Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Judaism and Astrology

Did you know that some Jewish philosophers maintain that there is truth to the idea of astrology, to reading the future from the alignment of the stars?

However, it is also true that God took Abraham and all of his descendants and placed them outside the workings of such metaphysical mysteries.

In Genesis, Abraham cried out to God that he had looked at the constellations and saw that he was not destined to beget a son. God then took Abraham outside and said: “Look toward the heavens and count the stars. If you are able to count them...so will be your descendants (Genesis 15:5). Go beyond your astrology. Your children are not governed by the planets alone...” (Talmud Shabbat 156a).

What does it mean that the Children of Abraham are not governed by the planets alone? It means the every Jew has the ability to alter his/her fate through prayer and mitzvot.

The Talmud (Shabbat 156b) relates the following story: Shmuel [a great Torah sage] and Avlat [a gentile astrologer named] were sitting together watching people pass toward a swamp. Avlat said, "That man is going, but won’t come back. A snake will bite him, and he will die."

"If he is a Jew," Shmuel asserted, "he will go and come back." The man returned alive, but in his backpack was a snake cut in two. Upon being asked what good deed he had done, the man explained how he had saved a friend from embarrassment at lunch. Shmuel declared that this mitzvah had saved his life.

The stars do not dictate our fate. We control our fate. As we said on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur: “Repentance, prayer and charity remove the evil decree!”

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