Beit Alpha
An ancient floor-tile mosaic adorning the
Beit Alpha Assembly House in Israel

When I first returned to the USA and started life anew in Los Angeles, California in the early 1990’s, after a six-year sojourn in Jerusalem, Israel, I was a forty-ish single guy with no baggage except the daily quandary of how now to live my life in the light of Torah while embracing a secular Angelino lifestyle.  No longer an observant orthodox Jew and yeshiva student, I had discarded my black hat and jacket and removed my beard after landing at JFK. However, my personal Jewish beliefs and values remained intact.  I was constantly praying to God; my mantra was Adonai, Elohi, tishmereni v’hayeni – My Lord, my God, protect me and I  will live’.  The 1994 Northridge earthquake did not shake my faith. 

The Scales - Beit Alpha
Mozna’yim, the Scales

In Jerusalem, while a student at the Torat Yisroel Yeshiva (The Torah of Israel AKA The Diaspora Yeshiva), I sat in the beit-midrash, the yeshiva study hall, for many hours a day .  Torah study must be lish’mah, for its own sake (literally, ‘for its name’).   I loved it and so I continued my Torah studies in LA, albeit independently.  Another rule-of-thumb about Torah study is study what you like, what you are interested in, i.e., never force yourself to study Torah.  Then, when you like it, it is a Saam ha-Ḥayim a life potion; if not, it can be a Saam ha-Movet, a deadly poison.  I liked to study the sód ha-Torah, the esoteric Torah, the KabbalahIn LA, there was a Kabbalah Center close by and I was soon the proud and happy owner — on installments — of a full set of an important Kabbalah text, the Zohar, which included the commentary of Yehuda Ashlag, a great kabbalist.  The Zohar, voluminous as it is, is not also the great reservoir of astrological ideas.  That honor goes to the Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Formation[1]), a treatise that correlates the Hebrew alphabet with the forces that define the dimensions of the universe, i.e., space (the six directions) and time (the 12 months of the lunar year) as well as an astrological dimension identified with the seven planets and the twelve signs of the zodiac.  It is here, in the Sefer Yetzirah, composed in a aphoristic style, and itself less than 100 pages in length yet with a span of over 1000 years of rabbinical commentary[2], that the common foundation of all Jewish astrological systems is found.  But I digress.   Suffice it to say, that at the beginning of my Kabbalah studies, it soon became clear to me that Kabbalah was no stranger to astrology. 

[1] Alternatively, ‘Book of Creation’

[2] A recent translation into English with a commentary, notes, and bibliography is by Aryeh Kaplan, Weiser Books.