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Friday, February 11, 2022
Ibn Ezra's Astral-Magical Understanding of the Clothing High Priest
Speaking of this week's Torah Portion, Tetzaveh, which describes the clothing of the High Priest ...
Our great sage Abraham Ibn Ezra (1092/93 – 1167) brings astrology into his interpretation of the commandments in his commentary on Exodus 28. Here Ibn Ezra explicitly details the astral-magical workings of the ephod and the breastplate, despite calling it a “deep secret,” only “part” of which he reveals here.
"There is a very deep secret behind the ephod and the breastplate. I will allude only to a part of this secret. Perhaps he who knows the mind of the Most High will understand it. The following are the keys to the secret of the ephod. The two wreathen chains on the two rings represent the head of Aries [taleh] and Libra [moznaim]. The band of the ephod represents the celestial equator. Hence six names were inscribed on the stone which was on the other shoulder.
Now these things can only be grasped by the mind. Hence six names were inscribed on one stone in accordance with the number, names, and order of birth of the tribes of the Children of Israel. Six names were similarly inscribed on the second stone. On the other hand, the names on the breastplate were not divided in the same manner as they are grasped by the mind. They were divided in a way that could be perceived by the eye."
- Abraham Ibn Ezra, Commentary on the Pentateuch
The two wreathed chains are what the ephod itself hang from. The “head” of Aries and Libra – that is to say, the New Moon/Rosh Chodesh (head of the month) of both Aries and Libra are the two points in time which the whole of the Jewish year, the cycle of sacred time, hangs upon.
The Biblical imperative that Passover must only fall in the Spring is the foundation of Jewish calendrical calculations. “Guard the month of Aviv and make (then) the Passover offering” (Deuteronomy 16:1). Hence, keeping the ephod balanced by two wreathed chains symbolizes how Aries, harbinger of the Spring Equinox, and Libra, the Autumnal Equinox, keep the year properly balanced by ensuring Passover always occurs in the Spring.
Ibn Ezra saw the ephod as “an astrological instrument which corresponded to the arrangement of the heavens. It drew power from above and, when properly used, had the ability to predict the future,” The names of Jacob’s sons, the 12 Tribes of Israel, were engraved on the two stones of the ephod, six upon each, corresponding to the six constellations from Aries to Virgo which lie to the north of the equator, and the six constellations from Libra to Pisces which lie south of the equator. This division mirrors the way the constellations ring the celestial equator.