Wednesday, Jul 24, 2024

Over The Moon

The story is told - with different variations and about more than one ruler - of a king or emperor who would go out amongst the populace to gauge the needs and mood of the many sectors and peoples under his rule. On one Motzoei Shabbos, he found himself in the Jewish quarter just as the Jews streamed out of shul following Maariv. He watched as his Jewish subjects gathered together, all of them facing skyward, and seemed to be praying. Wondering why they'd come out of the synagogue to pray, the ruler approached one of them and inquired about their activity.

The Jew informed him that they were reciting Kiddush Levanah, sanctifying the new moon.


“And what were you saying just now, for example?” the ruler pressed further.


The Jew had been in middle of saying “Tanna Devei Rebbi Yishmoel.” He explained to the ruler that when G-d created the world, the sun and the moon were originally the same size. Due to the moon’s complaining, G-d eventually made it the smaller of the two celestial beings.


“I was just saying, ‘Yehi ratzonlemalos pegimas halevanah,’” the Jew informed the ruler. We pray to G-d that it be His will to replace that which has been taken from the moon.


“The Jews are a blessed and happy people!” the ruler exclaimed. “Some sectors of this land are inhabited by happier people, some less so,” he explained. “But virtually everyone has some area of concern and complaint with the government, their neighbors or some other area of their lives. The Jews, though, are worried about the moon getting back the part it’s missing. If this is their concern, they are indeed a blessed nation!”


One of the major decrees of the Yevonim against the Jewish people that led to war and ultimately the neis of Chanukah, was a prohibition against Rosh Chodesh. The Jews were not allowed to sanctify the new moon or celebrate a new Jewish month.


If we would have to choose a major part of the Jewish calendar or Jewish practice, one wonders if anyone would ever include Rosh Chodesh in such a list. Not to minimize Rosh Chodesh in any way, but compared to Shabbos, kashrus, Pesach or Yom Kippur, Rosh Chodesh hardly strikes us as what an enemy would choose to outlaw in seeking to apply a deathblow to our religion.


Why did the Yevonim single out Rosh Chodesh?


The simple answer is that while we might mark the Yomim Tovim with more pomp and ceremony than we do Rosh Chodesh, all those Yomim Tovim are dependent on Rosh Chodesh. Without the Jewish months, we could never know when the Yomim Tovim fall out. Thus, in seeking to deal a fatal blow to our Roshei Chodoshim, the Yevonim sought to eradicate all of our Yomim Tovim in one fell swoop.


This should make us wonder: While Rosh Chodesh has a certain amount of sanctity as well as special prayers and sacrifices, it is not a Yom Tov in the Torah. Why did Hashem work it then that the Yomim Tovim – the most sacred, unique and special occasions in the Jewish calendar – are dependent on Rosh Chodesh? What is it about Rosh Chodesh that Hashem saw fit to have days of far greater sanctity fall under its jurisdiction?


Yom Kippur, for example, is known as Shabbos Shabboson. It is the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. Pesach is the Yom Tov that marks our very beginning as a nation. It is the backbone of Judaism, a time when G-d showed us open miracles whose impact last until this day. So many other mitzvos are celebrated “zeicher l’Yetzias Mitzrayim,” in commemoration of our exodus from Egypt. Eating chometz on Pesach and thus minimizing its import carries one of the severest consequences in the form of kareis.


Yet, when Yom Kippur falls out and what day will be Pesach are dependent on Rosh Chodesh. If we mark the month as a full one, those Yomim Tovim will fall on one day. If Rosh Chodesh is a day earlier, they will fall on a different day. Those days, as well as all the other Yomim Tovim and personal milestones marked by the Jewish calendar, are dependent on the continuous cycle of the moon’s waxing and waning.


Why is that?


One of the reasons given for our months following the lunar, rather than solar, year is the fact that while the sun is a consistent presence, the moon is not. The Jewish month begins when the moon comes out of hiding and begins to show itself. From that day until mid-month, the moon grows bigger and bigger, until we eventually see it full-circle in the sky. By the end of the month, though, most of it has disappeared again, until, by month’s end, it’s gone.


Then, suddenly, a rebirth! The moon is back and growing once again! It’s the sign of a new month.


What we learn from this is that life is all about growth and rebirth. Nothing is constant. No gains are permanent. If we’re not growing, we’re shrinking. If we’re not learning, we’re forgetting. If we’re not forging ahead, we’re falling back.


Losses, though, aren’t irreversible either. There is always a chance at rebirth and re-growth. In Judaism, at its very core, there is no room for despair, surrender or capitulation. No matter how far one has fallen, even if one’s deeds or accomplishments have disappeared as completely as the moon, there is always another chance. And another. And another. The moon perpetually renews itself and so can we.


In fact, even when we haven’t fallen back, even if we are full of accomplishments and good deeds, we must never let ourselves grow stagnant. We must renew ourselves, our commitments and our dedication. We must keep things new – and thus exciting. We should never be content to just stay as we are. There is always more to discover, another layer of meaning to add to our lives, an additional dimension of old relationships and commitments to explore.


Throughout our lives, many things, by default, change. As we grow older, so do our experiences. A child has certain opportunities, an adolescent has more. A newlywed is at one stage, a grandparent at another one completely. As we constantly reach new milestones – going from bris/kiddush, bar/bas mitzvah, etc. – we are automatically faced with new opportunities for growth.


The Yomim Tovim are different. Pesach comes around every year. It’s the same Pesach this year as it was last year and will be next year (until the coming of Moshiach). It’s the same with all the other special days in the Jewish calendar. They come around in a cycle, year in and year out.


How, then, do we keep these days from growing stale? How do we ensure that each successive Yom Tov brings us fresh and new opportunities rather than just a repeat of last year’s? How do we remember to view each Yom Tov as an entirely new and exciting occasion?


Enter Rosh Chodesh and the concept of constant renewal and we see why the holiest, most significant and sanctified Yomim Tovim are dependent for their very existence on the continual rebirth of the moon. Sure, each Yom Tov has its individual message and spiritual aura, but it is Rosh Chodesh that brings them all about so that not one will be like the one that preceded it.


When we retell the story of Chanukah and recall the way the Yevonim sought to undermine our very faith through their attack on our Roshei Chodesh, we might wish to ponder the significance of these easily-overlooked days. We fought the Yevonim over Rosh Chodesh (among the other gezeiros) because we recognized how crucial Rosh Chodesh is to Jewish life. It dictates our Yomim Tovim because it dictates how a Jew must live Judaism itself. Yiddishkeit must always be fresh and filled with meaning. One should never be satisfied with what he or she knew yesterday. Why not add a new and exciting dimension today?


Ah lichtigen Chanukah!




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