This shiur is based on a shiur that I gave in the Midrasha on Hoshana Rabba this year and is in anticipation of the change to saying “vten tal umatar levracha” this coming week (Motzei Shabbat) in Israel.
How many seasons are there? What I mean by the question is: in terms of the Tanach, Chazal and Halacha how many seasons do we recognize?
As I mentioned before, this week on the 7th of Cheshvan we will start saying vten tal umatar levracha in Israel. This addition to the teffila signals the onset of winter. (Actually the winter or rainy season began on Shmini Atzert when we began saying mashiv haruach umorid hageshem. We have refrained from actually requesting rain for a period of fifteen days in order to allow the last of the Jews who (still) reside in the Golah to reach their homes after having been in Yerushalayim for Sukkot. In terms of our teffila it would seem that the year can be divided into two seasons: “sunny days” and “rainy days”.
In fact the two season division is very logical for the climate in Eretz Yisrael. We experience very little of the classic signs of Autumn and Spring as can be seen in more extreme climates. (My children every year return from Gan (pre-school)and tell me about the changing leaves and the fall, but they really have no concept of what it means to rake a pile of leaves on a Sunday afternoon that is taller than they are). In addition the description of the seasons as “sunny” or “rainy” is equally distinct to the region in which we live. As opposed to those of you who are reading this in England, where it rains at least 365 days a year, here in Israel rain in the summer is extremely rare.
Not only in terms of halacha does there seem to be only two seasons but when we take a look at many places in Tanach we seem to see the same phenomenon. As an example see Tehillim 74:17 “You have established the bounds of the Earth, you have created summer and winter”. This is not simply a contrast, leaving room for the intermediate seasons, but rather it is meant as an all encompassing description of the year. The Talmud Yerushalmi in Yevamot explains the passuk “yom nashak” (Lit. “the day of kissing”) to refer to the “day the summer kisses the winter”. It is clear that the Yerushalmi denies the seasons in between.
The obvious objection to a two season division is the reference to Pesach as “Chag Ha’aviv” which we translate as the Holiday of the Spring. However if we investigate a bit further we find the word aviv does not mean spring. The Torah describes the plague of hail in the end of Vayera by saying that the barley was smitten because it (the barley) was “aviv”. As well the Torah describes the Korban Haomer brought on the second day of Pesach to be “aviv” roasted in fire. Once again the translation of aviv cannot be spring.
The term aviv refers to a ripened stage of grain and this is the primary definition that is used in the two pesukim quoted above. When the Torah refers to Pesach as Chag Haaviv the idea is the holiday that takes place at the time of year that the grain ripens.
The question of how many seasons also creates an interesting debate as to how to interpret a passuk in this week’s parsha. After the flood, Noach brings sacrifices to Hashem and He promises never to destroy the world again. We read (Breishit 8:22) “For the remainder of time, Planting and Harvesting, Cold and Hot, Summer and Winter, Day and Night will never cease”. The terms day and night are clear but the rest pose a challenge. Rashi quotes a gemara in BM that sees each of the six terms in the passuk to describe an individual season.
- Planting: 15th Tishrei-15th Kislev
- Winter: 15th Kislev- 15th Shevat
- Cold: 15th Shevat-15th Nissan
- Harvest: 15th Nissan- 15th Sivan
- Summer: 15th Sivan- 15th Av
- Hot: 15th Av- 15th Tishrei
The six season division reflects a more detailed attitude towards the different agricultural processes. The problem with interpreting the passuk in this manner is the lack of order (the order in the passuk is 1,4,3,6,5,2).
An alternative reading of the passuk remains with the two season division which is simply referred to by three sets of synonyms:
The weak part of this interpretation is the lack of symmetry. While the first two descriptions are Rainy/Sunny the third is Sunny/Rainy.
The Ibn Ezra offers a middle position, he explains that the first two (planting and harvest) divide the year into two sections while the next four are sub sections creating a four season division.
While the interpretation of the Ibn Ezra seems to be very calming to those of us who are used to four seasons I feel that it is strange to see the first two words to be so different from the rest.
The familiar four season division that we all use is based on a different criterion than the divisions that we have discussed thus far. The two or multiple season divisions are based on agricultural seasons and what each and every season means to the farmer. The four season concept is based on the tilt of the Earth and the solstice and equinox cycles. We begin to see the use of this division in Jewish sources in a minor way in Bavel and it picks up significantly in the third and fourth centuries. This inclusion can be seen in the beautiful and well preserved mosaic floors of the Batei Kenneset in Teveria and Bet Alpha. On both floors is a large mosaic portraying the twelve months in a circular fashion, while the corners represent the four seasons. (I will admit that use of these mosaics to determine a Jewish motif is very tricky due to the fact that along side traditional Jewish items such as the Menorah and the Bet Hamikdash, we also find major figures of Greek mythology. There have been volumes written trying to understand what the Sun God is doing on the floor of the shul in Bet Alpha!!)
I would like to suggest that the popularity of the four season division is a result of the Greek influence in the world. As opposed to the more traditional societies who were living their lives based on the agricultural cycles, the Greeks were intent on creating a sense of order in the Universe. (Aristotle, for instance went to great lengths to prove that the orbit of the Earth around the sun was a perfect circle, as this is the most perfect shape. His efforts were despite the fact that it was clear to him as well that it is actually an ellipse). I have tried to base this idea and I must admit that I have not found a lot of evidence for it. I would appreciate if any of the readers who have any more information about this would contact me.
As we read Noach and begin to feel a bit uneasy about rain, in Eretz Yisrael we look toward hakadosh Baruch Hu and begin to ask for rain that will be truly rains of bracha.
Shabbat Shalom and enjoy your winter. (For all my readers in the Southern Hemisphere please save this shiur and read it in another six months…)