Discovering faith beyond the stars

Fate: The Talmud says Jews can overcome planetary influences through prayer and good deeds, Columbia rabbi says.

January 18, 2002|By Rona S. Hirsch | Rona S. Hirsch,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Jews may be in the habit of wishing one another "mazel tov" at weddings and bar mitzvahs, but the Hebrew expression for good luck is more than a congratulatory salute.

"Mazel" means constellation, so celebrants are exchanging the blessing of good fortune and destiny.

Even so, Jews should not run their day according to the latest horoscope or remain resigned to their fate because they were born under a particular planet, a Columbia rabbi says.

"If you have faith in God, ask God directly to look out for you," said Rabbi Hillel Baron, director of the Lubavitch Center for Jewish Education in Columbia.

"According to the Talmud, Jews `can overcome planetary influences by prayer and doing mitzvot [commandments] and good deeds. Israel's destiny is not determined by the stars,'" Baron said.

He presented a discussion titled "Mazel: Jewish Astrology" last week. He will speak about "Divine Providence: Angels and Miracles" on Wednesday at the Lubavitch Center.

"The rabbi always does a wonderful job," said participant Connie Rubler, a Columbia orthodontist. "He's very prepared, draws a lot of Jewish works into his lectures and has great stories."

Topics in previous discussions in the four-part series "Good to Know" included reincarnation and prophecy in dreams, from the Jewish tradition. "These are all hot topics," Baron said.

As participants studied translations of Talmudic excerpts and seeming contradictions during the 90-minute discussion on astrology, the rabbi explained that the Jewish calendar is based on the lunar cycle.

Phases of the moon

Jews sanctify each new moon six to 14 days after its appearance with the Kiddush Levanah prayer. The prayer includes the Hebrew words "Siman Tov Umazel Tov," which mean "a good sign and good constellation" -- a phrase commonly sung at festive occasions. The prayer, composed about 300 B.C., praises God for the cycle of the moon. But it also includes the declaration, "David, King of Israel, lives forever."

"The moon is a representation of the history and destiny of the Jewish people based on their devotion to God and mitzvot, demonstrated even in times of exile, and accounts for the positive message of the moon," Baron said.

"Like the full moon at the time of King David and Solomon, which dimmed when the Jews were sent to exile after the Temple's destruction, the moon represents the ultimate redemption and rebirth of the Jewish people. It's an inspirational message to trust God," he said.

Baron said some Jews schedule weddings during the first half of the month when the moon is growing because it symbolizes that "something good is coming."

But the Torah forbids pursuing astrological predictions and lists prohibitions against various pagan methods for predicting the future. "The Torah says that if you want to change the future, do it directly with God," Baron said.

"Ask God to look out for you, but do not seek advice of other practitioners. God wants you completely devoted to him," he said.

How astrology fits in

The medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides wrote that idolatry includes astrology. But fellow scholar Rabbi Moshe Ben Nachman argued that while Jews must not pursue astrology, they should follow the advice if it was unsolicited or becomes common knowledge.

According to the Talmud, predisposition of character can be determined by the day, hour or planet under which an individual is born.

For example, a person born Monday is likely to be bad-tempered, kind if born Thursday and predisposed to shed blood if born under Mars.

Nonetheless, Baron said, the Talmud emphasizes that predisposition can be overcome or used positively. "A person has free will," he said. "Predisposition is not the determining factor."

Although God is Israel's only mazel, the Talmud states a person must not rely on miracles.

"You must have an accumulation of effort like seeking medical advice when sick to be blessed by God," Baron said. "When you've done your part, then God will take care of you."

Rabbi Hillel Baron will speak about "Divine Providence: Angels and Miracles" at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Lubavitch Center, 770 Howes Lane, Columbia. The cost is $6. Information: 410-740-2424.

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