16 March 2016

The Influence of the Stars

The RaMChaL on
The Way of G-d
Divine Providence
The Influence of the Stars

It's ironic that we in modernity are more thunderstruck by the millions of lights on the ground when our plane descends at night over a city than we are by the sight of millions of stars and planets in the sky. The ancients, though, were indeed nonplused by the over arching ring of galaxies over their heads. Is it because they were more Heaven-centered than we, and we more earth-centered than they? Probably. But be that as it may, it's clear that they realized the power of the galaxies while we simply don't.

Perhaps that's why the following statement by G-d doesn't quite move us. G-d is revealed to have told us the following: "I created twelve constellations in the firmament, and I created thirty hosts for each one. For each host I created thirty legions; for each legion I created thirty cohorts; for each cohort I created thirty maniples; for each maniple I created thirty camps; and I attached three hundred and sixty-five thousand myriads of stars to each camp... *all for your sake*" (Berachot 32b). The implication is of course that the universe is vast, opulent, and chock full of stellar life, and that somehow or another it all serves *our* needs. So let's now explore the role the various planets and stars play in our lives.

Ramchal starts by reminding us of the point he'd made a while back: that there's a Heavenly "backdrop" behind everything in our world that includes transcendent forces and angels (see 1:5:1). Included among them, we now find, are the stars and planets, too. What they do is draw out and transfer the "information" stored in the transcendent forces to our world, and make sure it's all applied in the appropriate material form.

Like everything else, the exact number of stars and planets, and the potency accorded each is specific to the tasks at hand and purposeful. Each serves to fulfill G-d's purposes, and the lot of them help to maintain the material world and to turn spiritual essences into matter.

Let's lay out the cosmic process of interaction between Heaven and Earth again in more detail.

Everything that happens on Earth is initiated up Above, as we've said. By G-d at first, then through the transcendent forces, where the "information" to be communicated is then stored. The planets and stars then transmute and "translate" all this information into earthly form in general, as we learned last time. The point to be made now is that that information is then applied to a form that's appropriate to each individual and for every happenstance.

The broad, overarching, and far-reaching life-themes touched by this process include our mortality, well-being, sustenance, intellect, family life, and the like.

But the stars and planets don't only transmute this information from Heaven as a matter of course. Each one lends a particular hue and tone to whatever it affects. Thus, each element of our life is affected by a particular star or planet with its own makeup, character, and idiosyncrasies as well as by the combination of stars and planets in the cosmos.

And the whole of it -- from on high down to each element and every moment below -- is one grand, roiling cosmic stew.

Each and every one of us, Jew and Gentile, is effected by the draw and reach of the stars. Much the way we're all subject to the same laws of nature and share a common physiognomy. [The general form or appearance of something]

But just as the laws of nature can be overridden by miracles and wonders, the influence of the stars can be countermanded as well -- when G-d wants it to be.

That explains the dictum that the Jewish People aren't beholden to the rule of the constellations (see Shabbat 156A). That doesn't mean to say that we're oblivious to or utterly above the laws of nature or the influence of the stars.

It's just that there are times when G-d's ultimate will -- which we play a direct role in -- surpasses the natural order of things. And those are the time when extraordinary things happen to us despite the planets and stars.

Never forget, though, that the planets and stars aren't independent entities with powers of their own, as some mistakenly assume. Indeed, the Jewish understanding of their role in the grand scheme of things is very different from others'.

Others believe that the planets and stars hold sway over our lives and are a force not to be denied. As we've been indicating, we believe that G-d uses their electric and majestic push and pull to affect us, but not to determine our "fate" in any sense of the word. For the constellations indeed are beholden to rules G-d has them follow and they're limited in what they can do.

So let's try to illustrate the actual role the constellations play in our lives by means of an analogy.

Imagine, if you will, that we were seeds in the soil of a boundless field rather than indiviuals in vast space. Look upon the planets and stars in that context as relatively large pebbles and clumps of soil in close-enough proximity to us to affect the way life-giving water and minerals reach us, and thus our quality of life. See them and us in that context and you come closer to the idea of the place of the constellations in the big picture. It's not that they have power over us and rule the heavens -- G-d forbid! It's just that in their relative proximity to us they affect our experience of G-d's life-giving radiant splendor to a very great degree.

Some individuals can determine approximately how much the constellations affect us by "reading" them. But those individuals can indeed be far off, since our knowledge of the forces behind the planets and stars is limited. Also because the planets' and stars' influences are often overridden by G-d's will, as we've indicated.

Source: Torah.org/Ramchal

Images from NASA

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