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Parshas Bo

01/18/2018 10:02:54 PM



In preparation for Redemption and leaving Egypt, the Jews are taught a series of new laws for the Holiday of Pesach, and this particular chapter opens with the mitzvah of Kiddush Hachodesh- the laws of establishing a lunar based Jewish calendar and declaring each new month upon the visibility of the new moon.  The opening Rashi in Chumash Bereishis says that the Torah really should have begun with this mitzvah of Kiddush Hachodesh, implying that this mitzvah is really the beginning of the story of the Jewish People.  It seems that Kiddush Hachodesh is not intrinsically connected with the Exodus necessarily, but rather that Kiddush Hachodesh and the Jewish nation are symbolically interwoven with similar destinies.  We find this deep connection manifest in the Rabbinic law that upon seeing the new moon, Jews should go out like people go out to greet a King, (Sanhedrin 42) and recite a Bracha over the rebirth of the moon, because Jews find the moon’s renewal as telling of their own destiny and therefore find God’s presence in the emergence of the new moon.  

In Succah 29a,  the Gemara teaches that the Jews are compared to the moon and therefore establish a lunar calendar, while the world at large is compared to the sun and therefore establishes a solar calendar.  The word Chodesh-month, has the same root of the word Chadash-new, because the concept of a new month is precipitated by the rebirth of a “new moon” that provides a new context for a new time.  By waxing and waning, the moon represents the idea the that time does not simply move on, but rather that time is replete with constant senses of renewal  that leaves room for a sense of Providence.  In order for a “new” moon to come, the “old” moon must progressively get smaller and smaller first before rebirth is possible.  

The source of the connection between the moon and Jews comes from the Gemara in Chulin 60, where the Gemara says that originally the moon and sun were of equal size, but once the moon “complained” about the impracticalities of “two Kings sharing one crown,” the moon was diminished in size.  When the moon bitterly complains about its new smaller size, God placates the moon by telling them that the Jews will be like the moon and that great Jewish heroes will echo the themes of the moon.  This Gemara does connect the moon with Jews, but it seems strange that the Jews are linked to the “bad character” in the story, as the moon was punished for complaining while the “righteous” sun proved to be the bigger luminary.  Why would the chosen nation be associated with the punished and diminished luminary?

An overlooked theme in the story of the sun and moon is the silence of the sun.  While one can interpret the sun’s silence as obedient acquiescence to the will of God, R’ Hirsch interprets the silence as the sun’s apathy and disregard to connect with God altogether.  Both the moon and the sun were pained by the same overbearing equality that inhibited their success, but while the sun chose silence and indifference for its pain, the moon turned to its Creator and used dialogue and passion in voicing its suffering and frustration.  The moon’s complaints were not indicative of a lack of faith or trust in God necessarily, but rather indicative of a desire for growth and connection with God.  With bold assertion and brazen courage, the moon was able to forge a relationship with God where it could fall, wax and wane, and constantly renew itself.  Ironically, the very process of falling and disappearing is itself a means of connecting with God, and the moon became a symbol of how a Jew is always able to channel his emotions towards God, both in times of growth and failure.  The actual moment of the moon’s rebirth is when it cannot be seen, when the “rock-bottom” tipping point kicks in and swings momentum the other way.

The Gemara in Megilla 16 says that Haman’s wife told her husband: “The Jews are compared to both the dust and the stars; when they fall, they fall all to the way to the dust, but when they ascend, they ascend to the stars.”  The depth of her point is that between Jews and God, issues have higher consequence and meaning that is reflected in the dramatic shifts of their stature.  As the Gemara quips, “there is no pain in cutting off dead flesh.”  Despite all these shifts, the tremendous tenacity of the Jews keeps them afloat, because the root of their tenacity is that they relate everything to God and are not afraid to open dialogue and speak directly with the Almighty.   

Wed, January 27 2021 14 Shevat 5781