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.
THE CELESTIAL CONNECTION
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, Teves, Shevat, 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.”