Autumn colors in Phoenix II

Late December 2020 | Phoenix, Arizona

I’m used to the vivid autumn colors of the Midwest. It’s not like that in Phoenix at all. Some trees lose their leaves, but they don’t change their colors that I’ve noticed.

So, I was happy to see a stand of cottonwoods turning yellow.

Gematria: Hebrew numerology

The Hebrew word for numerology, gematria, is related to the Greek word ‘geometry’ — measure of the Earth.

Each letter of the Hebrew alphabet has a numerical value in base 10. The first nine letters represent 1 through 9. The next nine letters represent 10 through 90. After that, the letters represent 100, and so on.

The Hebrew word for ‘one’ — echad — is an example of how lessons can be learned from the Hebrew letters.

The word echad is spelled in Hebrew with three letters — alef, chet, and dalet. The respective values are one, eight, and four.

‘One’ — the alef — reminds us of G-d Almighty who is one. The name of the letter, alef, means principal — the master teacher.

Chet, the second letter of the word echad, is the eighth letter of the alphabet, so its value is eight. Eight represents the seven heavens and the Earth. G-d is master over both the highest realms of the universe and the lowly, earthly dimension.

Dalet, the third letter of the word echad, is the fourth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, so it represents the value four. This stands for the four cardinal directions.

In sum, G-d, the master of the universe, reigns over all the physical dimensions of His creation.

The watchword of the Jewish faith is:

Hear, O Israel, the L-rd is our G-d. The L-rd is One.

So we have a deeper understanding of G-d’s unity. He is the single who encompasses the multitude. Nothing of the multitudinous creations in the universe are outside of G-d the Creator.

All this from numerology.

My name, Nathaniel, also has information packed into its letters. The first two syllables are to be taken as the Hebrew word ‘gave’. (It’s also a name in its own right — Nathan.) The last three letters are one of G-d’s names in Hebrew. In simple terms, my name means “G-d gave.”

But, what did he give?

This is hinted at in the gematria of G-d’s name. Its value is thirty-one. So, He gave me thirty-one. This reminds us of the thirty-two pathways of wisdom as taught in the Book of Formation.

However, G-d only gave me thirty-one paths, the value of His name. My task in life is to find and travel the thirty-second pathway.

Easier said than done. A genuine lifetime of work.

After such a sobering thought, I could use something stiffer than a cup of hot tea with sugar.

The conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn

December 21, 2020 | Phoenix, Arizona

This evening was the best view of the rare great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. The previous closest conjunction was about 400 years ago. For more information, go to

Jupiter and Saturn, both visible to the naked eye, show up in this picture, though, as a tiny, horizontal bar of light. To the naked eye, Saturn appeared faintly, slightly to right of Jupiter. The light from Saturn was clearly weaker than Jupiter’s and harder to spot.

In 1619, four years before the last great conjunction, the first African slaves were brought to the colony of Virginia establishing America’s “original sin.”

5:59 PM Mountain Standard Time

About 25 minutes later

I’m thankful to have seen this wonder of the sky. I’m ready for some hot tea with sugar to celebrate.

The New Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn — before the conjunction

December 16, 2020 | 2 Tevet 5781 | Phoenix, Arizona
5:55 PM

At 5:55 PM Mountain Standard Time, Jupiter appeared clearly in this picture. Saturn appeared to the naked eye, but it appears as only a smudge in this photo slightly above and to the left of Jupiter which is itself above the New Moon.

The conjunction of the Earth, Jupiter, and Saturn will be on December 21.

6:04 PM. My camera didn’t capture an image of Saturn, but it was visible to the naked eye.

Taken with a point-and-shoot camera without a tripod or filters.

Retelling a Hasidic tale

Since I last posted about how I was searching for an accurate source for a certain Hasidic story (MY seh in Yiddish), my brother-in-law told me about another version of the story recounted by David Biale, et al., in Hasidism: A New History, (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2018), p. 565. Their version differs from the other versions when it says that the child whose life was in danger was the Ba’al Shem Tov’s. I’ve already seen the story in the original Hebrew, and it’s clear that it’s someone else’s son — the life of an only son.

The story … is told by Israel of Ruzhin about the Ba’al Shem Tov, whose beloved child’s life was in danger. He went to the forest, attached a candle to a tree, performed certain mystical meditations (yihudim and kavvanot) and thus won salvation with the help of G-d. In the next generation, the Maggid of Mezritsh — Israel of Ruzhin’s greatgrandfather — faced a similar situation and performed the same actions, but was no longer able to recite the mystical meditations. Yet his wish was granted. Finally, Moshe Leib of Sasów was able only to tell the story and could rely only on G-d’s help, which nevertheless sufficed.

I’m probably not through with my research about this story, a story about telling a Hasidic story. Apparently, another version appears in David Assaf’s The Regal Way: The Life and Times of Rabbi Israel of Ruzhin. However, the book costs $90. I’m saving to buy it. I’m also looking forward to having the time to dig into this very long and detailed academic book.

So far, I’ve found accurate accounts of this myseh from Levi Cooper and Moshe Idel. Other references to the story appear by Elie Wiesel, Martin Buber, S. Y. Agnon, Gershom Scholem, Rabbi Andrew Rosenblatt, Rabbi Adam Greenwald, Yitzhak Buxbaum, in the New Republic, from Unitarians, and on and on. This may not be the most famous Hasidic myseh, but it’s a stiff competitor.

I found these references by searching for ‘When the Baal Shem Tov had a difficult task to perform, he would go to a certain place in the woods, light a fire, and meditate on the secrets of his heart’. Try variations of this phrase to see what you can find. Most versions are garbled, and most are self-serving. Glad to be of help.

Afterwards — or really any time — sit down and have a cup of hot tea with sugar.

The signs of the Zodiac are skewed by about two weeks

The appearance of the night sky relative to the seasons is not constant over the centuries, especially over the millennia. Gradually, the time of the appearance of each constellation of the Zodiac in the night sky changes.

At one time, the Sun entered the sign of Aries the Lamb (or Ram) at the time of the spring equinox, which is now fixed as March 21st on the civil calendar. But according to the Hebrew solar calendar, the Sun enters the sign of Aries on April 8th on our civil calendar.

Entering a sign means that the Sun hides a constellation behind its brightness. The last constellation to be seen every night before dawn is the previous one in the Zodiac.

At one time in history, the Sun would start to appear in front of Aries at the time of the spring equinox. Pisces the Fish was visible the night before until it was blotted out by the dawn on the equinox. This is not the case now. This actually happens around April 8th.

All this means that the calculations of astrology have little correspondence to the actual constellations of the sky. This alone is enough to invalidate astrology as it is currently practiced in the West.

How did this discrepancy come about? The Earth’s position relative to the constellations changes because of what astronomers call precession of the equinox. The equinox falls one day earlier every 400 years. However, since the spring equinox is fixed at March 21st in our Gregorian calendar, the count of days pushes the Zodiac later in the calendar. Please keep in mind that my mind is fuzzy right now, so my arithmetic may be off. I’m posting this in order to wake people up to how astrology as practiced doesn’t correspond to what we see with our eyes.

I’m not entering the fray whether any readings of astrology are valid. But, if you want to calculate an accurate horoscope, begin the zodiacal year on April 8th — for now.

Visiting the Desert Botanical Garden

Recently, I visited the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. It was a pleasure, especially during the plague of the covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.

The regional desert is called “Sonoran.” Sonora is now the name of a state in northwestern Mexico. Besides reaching into southern Arizona, this desert includes most of Baja California.

Among the things that I learned was that there are two different local species of barrel cactus that look so similar that I can’t tell the difference between them. I only have pictures of the Fishhook Barrel Cactus but not the Compass Barrel:

A Fishhook Barrel. Unexpected flower buds in December.

With its fruits.

I didn’t take a picture of the Compass Barrel Cactus:

A Rare flower in December:

This looks like my Cholla (CHOY ah) at home. There are several other species of Cholla in the garden:

A wise adage:

I’ve been living here in Phoenix’s desert for a year and a half, and I’d like to think that I’m hearing its voice.