Calendar – weekday names

At first glance, the week seems to be  the odd man out of our calendar.  Unlike the year, which is calculated  according the Earth’s annual trip around  the sun; the month, which is based upon  the moon circling the Earth; and the day,  which depends on the Earth’s spin upon its  axis, the week seems totally disconnected  from any astronomical phenomenon. Its  whole significance stems from Maasei  Bereishis, when Hashem created the world  in six days and rested on the seventh.  Perhaps this is another reason why  Shabbos is more sacred than any other  day of the Jewish year. 

Digging a little deeper, however, one  soon discovers that the week does have  a celestial connection after all. This is  evident from a couple of Gemaras in  which Rashi points out a clear correlation  between the heavenly bodies and the  seven days of the week, a correlation so  clear that is embodied in the everyday  speech of billions.

For thousands of years, stargazers,  astrologers, and astronomers have noticed  that almost all the stars of the heavens  are nailed firmly in place against the  backdrop of outer space. Like a perfectly  drilled army, they march in unison across  the heavens, never daring to make the  slightest misstep.

However, if you have the patience  to gaze into space for a few consecutive  nights, you might eventually notice five  rogue stars that refuse to obey the rules.  Each and every night, they slowly inch  their way between the other stars. To make  things worse, some of them mysteriously  backtrack or speed up during the process,  due to the off-center observation point  of Earth. The ancients named these  stars “planets,” which is ancient Greek  for “wanderers.” Chazal, appropriately  enough, called them kochvei leches –  wandering stars.

The reason they are constantly on  the move is that they are not stars at all  but Earth-like planets circling their way  around the sun along with us.  Add the sun and moon to these five  planets and you have seven heavenly  bodies. For some reason, Chazal and the  ancients arranged them in this order:  1) Shabbtai (Saturn); 2) Tzedek  (Jupiter); 3) Maadim (Mars); 4) Chammah  (the sun); 5) Kochav Nogah (Venus, “the  shining star”); 6) Kochav (Mercury); 7)  Levanah (the moon).

Now, commenting on the Gemara  that says Hashem created the heavenly  bodies at the beginning of Wednesday  night during the hour of Shabbtai, Rashi  explains that the seven heavenly bodies  began their rule at this moment on the  evening of the fourth day, when Hashem  placed the sun, moon, and stars into the  fi rmament (Brachos 59b). Forever after,  they rule the hours in the following order:  Shabbtai rules during the first hour,  Tzedek the second, and so on. This cycle  keeps on running infi nitely. Once the  seven planets have run their course, the  cycle starts all over again. Shabbtai takes  over the eighth hour, Tzedek the ninth,  and so on.

Now, if you run this cycle through a  whole week, you’ll discover that it takes  exactly one week for the cycle to work  through all its permutations. After one  week, Shabbtai returns to the first hour  of the day on Wednesday evening and the  cycle repeats itself exactly like the week  before.

The Gemara reveals another  fascinating fact when it warns that one  should never perform bloodletting on  Tuesdays as, on Tuesdays, Maadim  (Mars) rules during an “even” hour  (Shabbos 129b). What does this mean?  Rashi explains as follows: If you  calculate which heavenly body rules during  the fi rst daylight hour of each weekday,  you’ll make an intriguing discovery.  The order is: Sunday – the sun; Monday  – the moon; Tuesday – Mars; Wednesday  – Mercury; Thursday – Jupiter; Friday  – Venus; Shabbos (Saturday) – Saturn.  (Do you see a pattern?) 

Rashi explains further: Since Mars,  the symbol of the sword, pestilence, and  tribulation, falls during the first hour  of Tuesday, seven hours later, it will  automatically fall during the eighth hour  of the day. Eight is an even number, and  the Gemara warns that even numbers are  hazardous (Pesachim 110b); therefore,  one must avoid bloodletting the whole  of Tuesday to avoid this planet-promoted  hazard.

We see from this Rashi that the  weekday names of Sunday, Monday, and  Saturday are no mere coincidence. These  days are named after the heavenly bodies  that have ascendancy during their first  daylight hour! In fact, the Babylonians  named every day of the week after gods  associated with these “first hour” heavenly  bodies, as follows: Shamash (Sunday),  Sin (the moon, Monday), Nergal (Mars,  Tuesday), Nebo (Mercury, Wednesday),  Marduk (Jupiter, Thursday), Ishtar  (Venus, Friday), and Ninurta (Saturn,  Saturday). 

At this point, you might ask, in horror,  how Torah-observant Jews can mention  weekday names since they are based on  idolatry. Does the Torah not explicitly  command us, “The names of other gods  you shall not mention, they shall not be  heard on your mouth?” (Shemos 23:13)  Discussing whether one is permitted  to mention the names of coins named  after idols, the responsa sefer Chavas  Ya’ir mentions a few mitigating factors,  including the permissibility of mentioning  names of idols that are obsolete and no  longer worshipped (chap. 1).
However, Tzitz Eliezer objects to non-  Jewish names of months, due to their  idolatrous connotations, and suggests  writing 01, 02, etc., in lieu of their names  (vol. 8, chap. 8 and 14). How he would  get around the problem of saying the  names of weekdays is unclear.

How did our modern weekday names  develop? Some of them were altered by  the Greeks and Romans, who substituted  some of the Babylonian gods’ names with  their own gods’ names. The Teutons and  Anglo-Saxons later threw out the Roman  gods’ monikers and substituted them with  their own idols. As a result, the modern  names of Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday,  and Friday are named after obsolete  Teutonic and Anglo-Saxon gods.  Wednesday, for example, started off  as Nebo in Babylon, became Mercurius in  Rome, and ended up as Woden in Britain.  Then Woden transmuted into the modernday  Wednesday. 

Earlier, we cited the Gemara that  warns against bloodletting on Tuesdays  when Mars falls during the eighth hour.  This provides an astounding insight into  the Gemara’s system of astrology.

In Shabbos 156a, Rabbi Chanina  discusses the planets’ influence upon  Earth. He says that someone born under  the mazal of the sun will shine and eat  and drink of his own, just as the sun  produces its own light; someone born  under Mercury will be wealthy; under  the moon, he will eat and drink of other  people; and those under Saturn will have  their ambitions thwarted. Someone born  under Tzedek (Jupiter) will be righteous  (a tzaddik), while someone born under  Maadim (Mars) will be a shedder of  blood (dam). (The Gemara cites more  details.)

What does it mean to be born under  the mazal of a star? Does this mean to be  born when the star is physically overhead,  or does it mean something else?

From the Gemara that proscribes  bloodletting on Tuesdays, it is clear that  the influence of Mars has nothing to do  with its physical position in relation to  the Earth at a particular time but rather  on its position in the cycle that began  at Creation, when Shabtai (Saturn)  was given charge of the fi rst hour of  Wednesday evening. During its hour of  power, Mars will wreak its damage, even  if it is far below the horizon at the time,  and the same applies to the other six  heavenly bodies.

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi (ibid.)  disagrees with Rabbi Chanina, however,  and insists that a person’s character is  influenced not by the star he is born under  but by the day of the week he is born. His  system works as follows:

On Sunday, the light was separated  from dark. Therefore, someone born on  that day will have a one-sided character  and either be totally righteous or totally  wicked. Someone born on Monday will be  hot-tempered, since this is when the waters  were separated. Tuesday makes people  wealthy because, on that day, the fast-growing  grass was formed. Wednesday’s  babies are wise and shining, as this is  when the luminaries were placed on high.  Thursday makes people generous, as this  is when Hashem made the fish and birds,  which sustain themselves without effort.  Friday’s babies race after mitzvos, since  people spend Friday busying themselves  for Shabbos. Someone born on Shabbos  will be holy.

According to the Sefer Yetzirah (chap.  5), besides the influence of the days and  the seven heavenly bodies, yet another  celestial influence is wielded by the  zodiac:

“He hewed, cut out, combined, and  formed the twelve simple letters into the  twelve mazalos, and these are: the sheep,  the ox, the twins, the crab, the lion, the  maiden, the scales, the scorpion, the bow,  the kid, the bucket, and the fi sh. These are  [in correspondence to] the twelve months  of the year: Nissan, Iyar, Sivan, Tammuz,  Av, Elul, Tishrei, Cheshvan, Kislev, TevesShevat, Adar.”

“And these [correspond to] twelve  directors of the soul: two hands, two feet,  two kidneys, the liver, the gallbladder,  the masas, the keiva, the karkevan (three  components of the alimentary canal), and  the spleen.”

Based on this paragraph and other  hints in the Sefer Yetzirah, mekubalim  have derived the special spiritual  qualities associated with the twelve  signs of the zodiac and their months. For  example, Elul’s association with a maiden  symbolizes purity, Tishrei’s association  with scales represents the judgment of  Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and  Adar’s association with fish that are  hidden beneath water represents the  hidden miracles of Purim.

However, when all is said and done,  Klal Yisroel ultimately holds the keys to  their destinies (besides certain exceptions).  After citing the conflicting opinions of  Rabbi Chanina and Rabbi Yehoshua ben  Levi, the Gemara (ibid.) cites Amoraim  who hold, “There is no mazal for Yisroel.”  Rashi explains, “Because through prayer  and merit, a person’s mazal can be altered  for the good.”

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