Predicting the future is big business. From newspaper astrologers to corporate consultants, there are many people out there ready to profit from our insatiable desire to know the unknown. Often, when contemplating major changes in my life, I am tempted to check my astrological reading. Is there anything wrong with this? Can an intelligent person believe in astrology without feeling ridiculous?
It is fascinating to note that the rabbis of the Talmud gave considerable credence to astrology. The Talmud states that “upon entry into the month of Adar one should become increasingly joyous. Rav Papa said: ‘Therefore a Jew should avoid litigation with gentiles in the month of Av, because his mazal is bad; and he should move the court case to the month of Adar, when his mazal is good.’” The Hebrew word which Talmud uses here, mazal, is usually translated “luck” but literally means “constellations.”
Astrology is not only a factor to be taken into account when planning future events—it also influences human nature. According to the Talmud, one born under the constellation of the sun will achieve eminence, and one born under Venus will become wealthy and immoral. One born under Mercury will be wise and have a retentive memory. One born under the Moon will suffer evil. One born under Saturn will suffer frustration, one born under Jupiter will be righteous, and one born under Mars will become either a surgeon or a slaughterer. A birthday is therefore viewed by the rabbis as a day on which personal astrological fortune is at its most potent.
There is an uncomfortable contradiction inherent in all this. Although astrology is prominent in rabbinic thought, Jewish law cautions against seeking the advice of astrologers. But if astrology is a true science, why not consult it? The following Midrashic parable sheds light on this.
A king conquered a new province, the elite of which decided that they needed to forge connections with the new rulers. Some decided to become acquainted with the dukes, others with the knights and yet others with the ministers. The wisest amongst them declared, “I will forge a connection with the king himself.” He reasoned, “All the ministers, knights and dukes change; however, the king will always remain king.
So, too, continues the Midrash, some people attribute power to the constellations and wish to serve them. Monotheistic believers, however, realize that G‑d is the supreme power, and that all other powers are no more than obedient servants who carry out His will.
Since everything in the universe is subject to the laws of cause and effect, according to nature the month of Adar is an astrologically lucky month, and a birthday has unique astrological potential for the celebrant. However, reliance on astrology could lead one to conclude that nature has a life of its own, and that the celestial spheres have powers independent of G‑d’s will. In fact, these are no more than a manifestation of the divine will. This is why prayer is so important. Mundane life seeks to convince us that life is dictated by the laws of nature. Prayer reminds us that nature is controlled by G‑d.
The message is clear: nature and its rules—including astrological truths—do exert an influence on our lives. It presents us with auspicious times and circumstances, and inauspicious ones; it imbues our character with certain traits and tendencies. However, one must recognize that ultimate power rests not with “nature” but with the Creator of heaven and earth.