Mazal Tov on your anniversary – on astrology and horoscopes
Rabbi Alon Meltzer
An address from our scholar in residence Rabbi Alon Meltzer during celebrations marking the 175th anniversary of our congregation’s first services in 1843.
The sun stays in future-oriented Aquarius until the 18th, triggering revolutionary insights into where your peers and society are headed. On the 3rd, freedom-fighting Jupiter runs into Venus, planet of values, asking you to enlarge your heart and invest more in your fellow humans. Like a good-humored sleepwalker, you may be lured into over-performing your best intentions and promising more than you can give. Mental Aquarius will help you direct your good will toward learning more about how to make our communities more fair, honest, and equitable.
That is February’s Horoscope – it sounds rather ridiculous.
I remember once sitting on the couch in NYC, Linsay and I had gotten into an argument that morning, and I was thinking of ways to apologise. I was reading the New Zealand Herald and found an article about the Chinese new years, explaining the character traits of people for each of the zodiac years. There is the Monkey, the Rat, the Snake etc. I happen to be a dragon – and the article told me that I have a temper, I can be passionate, etc etc. Linsay comes home, and I begin to say that I am sorry for getting upset, and getting angry, but she should realise that I don’t have much control, you see I’m born in the year of the dragon, and we can be quite angry people. I noticed she wasn’t looking too happy – when suddenly she angrily blurted out – “shut up, we are born in the same year you fool”.
Whether you believe in horoscopes, or zodiacs, or planetary alignments affecting your mood or not, it is clear that Judaism engages with the idea of horoscopes, star signs, and zodiacs.
The first mention according to Rashi is in the book of Bereshit, Genesis, 1:14, whereby Hashem describes the purpose of the sun.
וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹקִ֗ים יְהִ֤י מְאֹרֹת֙ בִּרְקִ֣יעַ הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם לְהַבְדִּ֕יל בֵּ֥ין הַיּ֖וֹם וּבֵ֣ין הַלָּ֑יְלָה וְהָי֤וּ לְאֹתֹת֙ וּלְמ֣וֹעֲדִ֔ים וּלְיָמִ֖ים וְשָׁנִֽים׃ God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate day from night; they shall serve as signs for the set times—the days and the years.
Rashi says that these days and years means the passing through the zodiac cycle.
The Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Berachot, 59b tells us that we must say a bracha for the zodiac signs:
תנו רבנן הרואה חמה בתקופתה לבנה בגבורתה וכוכבים במסילותם ומזלות כסדרן אומר ברוך עושה בראשית The Sages taught: One who sees the sun in the beginning of its cycle, the moon in its might, the planets in their orbit, or the signs of the zodiac aligned in their order recites: Blessed … author of creation.
Regarding the story of Sarah, the wife of Avraham Avinu, the Kedushat HaLevi the 18th century Hasidic master, makes a note to say that due to her merits and her supplications, was “lifted” out of the limitations predicted for her by a zodiac sign she had been born under, so that she could conceive. Here Sarah’s very predicament, her infertility is understood throughout our sages over time, and reiterated just 300 or so years ago, that it is because of her star sign that she was unable to have a baby until she engaged in prayer, increased her merit, and her name was changed.
Over and over again, with hundreds of sources, and numerous archaeological findings, whereby mosaics have been unearthed in some of the most ancient synagogues in the land of Israel, and in Turkey – the zodiac, the star signs, all of it features commonly.
In fact we constantly reiterate this fact each time we say “Mazal Tov”.
The word Mazal does not literally mean “luck”. Nor congratulations. “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, in his Derech Hashem, 3:7:3, explains that there is a multi-leveled conceptual system through which God 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 Talmud cites in Mo’ed Katan, 28a, three life-issues which are directly affected by the Mazalot: life, children and livelihood. Elsewhere the Talmud, Shabbat, 156a, seems to contradict this and states that “there is no Mazal regarding the Jewish People”. The classical sources explain this to mean that the influence of Mazalot can be overcome by the Jewish People through prayer and other great merits.
Regarding prayer, the Shulchan Aruch states, “A person must pray with sincere supplication like a poor person begging at the door…” The Chafetz Chaim explains this to mean:
“that he must pray with supplication like one who is asking for mercy and remember that the fulfillment of his request is not in the hands of anything created, not an angel, nor a Mazal, nor a Star, etc., it is all up to the will of Hashem, may His Name be Blessed.”
A Halachic application of Mazal is the custom of a mourner to say Kaddish on the Yahrzeit of a parent, because that day is one of “harmful Mazal” for the mourner, and the reciting of Kaddish affords him protection.
So, 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.
I am so thrilled to be able to join you for this momentous celebration which I know, started on Parashat Bo, and will continue on through the year. I have been long connected to the Wellington Jewish Community Centre, I remember coming here before Bnei Akiva camps, I have been mentored and educated by some of your finest, both in my youth and later through my adult life, I have many very close friends who hail from this community, and many who are still here.
Tomorrow I will discuss the impact of this small, but powerful community.
Yishar koach to all the organisers – for now I reiterate that beracha – Mazal Tov, may Hashem ensure that the energy that is sent to this wonderful community will only be for good as you embark on the next 175 years.