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Yesodei haTorah - Chapter Three

Yesodei haTorah - Chapter Three

Halacha 1

The spheres are called the heavens, the firmament, the habitation, the skies.

There are nine spheres. The closest sphere is the sphere of the moon. The second sphere, which is above it, is the sphere which contains the planet Kochav. 1 The third sphere, which is above it, contains [the planet] Nogah. 2 The fourth sphere contains the sun. The fifth sphere contains [the planet] Ma'dim. 3 The sixth sphere contains the planet Tzedek. 4 The seventh sphere contains [the planet] Shabbtai. 5The eighth sphere contains all the stars which are seen in the sky. The ninth sphere is the sphere which revolves each day from the east to the west.6 It surrounds and encompasses everything.

The planets and stars all appear to be in one sphere, even though one is higher than another. This is because the spheres are pure and refined like glass or sapphire. Therefore, the stars in the eighth sphere appear lower than the first sphere.

Halacha 2

Each of the eight spheres which contain the planets and stars are themselves divided into many spheres, one above the other like the layers of an onion. Some of these spheres revolve from the west to the east, and some revolve from the east to the west, such as the ninth sphere, which revolves from the east to the west. There is no empty space between any of them.

Halacha 3

None of the spheres are light or heavy. They are neither red, black, nor any other color. Though 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 these phenomena are present only in matter lower than they. 7

Halacha 4

All these [nine] spheres which surround the world are spherical like a ball, and the Earth is suspended in their midst.

Some of the planets have small spheres fixed [around] them. These spheres do not surround the Earth. Rather, a small sphere which does not surround the Earth is fixed within a large sphere which does.

Halacha 5

The total number of spheres which surround the Earth entirely is eighteen,8 and the number of smaller spheres which do not surround [the world] is eight.

From the movement of the planets and the knowledge of the extent of their revolution each day and each moment, their position either northward or southward, and their distance above the Earth and closeness to it, [it is possible to] know the number of all these spheres, the manner in which they proceed, and the nature of their orbit. This is the science of calculating the seasons and astronomy. Many books about these subjects were written by the wise men of Greece.9

Halacha 6

The ninth sphere, which encompasses all the others, was divided by the Sages of the early generations into twelve sections.10They gave each of these sections a name, based on the shapes that appeared to be formed by the stars below it which correspond to it.

These are the mazalot,11 which are called the lamb, the ox, the twins, the crab, the lion, the virgin, the scales, the scorpion, the bow, the goat, the bucket, and the fish.

Halacha 7

The ninth sphere itself has no division, nor does it possess any of these shapes or any stars. Rather, the larger stars of 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 and then, they were given these names. However, at present, they have already moved slightly, because all the stars in the eighth sphere move, as the sun and the moon do. It is just that [these stars] move more slowly. It would take any of these stars approximately seventy years to move the [same] distance which the sun and the moon'' move in one day.

Halacha 8

[Among] all the stars we see are small ones which the Earth surpasses in size and large ones which are several times larger than the Earth.

Our Earth is approximately 40 times larger than the moon, and the sun is approximately 170 times larger than the Earth. Thus, the moon is approximately one 6800th the size of the sun. None of the other stars is as large as the sun, nor is one as small as [the planet] Kochav, in the second sphere.

Halacha 9

All the stars and spheres possess a soul, knowledge, and intellect. They are alive and stand in recognition of the One who spoke and [thus brought] the world into being.

According to their size and level, each one praises and glorifies their Creator as the angels do.12 Just as they are aware of the Holy One, blessed be He, they are also aware of themselves and of the angels which surpass them. The knowledge of the stars and the spheres is less than the knowledge of the angels, but greater than that of men.13

Halacha 10

Below the sphere of the moon, God created a [type of] matter14 which differs from the matter of the spheres. He created four forms15 for this matter, which differ from the forms of matter of the spheres.

Each of these forms was fixed in a portion of this matter [as it exists in its totality]. The first of these forms is the form of fire. [When] it became connected to a portion of this matter, from the two there came into being a body of fire.

The second of these forms is the form of wind. [When] it became connected to a portion of this matter, from the two there came into being a body of wind.

The third of these forms is the form of water. [When] it became connected to a portion of this matter, from the two there came into being a body of water.

The fourth of these forms is the form of earth. [When] it became connected to a portion of this matter, from the two there came into being a body of earth.

Thus, below the sky there are four different states of matter, one above the other, each one encompassing the one below it from all directions, like a sphere. The first of these bodies, which is closest to the sphere of the moon, is that of fire. Below it is the body of wind, below it the body of water, and below it the body of Earth. There is no empty space without any matter between them at all.

11. These four bodies do not possess a soul, nor are they conscious or knowing. Rather, they are like dead bodies. Each one has its inclinations. However, it is not conscious or knowledgeable [of these inclinations], nor can it change them.

David's statement (Psalms 148:7-8): "Praise God from the Earth, sea-monsters and all the depths; fire and hail, snow and vapor" [does not contradict the above statement].16 That verse should be interpreted: Men, praise [God] for His mightiness which is apparent in the fire, hail, and other creations that can be seen below the sky, because their power is always visible to [both] the great and the small.


In translation, this word means "star" or "planet." It refers to the planet Mercury.


In translation, this word means "shining." It refers to the planet Venus.


In translation, this word means "reddening." It refers to the planet Mars.


In translation, this word means "justice." It refers to the planet Jupiter.


In translation, this word means "the Sabbatical." It refers to the planet Saturn.


Sanhedrin 91b states that the Shechinah (Divine Presence) is in the west. Hence, the movement of this sphere in this direction can be considered an act of service to God.


As stated in Halachah 10 and in Chapter 2, Halachah 3, the state of matter of the spheres differs from the state of matter in our world.


As stated in Halachah 10 and in Chapter 2, Halachah 3, the state of matter of the spheres differs from the state of matter in our world.


These include some of the smaller spheres which are included with the eight larger spheres.


Note the Rambam's remarks in Hilchot Kiddush HaChodesh 17:24:

This is the science of the seasons and geometry about which the wise men of Greece composed many books. These are presently found in the hands of the Sages. However, the texts which were composed by the Sages of Israel of the tribe of Issachar in the time of the Prophets have not reached us.

[Nevertheless,] since these concepts have been proven conclusively... we are not concerned about the author, regardless of whether they were authored by the prophets or the gentiles.... We are not relying on the person who states or teaches the concept, but on the proofs.


The term mazal literally means "source of influence." In the Rambam's time, it was commonly felt that the position of the stars affected one's future. For this reason, the word mazal is often translated as "fortune" or "luck." Many Torah Sages shared these ideas - albeit with the qualification that a Jew always has the potential to rise above these influences. (See the Ra'avad's comments to Hilchot Teshuvah 5:5; Ramban, Responsum 282; and the Nimukei Yosef, Sanhedrin, Chapter 7).

The Rambam totally dismisses the influence of astrology. In his Commentary on the Mishnah, Avodah Zarah 4:7, he describes it as "empty words and lies," and in Shemonah Perakim, Chapter 8, he mentions "the madness with which the astrologers attempt to deceive."


Thus, Pesachim 2a interprets Psalms 148:3, "Praise Him all shining stars," simply - i.e., the stars render praise to God. However, note how the Targum and the Midrash Sachar Tov interpret Psalms 19:2, "The heavens relate the glory of God," as "The heavens cause others to relate.


Note the differences between this halachah and Chapter 2, Halachah 8.


This refers to primeval, unformed matter. In Greek terminology, it is referred to as hyli.


The word "form" in this context refers to the entity's spiritual qualities and not its physical shape.


Although Notes 6 and 11 mentions the Sages' interpretation of the movement of the stars and spheres as an expression of their praise of God, such a statement cannot be made with regard to these four fundamental elements. The, unlike the stars, are not conscious beings, and their movement and activity are merely natural patterns imprinted within them by God, as explained in Chapter 4, Halachah 2.

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