a student of Rav Menachem Mendel of Shklov, who was a student of the GR"A), in the last section on Iggulim v'Yosher, Rav Chaver explains the following:

This world can be understood through two points of view, one of Iggulim, of General Providence, Nature, or alternatively of Yosher, Personal/Particular Providence, Miracles.

As an example, we see a statement in the Gemara that the sun rises in the east, sets in the west, and then goes above the Rakia (the firmament, or sky, if you would) in order to make the trip back to the east side of the sky. Whereas the science shows us that the sun is really underneath us during the night.

The Truth, according to what is brought there, is that both are right. Chazal were talking about one thing, the Gentiles were talking about another. Two different perspectives, both correct. The entire idea from Chazal is spiritual in nature and not talking about the physical world. We see this play through to the first blessing before Shma during Maariv, many ideas which have no basis in observable physical reality.

Now this obviously does not directly resolve all of the problems mentioned in this debate, however it is an approach. We do not write off Chazal, nor do we write off science. It is difficult for the laymen who has access to secular education but not the secrets of Kabbalah, and therefore this might seem hard to accept. We must approach these seeming contradictions with the understanding that not everything we see in Chazal is meant to be understood literally, and we cannot always assume that we understand what we read to its fullest extent.

For application of this idea:

The Earth does revolve around the sun, and the sun does revolve around the center of the galaxy, and we are moving away from the center of the universe. However, the place of the Holy of Holies is most definitely the center of the universe. The former statement refers to the physical, whereas the latter to the spiritual. The spot of Kodesh HaKodashim on Har HaBayit is the central physical reference point for spiritual physics.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Birkat HaChamah - More on the Cycle

(Make sure to read all posts on Birkat HaChamah here)

Birkat HaChamah occurs once every 28 years as discussed before. Let me review some of the math.

For these calculations we are assuming a year length of 365.25 days derived from Tekufat Shmuel (That each year is made of 4 equal seasons of 91 days and 7.5 hours. Not scientifically accurate, but remember that physical reality is not the entirety of the existence).

If event X occurs Tuesday night at 6pm (or any time for that matter), the following year, it will occur 30 hours later in the week (7 days * 52 weeks = 364, leaving 1.25 days remainder per year). After 28 years, it will cycle through week to make it back to the starting point. For further illustration, you can create an Excel spreadsheet to show the cycle, Column A being the year #, Column B being the hour of the week (7*24=168 hours per week).

Leave that on the side. We've established a 28 year cycle for the Jewish calendar due to the year length being 365.25 days, aside from the 19 year cycle linking the solar and the lunar years.

However, that is not the way the Gemara and Pirkei D'Rebbi Eliezer present the creation of the Sun. It is not just that it is the beginning of the Fourth Night, but also at the hour of Shabbtai.

Chazal bring down a cycle of 7 different bodies in our solar system, and tell us that they cycle through in a 7-hour cycle, each one having its own hour of influence. Interestingly enough is that this necessitates another independent cycle within the 28 year cycle. It does not matter what the yearly remainder is in hours (i.e. 365.25 days per year gives us 30 hour remainder, but it doesn't matter if this is 31 hours or 29 hours), the result is a 7-year cycle.

For example: In year 1, Tekufat Nissan fell in Shabbtai. That means that it also fell in Shabbtai in year 8. Shmitah years are (in our time) always in a year that Tekufat Nissan falls in Kokhav.

The difference between the two cycles:

In the 7-year cycle, we mark the 7th year (the end of the cycle), just like the 7th day.

In the 28-year cycle, we mark the 1st year (the beginning of a new cycle).

That is why this year is Shmitah and next year is Birkat HaChamah.

They seem so related, 4 cycles of 7 takes us to the beginning of the next 28 year cycle, yet they are mathematically independent, one based on the year-length, the other based on the hourly-cycle.

Neither is based on anything which is astronomically observable (the actual physical solar year is not 365.25 days long, and there is no observable 7 hour cycle among the planets), yet both are based on objects in our solar system.

The significance of these cycles is great, each cycle's significance is a secret of Torah which I am not here today to reveal. Also note that everything mentioned here is based on the year length and the cycle being based on an integer number of hours. This becomes more glaring in another cycle in Pirkei D'Rebbi Eliezer.

For further reading:

  • Bavli Brachot 59b
  • Bavli Eiruvin 56a
  • Pirkei D'Rebbi Eliezer chapter 6-8