Parsha Halacha – Parshat Bereishit
Shabbat Mevarchim Cheshvan
Mondays and Wednesdays: Is There Such a Thing as Bad Days?
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In Parshat Bereishit we read about the six days of creation. The events that took place during each of these days formed their character. We thus find various teachings in Rabbinic literature that relate to the character of each of these days. In some cases there is mention of certain behaviors that are appropriate or inappropriate on these days. This article will explore some of these ideas.
Do Not Begin on Mondays or Wednesdays
The Rashba wrote (see the Responsa that are attributed to the Ramban 283) that some have the custom not to begin new projects on Mondays or Wednesdays. He explains that the reason for this is that the influence of the moon and Mars is strongest on these days and, according to the Talmud, the moon’s energy is related to a lack of long-term success. (In the words of the Talmud (Shabbat 156a), “One who is born under the influence of the moon… will build and destroy, build and destroy…”) Similarly, Mars is considered to have a negative influence.
The Rashba explains that even though it is not permissible to seek counsel from astrologers, this does not mean that there is no power in the stars. Rather it is because the Jewish people have the power to overcome the influence of the stars and constellations. And if one were to ask astrologers about the future, he might accept their opinion as a reality that cannot be changed, when, in fact, such decrees can be averted or altered through praying and performing mitzvot. Yet in truth the stars have a certain degree of influence over us, and if one does find out what they predict, one should take appropriate cautions.
Astrology according to the Torah
The Rashba proves that, according to the Torah, there is some truth to astrological signs. He learns this from the following story in the Jerusalem Talmud (Shabbat 6:9 or page 38a): “There was a convert who had been an astrologer before he converted. He once wanted to begin a trip, but he hesitated as he was aware that it was a dangerous time to travel from an astrological perspective. He then thought to himself, ‘Did I not join this holy (Jewish) people to separate myself from such matters?’ He then left on the trip, trusting in the Creator. While traveling, he was attacked by a wild animal. But miraculously he escaped the attack by feeding his donkey to the animal and thus distracting it from harming him.”
The Talmud concludes that the reason he got into trouble was because at first he believed in the astrological prediction (thus placing himself under its influence). And he was saved from that trouble in the merit that he afterwards put his faith in Hashem.
The Rashba points out that this convert went beyond the letter of the law by disregarding the astrological predictions and placing his complete faith in G-d. But an ordinary person who happens to hear of a negative astrological prediction should take appropriate precautions.
Similarly, the Talmud (Shabbat 156b) relates how Rabbi Akiva was worried when an astrologer predicted that his daughter would die on her wedding night. In fact, she was miraculously saved in the merit of a great mitzvah that she performed. But it seems that had she not done that mitzvah, she may have died.
The earliest source (that I have found) for the practice not to begin projects on Mondays or Wednesdays is in the Zohar (Parshat Pinchas, 234:a, quoted in the Bi’ur HaGra on Y.D. 179:2). The Zohar writes that the Angel of Death (also known as the angel Samech Mem) was created on Monday and is associated with the liver. The feminine demon called Lilit was created on Wednesday and is associated with the gallbladder. The former causes death to adults while the latter causes death to children. As such, the Zohar concludes, Mondays and Wednesdays are not considered propitious days.
2 and 4 Are Even Numbers
The Zohar on Parshat Eikev (page 273:a) quotes a braita (teaching of the sages of the Mishnah) that “One should not begin on Monday or finish on Wednesday.” The reason given by the Zohar is that Monday and Wednesday are the second and fourth days of the week respectively. In Talmudic times, even numbers were considered to be dangerous as the demons were attracted to even numbers (and all matters that were in pairs).
Despite this, the Zohar says, there is no problem to have two Shabbat loaves (which are a pair) as “Agents of a Mitzvah will come to no harm.”
Gehinom and the Moon’s Punishment
In Parshat Ki Tetze (Page 281:b), the Zohar gives a slightly different reason why not to begin on Mondays or Wednesdays: Monday is when G-d created Gehinom (purgatory), and Wednesday is when the moon was punished and minimized.
Corresponds to the Flood
Rabeinu Bachaye (quoted in Responsa Afarkasta De’Anya 17) writes that Monday has a negative energy because it is the second day of the week and, as such, it corresponds to the second millennium during which time the flood occurred.
No Letter Pei
The Roke’ach (Siman 17 quoted in ibid) writes that one should not begin a new Torah session on Monday or Wednesday because the letter pei (פ) is not found in the Torah regarding the creation on those days. The letter pei is significant as it represents the verse Piha Pat’cha Bechochma – She opened her mouth with wisdom (Mishlei 31:26).
Other Opinions: Mondays and Wednesdays – No Problem to Start
In practice, however, the Rashba gives three reasons why, according to some, there is no problem to begin projects on Mondays and Wednesdays.
1) The opinion of the Rambam
The Rambam is of the opinion that the stars have no power whatsoever. And that anyone who believes that they have power is a feeble-minded fool, as he writes (Hilchot Avodat Kochavim, end of chapter 11), “Whoever believes in [occult arts] of this nature and thinks that they are true and words of wisdom, but are forbidden by the Torah, is foolish and feeble-minded. He is considered like women and children who (were considered to) have underdeveloped intellects. Truly wise people and those of perfect knowledge know with clear proof that all these crafts which the Torah forbade are not reflections of wisdom, but rather, emptiness and vanity which attracted the feeble-minded and caused them to abandon all the paths of truth. For these reasons, when the Torah warned against all these empty matters, it advised (Deut. 18:13): “Be of simple faith with G-d, your L-rd.”
In terms of the proof from the story in the Jerusalem Talmud, The Rambam can explain that the wild animal’s attack on the man was a punishment for his originally believing in the astrological prediction. (This answer is difficult to apply regarding the story of Rabbi Akiva’s daughter.)
It is noteworthy that despite quoting the Rambam, the Rashba writes that the plain reading of the Talmudical teachings does not follow the Rambam’s view.
2) Hour not Time
Even according to those who believe that the astrological predictions have some power, the Talmud says (Shabbat 156a) that the main influence of the stars depends on the hour of the day rather than on the day of the week.
3) The Pious
Certainly, the Rashba says, pious people need not pay attention to these matters.
Beginning a Trip
The sefer Derech Chaim, a compendium of laws regarding travel by Rabbi Chaim Lifshitz (Siman 1, ot 2, cited in Birkei Yosef on Y.D. 176:2), writes that one should preferably not set out on a trip on Monday or Wednesday. He points out that many people are not careful about this, and as such, G-d certainly guards them, as the verse says (Tehillim 116:6) “G-d guards the foolish.” Despite this, one who wishes to be careful should refrain from departing on these days. He adds that, if necessary, one may be lenient regarding Monday but should not do so regarding Wednesday. The Responsa of Rabbi David Sperber [1877 – 1962 of Hungary and Israel] (Afarkasta De’anya 17) explains that the negative energy on Monday is associated with Angel of Death while that of Wednesday is associated with the female demon Lilit (see above quoting the Zohar of Parshat Pinchas). The negative energy associated with Lilit is even more powerful than the energy associated with the Angel of Death.
Beginning to Learn
The Derech Chaim writes that the implication of the Rama (Y.D. 179:2) is that the dictum to not begin something new on Mondays or Wednesdays even applies to beginning a new session of Torah learning. (This is also the opinion of the Roke’ach as mentioned above.) According to the Pit’chei Teshuvah (Y.D. 245:5), this refers to beginning a new Tractate and not necessarily beginning a new semester in a Yeshivah.
Rabbi Sperber writes (Responsa Afakasta De’anya 17) that, based on the Zohar of Parshat Eikev (quoted above), the rule of not beginning on Mondays and Wednesdays does not apply to matters of Torah and Mitzvot. Although the Rama (cited above) seems to say that it also applies to beginning new Torah sessions, this is out of concern that perhaps one is not studying for the sake of Heaven but rather for their own personal reasons.
Despite this concern Rabbi Sperber gives the following arguments to allow beginning holy projects on Mondays and Wednesdays.
- Do Not Delay a Mitzvah
The Sefer Chassdiim (Siman 59) writes that one should not delay doing a mitzvah to a later, more auspicious time as who knows if he will merit to live to that time?
The Chida (in Yosef Ometz 151b quoted in Ta’amei HaMinhagim, Likutim 26b) quotes the Rashal that one may begin holy matters on Monday and Wednesdays. An allusion for this can be found in the verse (Levit 16:4) where is says בַּ֨ד קֹ֜דֶשׁ יִלְבָּ֗שׁ. This can be translated to mean, “Holy matters can be worn (i.e., begun) on the 2nd and the 4th (Monday and Wednesday).
- Will Do the Mitzvah for the Sake of Heaven
The Ohr HaChaim (in Chefetz Hashem on the end of Tractate Horayot) writes that the reward for doing a mitzvah for personal gain is that one will merit to perform it for the sake of Heaven. As such, every time one begins a mitzvah, even if one has his own personal agenda in mind, it is also the beginning of a mitzvah that he will do (in the future) for the right reasons.
- The Inner Will
According to the Rambam (chapter 2 of Hilchot Geirushin), the inner will of every Jew is to serve G-d. As such, even when one does a mitzvah for personal gain, deep down one’s true reason for doing it is for G-d’s sake. As such, one should be allowed to begin any holy activity on any day.
In any case, Rabbi Sperber concludes, even if one wants to be strict and not begin a new tractate on Monday or Wednesday as seems to be the opinion of the Rama, one need not worry about completing a tractate on Wednesday. This is so despite the fact that the Zohar (mentioned above) says not to finish something on Wednesday as this does not apply to holy matters as explained. Although the Rama (and the Roeke’ach) is strict concerning beginning new studies, he does not mention the rule of not finishing something on Wednesdays, and as such one need not be strict about this.
May We Merit to Begin and Complete Many Holy Projects!
Wishing you a SHabbat Shalom UMevorach and a Chodesh Tov!