Da'at Tevunot - The Knowing Heart: Section 6, Chapter 8
1. Like the stars, each and every moment alternately shines and dims, shines
and dims. Each moment matters, has its needs, makes its demands, gets its
due, offers its help, and then steps aside for the next one. And again like
the stars, each moment is fed by forces higher, wider, and deeper than it,
and subsequently feeds phenomena lower, thinner, and shallower than it.
Not only is that so, but we find in fact that each moment is affected by a
star (or a swatch of them) which is itself affected by the moment itself,
after which the moment passes on its influence to another one, and so one
down the line. This is the thrust of the theory of Astrology in the context
of the passage of time, which will be stressed later on here. Astrology, the
study of the influence of the celestial upon the terrestrial, is an ancient
art which, while having passed from favor in the modern world, was
nonetheless once perceived as the system par excellence of gaining insight
2. Many of our greatest sages discussed the reality upon which Astrology
might be based and its efficacy, and we’ll offer some insights now into
their thinking before we explore Ramchal’s own. We do this because Astrology
is about to be cited in Da’at Tevunot and we wanted to lay out the various
Torah perspectives on it since it’s usually and often automatically
pooh-poohed and written off by most of us -- either justifiably or not, as
First off, let it be noted that Astrology is never cited in the five books
of the Torah, a fact that simply cannot be denied and that undoes its truth
in the eyes of many. But gravity doesn’t figure in the Torah either, nor do
other things of that order which while fundamental to reality have no
bearing on the Torah’s concerns. But it is cited several times in the other
books of Tanach where its practitioners are scoffed at (see Isaiah 47:13 and
Jeremiah 10:2) or where its simply cited as a fact of life (see Daniel 2:2,
4, 5, 10; 4:14; 5:7, 11).
The Talmud and later works often cited it and sometimes sided with it, while
other times rejected it. On the one hand, Avraham and we, his descendants,
are said to be above the subjection to the stars (see Breishit Rabbah
44:12), while on the other hand we’re told that the blessing bestowed on
Avraham in Genesis 24:1 is to be interpreted as the gift of Astrology (see
Tosefta to Kiddushin 5:17). And there are positive views of it cited in
other places (see Shabbat 119a, Kohelet Rabbah 173, etc.).
The great Sa’adia Gaon wrote a commentary to Sefer Yetzirah based on
Astrological principles, and Ibn Ezra wrote about it extensively, as did
Yehudah HaLevi. But the mighty Rambam was famously against it on all levels,
which clinched it for many. The Zohar and the Kabbalists accepted Astrology
as a truism, and so did Ramchal, as we’ll now see.
3. The first thing to note is that when he discussed it at length in Derech
Hashem, Ramchal spoke of it in terms of one of the systems that G-d uses to
govern the world, thus indicating from the very first that G-d alone is
behind everything even when He uses various phenomena to help carry out His
wishes. And he spoke of the stars and constellations as “having influence
over” the world, as acting as “pipelines” of G-d’s light rather than as
controlling things., and as being limited in scope and not capable of
revealing very many element s of reality (2:7:1-4).
In any event he’ll soon cite Astrology as a means of understanding many
things about G-d’s interaction with the world, which is our concern here.
Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has translated and commented upon "The Gates of Repentance", "The Path of the Just", and "The Duties of the Heart" (Jason
Aronson Publishers). His works are available in bookstores and in various
locations on the Web.