The Mazzaroth (Zodiac)
By Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David (Greg Killian)
The heavens are made up of spheres. There are nine spheres. The closest to us is that of the moon. Above it, the second sphere contains the planet Kochav (Mercury). Above this, the third sphere contains the planet Nogah (Venus). The fourth sphere contains the Sun. The fifth contains the planet Ma’dim (Mars). The sixth sphere contains the planet Tzedek (Jupiter). The seventh contains the planet Shabbtai (Saturn). The eighth sphere contains all the stars we see in the sky. The ninth sphere revolves from east to west every day. It surrounds and encompasses everything. The planets and stars all appear to be in a single sphere even though one is higher than another. This is because the spheres themselves are pure and refined like glass or sapphire…. This is why the stars in the eighth sphere may appear lower than the first sphere.
Each of the eight main spheres containing the planets and stars is itself divided into many individual spheres, one above the other like the layers of an onion. Some of these spheres revolve from west to the east, others from east to west… There is no empty space between any of them.
None of the spheres are light or heavy. They are neither red, black nor any other color. Although we see them as blue, this is only our perception because of the height of the atmosphere. Similarly they have neither taste nor smell, because those qualities are present only in lower forms of matter. All these nine spheres surrounding the world are spherical like a ball, and the Earth is suspended in the middle…
From knowing the daily movements of the stars and planets, their positions north or south in the sky and their distance from or closeness to Earth, it is possible to know the total number of spheres and the way they revolve. This is the science of astronomy. Many books about these subjects were written by the wise men of Greece.
The ninth sphere, which encompasses all the others, was divided by the sages of the early generations into twelve sections. They gave each of these sections a name based on the shapes that appeared to be formed by the stars in the corresponding section of the eighth sphere just below it. These are the mazalot (lit. sources of influence): the Ram (Aries), the Ox (Taurus), the Twins (Gemini), the Crab (Cancer), the Lion (Leo), the Virgin (Virgo), the Scales (Libra), the Scorpion (Scorpio), the Bow (Sagittarius), the Goat (Capricorn), the Bucket (Aquarius) and the Fish (Pisces).
The ninth sphere itself has no divisions and does not possess any of these shapes or stars. Rather, the larger stars in the constellations of the eighth sphere are seen in the shape of these forms or in a form resembling them. These twelve forms corresponded to these divisions only at the time of the flood, which is when they were given these names. However at present they have already moved slightly, because all the stars in the eighth sphere move just like the sun and the moon. It is just that these stars move more slowly…
All the stars and spheres possess a soul, knowledge and intellect. They are alive and stand in recognition of the One who spoke and brought the world into being.
According to their size and level, they all praise and glorify their Creator, just like the angels. And just as they are aware of the Holy One, blessed-be-He, they are also conscious of themselves and of the angels above them. The level of consciousness of the stars and spheres is less than that of the angels but greater than of humans.
Avraham Ibn Ezra
Especially influential is Avraham Ibn Ezra’s astrological treatise called Sefer HaOlam (The Book of the World). Its main message is to warn users against wrong applications of astrology. Of course, like most scholars until modern times, he was an ardent believer in astrology, but only when it is practiced correctly.
In particular, he warned that all the astronomical tables predicting the times of planetary conjunctions are erroneous, because they assume uniform motion of the planets. He also made a very good point on the accumulation of errors, and for the need to account for experimental errors, and how unreasonable it is to extrapolate from ancient data. Hence, he only relied on astronomical observations made by contemporary ‘sages of experiments’.
Do the stars control us? Are we under a mazel?
The “eighth day,” the eighth day of the inauguration of the Mishkan. It was on this day that the Divine Presence finally descended and “inhabited” the Mishkan. For, the number eight always alludes to a departure from the “natural” world, and entry into the supernatural world (which is why Chanukah also is eight days long). Therefore, brit milah acts as a threshold of sorts for the new baby, over which he crosses to enter into the world ABOVE mazel.
There is a discussion in the Talmud about whether or not a Jew is subject to mazel, that is, destiny. We believe that, for the most part, events are predetermined as part of a master plan for creation. Within the stars is encoded six thousand years of history, and a true astrologer can peek into the stars and foretell the future, as Avraham did when he told HaShem that he saw that he was to remain childless through his wife Sarah; Hagar bore Yishmael for him.
However, HaShem told Avraham that he was not necessarily correct, for, he could by choice rise above his mazel, and beat his destiny, so-to-speak. And as history and the Torah testifies, Avraham did precisely that with the birth of his son Yitzchak, something, apparently, he could only achieve AFTER he had performed brit milah (first he was commanded to perform brit milah, and then Yitzchak was conceived).
Hence, brit milah is far more than an initiation rite into Judaism; it is a mystical door through which the Jewish nation passes on the way to freedom from nature.
Ramban tells us some very interesting things about angels:
Ramban’s Commentary for: Vayiqra (Leviticus) 17:7 Know that just as the formation at the original Creation of man’s body as well as that of all living creatures, vegetation and minerals, was from the four elements, which were combined by Divine power to form material bodies which as a result of their thickness and coarseness could be perceived by the five senses, even so there was a creation from only two elements, fire and air, resulting in a body which cannot be felt, nor perceived by any of the [five] senses, just as the soul of an animal cannot be perceived by human senses because of its delicacy. The body [of these creatures of two elements] is of a spiritual nature; on account of its delicacy and lightness it can fly through fire and air. And just as the combination of the four elements in any object is the cause of its existence and its destruction [since everything that is composite must ultimately revert to its original components], so is it with these beings created from a combination of only two elements; when the elements combine, the creature lives, and when they separate [decompose], it is like the dead. It is for this reason that our Rabbis have said: “Six characteristics have been said of sheidim, in three they are comparable to the ministering angels and in three to human beings. The three things in which they are comparable to the ministering angels are that they have wings, they fly, and they know what is about to happen, as do the ministering angels. [On this statement the Gemara asked: ] ‘How can it enter your mind to say that the sheidim know the future [when even the ministering angels do not know it]! Say rather thus: They hear [from behind the Curtain of heaven] what is about to happen.’ The three things in which they are comparable to human beings are that they eat and drink, procreate, and die as do human beings.”  Now the cause of death generally is the separation [decomposition] of the components of the body, this being true of all kinds of bodies [whether they are composed of the four elements like humans or of only two, like sheidim]. The reason for their ability to fly is because of the lightness of the [two] elements [fire and air] of which they are composed, as may also be seen in the case of a fowl, in which, because the elements of fire and air dominate over the small parts of the other two elements [earth and water], the fowl can hover in the air and fly [although it is composed of all four elements]. Surely, then, the above-mentioned creatures that have nothing in them of the heavy elements [earth and water], possess great hovering power in the air, to be able to fly tirelessly. The matter of “eating” [mentioned above in connection with these creatures] means their deriving nourishment from the moisture of water and the odors of fire, something like the fire that licked up the water that was in the trench. This is the purpose of the burnings which necromancers perform to the demons. The reason [for their need to “eat”] is that the fire in the air causes the drying up of their bodies, which must therefore be restored just as man’s need for food is due to depletion in his body. As for that which has been said concerning their “hearing what is about to happen,” it is because in the course of their flying on high they become aware of things that are about to happen from the powerful forces contained in the atmosphere, these being “the princes of the quiver.”  It is also from there that “those who have wings tell matters”  of the future, as has been tested by enchanters, and as I will explain in its place with the help of G-d. But neither of them know what is to happen for many days to come and for times that are far off; but they can only inform of that which is to happen in the near future, as we know from their encounters [i.e., those of enchanters], that they gain knowledge from the sheidim as to what has been decreed to come. Therefore Onkelos rendered the verse, They sacrificed unto demons, ‘lo eloha’ (no gods),  as “they sacrificed unto demons in which there is no utility,” meaning that there is no need for them, as they do not prevent harm that is destined to come, neither do they do anything productive, nor do they inform of times far off so that a person may knowingly guard himself. It is this which is the sense of the expression, lo eloha, which is as if it said, “no power or rulership,” for the word Elohim is an expression of strength and power, [a composite word consisting of the words] e-il heim. Thus the verse is stating that demons have no strength or power whatsoever, and hence there is no need for them, for they cannot do evil, neither is it in them to do good.
But there is a secret to this matter. We have already made known that the constellations have lords that lead them, these being “the souls” of the circuits of the spheres, and the lords of the tail and [head of] Aries (the Ram) are near the earth, these being termed “the princes of the quiver,” that make the future known. It is through them that the signs in the birds indicate things to come, not for long duration or distant future do they tell, but only of events that are about to happen. Some make them known by utterance of bitter sounds [resembling wailing] over the dead, and some by spreading their wings. This is what has been said, for a bird of the air shall carry the voice – a reference to those who suggest by their wings.
According to Ramban there is some truth in Divination, sooth-saying and astrology but we Jews are only to believe in G-d alone and inquire through prophecy and the Urim VeTummim of the Supreme being who is in control over the whole system and not through His celestial deputies who he appointed under Him. Ramban utilized the idea that the Jews are directly under G-d’s Providence and are therefore not subject to the celestial constellations as are other nations to explain a large variety of biblical verses and laws. Yet, he maintained that this idea also assumed a universe determined by the stars.
One of the most important factors in astrology is the time and date of a person’s birth. The Talmud states that there is a “Mazal of the hour.” The time, day, and date when a person is born has an important influence on his destiny. The stars in the sky also form an important link in G-d’s providence over the physical world. Between G-d and Man, there are many levels of interaction, the lowest being those between the angels and stars. The Midrash and Zohar state, “There is no blade of grass that does not have a “constellation”—Mazal—over it, telling it to grow.” This means that G-d’s providence works through the angels, but these angels in turn work through the stars and planets. In a sense, we could speak of the angels as souls to the stars. Some sources speak of the stars as having intelligence, but the commentaries note that this is actually speaking of the angels that are associated with them. The Zohar teaches that every star in the universe has a name, and the Midrash indicates that the names of the stars correspond to the names of the different angels. We see that the Divine influence and flow comes through the angels, through the stars, and finally to earth. We may also now understand why they started to worship the stars in the days of Enosh. Although the founders of star worship knew about G-d, they mistakenly believed that G-d is far beyond the vanities of this world and they felt it would be better to serve the underling stars, who seemed to be more of an influencing presence. In time, the underlings became the principal and the notion of monotheism was lost until Abraham (see Ch.2). It must be clear that despite the seeming influence of the stars upon human life, the concept of Mazalot (constellations) is essentially a physical concept. It is a channel through which spiritual forces flow down to the world. A person can establish direct contact with G-d through prayer, and bypass the influence of the stars.
Influence extends only from the visible members of our solar system. The distant planets such as Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto, which are invisible to the unaided eye, are not considered to have any significant astrological influence.
The Torah states “There shall not be found among you one who calculates times.” The Talmud, in the name of Rabbi Akiva, specifically applies this prohibition to one who calculates auspicious times, meaning that one should not make astrology a dominant influence in one’s daily life and predictions through astrology are forbidden. Therefore one should not use horoscopes to determine one’s future actions, though it is permitted to do character analyzes through astrology.
It is the prevalent custom that on a happy occasion such as a birth, one wishes “Mazal tov” indicating the wish that the planetary influence on the child should be a good one. Yet we are not slaves to the planets, as the Torah states, “You shall be perfect with the L-rd your G-d”.
This means that the more we perfect our relationship with the spiritual dimension, the more G-d is going to aid us in changing the natural course of events. This makes any action based on astrological predictions needless. It states clearly in the Talmud that “Ein Mazal LeYisroel” or “there is noMazal for the Jewish people.” This simply means that the Jewish people as a whole were lifted above the Mazalot by virtue of their receiving the Torah.
Source: http:// www. betemunah.org/mazaroth.html