INSIGHTS: Forty Nine Days
What happens to time when we count it? Instead of running
out, it accumulates
ESSAY: G-d on the Moon
A celestial dialogue on the essence of masculinity and femininity
Forty Nine Days
Today are sixteen days, which are two weeks
and two days of the Omer
Counting of the Omer for Iyar 1
We are accustomed to thinking of time as a fixed yardstick
against which our lives are measured. We pass through
time (or time passes us by) at an unalterable pace. Time deeply
affects everything about us and everything we do, but we have
no effect upon it.
Physical science has since refuted this cursory perception
of time, demonstrating how time, like any other physical phenomenon,
is in fact quite malleable. It can be concentrated, stretched,
speeded up, slowed down, or stopped altogether. This, of course,
is achieved mostly on paper or by computer simulation. In
practice, times dictatorial rule of our lives seems
absolute. The irrevocability of the past, the uncompromising
temporality of the present, the impregnable fog of the futureman
still seems very much a creature subject to time, rather than
the other way around.
The Torah, however, insists that man can master time, transcend
it, and redefine it. One example of mans triumph over
time is teshuvah (return)the power
to reach back in time and transform the significance of ones
And time itself, according to Torah, is a resource to be molded
and developed by man, as man is charged to mold and develop
all resources of G-ds creation. Time can be sanctifiedmade
more porous and absorbent of the all-pervading reality of
its Creatoras it is when it is utilized toward good
and G-dly ends. Time can be imbued with joy, freedom, love,
awe, wisdom and a host of other spiritual characteristicsas
we do when we set the calendar and thereby determine the dates
of the festivals. And time can be accumulated.
From Passover to Shavuot, we conduct a daily count of the
days and weeks in reenactment of the forty-nine-day process
of self-refinement which our ancestors underwent from their
exodus from Egypt on the first day of Passover to the revelation
at Sinai on Shavuot.
Today is one day of the Omer, we pronounce on
the second evening of Passover; Today are two days...,
we say on the following evening; Today are three days...
on the next, and so on. Seven weeks later we conclude the
count and climb to Sinai with the statement, Today are
forty-nine days, which are seven weeks of the Omer.
Two questions come to mind concerning the manner of the count.
If we are counting the days to Sinai, why dont we state
how many remain until Shavuot, instead of the number that
have passed since Passover? Also, Today are two days
seems awkward if not inaccurate; would it not be more correct
to say, Today is the second day, Today is
the third day, and so on?
But we do not merely pass through the days between Passover
and Shavuotwe accumulate them. Each of these forty-nine
days embodies another spiritual achievementthe refinement
of another aspect of our personality and character. Each of
these days becomes a component of our reborn selves, as we
internalize the freedom obtained at the Exodus as the essence
of our commitment to G-d as His chosen people. On the second
day of the count, we possess two days of the Omer process;
by its final day, we shall have amassed forty-nine units of
time, and the specific qualities they embody, with which to
approach this years experience of Sinai.
Based on numerous talks and writings by the Rebbe, including
a letter dated Nissan 28, 5724 (April 10, 1964)
G-d on the Moon
And G-d said: Let there be luminaries in the heavens
to distinguish between day and night; and they shall be for
signs, and for times, and for days, and for years. And they
shall be luminaries in the heavens to give light upon earth.
And it was so.
And G-d made the two great luminaries: the great luminary
to rule the day, and the small luminary to rule the night....
The Talmud, examining the Torahs account of G-ds
creation of the sun and the moon, dwells on the apparent contradiction
in the above verses. Are there, in fact, two great luminaries,
or a great luminary and a small luminary?
The Talmud explains: indeed, initially the sun and the moon
were equal in greatness and luminance. But then,
The moon said to G-d: Master of the Universe! Can
two kings wear the same crown?
Said G-d to her: Go diminish yourself.
Said she to Him: Master of the Universe! Because
I have said a proper thing, I must diminish myself?
Said He to her: You may rule both during the
day and at night.
Said she to Him: What advantage is there in that?
What does a lamp accomplish at high noon?
Said He to her: The people of Israel shall calculate
their dates and years by you.
Said she to Him: But the sun, too, shall have
a part in that, for they shall calculate the seasons by him.
Said G-d: The righteous shall be called by your
nameJacob the Small,
Samuel the Small,
David the Small.
Still G-d saw that the moon was not appeased. So G-d said:
Offer an atonement for My sake, for My having diminished
the moon. This is the significance of what Reish Lakish
said: Why does the he-goat offered on the first of the
month differ from the others in that it is specified as for
G-d is saying: This he-goat shall atone for My diminishing
of the moon. 
Reading this celestial dialogue, several questions come to
a) How did G-d intend for the two great luminaries
to distinguish between day and night if He made
them identical to each other?
b) G-d diminishes the moon to a fraction of her original
size and deprives her of the ability to generate her own light,
reducing her to a pale reflector of sunlightapparently
as a punishment for her having insisted that she and the sun
cannot be equals. But then He appeases the moon for her loss.
And when the moon is not so readily placated, He offers her
one reparation after another. At the end, G-d still feels
guilty (!) about the whole affair and commands that every
month, as the moon enters a new cycle of rebirth, growth and
diminution, a sacrifice be offered in the Holy Temple in atonement
(!) for His deed. On the other hand, He does not restore the
moon to her original greatness, so obviously He
still feels that her reduction is warranted. So
we still dont know who is in the right in this argument.
Did or did not the moon say a proper thing?
c) Rereading the verse, And G-d made the two great
luminaries: the great luminary to rule the day, and the small
luminary to rule the night, we now realize that the
Torah is telling us that this, indeed, was G-ds intention:
that there should originally be two great luminaries,
one of which should, at some later point, emerge as the small
luminary. But the prophet Isaiah describes the future
perfect world of Moshiach as a time when the light of
the moon shall be as the light of the sun
implying that, on the contrary, the moons original size
and nature is the ideal. Or was this all some grand plot on
the part of G-dto create an impossible situation, have
the moon complain, diminish her, and then decree that at the
culmination of history, the original state of affairs (now
somehow possible and desirable) should be restored?
Give and Take
No man is an island, goes the old cliche. But then again,
neither is anything else in G-ds world. Every being
is inexorably married to its fellows in a series of reciprocal
relationships: spirit and matter, male and female, parent
and offspring, prey and predator, teacher and student, manufacturer
and consumer, employer and employee, philanthropist and pauper,
and so on.
And, of course, sun and moon. In their celestial dance of
give and take, sun and moon are both metaphor and prototype
for the innumerable give-and-take relationships which form
the foundation of lifeindeed of existence as we know
it. When the sun gives its light to the moon and the moon
receives and reflects the suns light, it is man planting
life in the womb of woman and woman conceiving and nurturing
it; it is the farmers investment in the soil, and the
earths absorption of seed and rain to sprout forth vegetation;
it is the rich giving to the poor, the pupil learning from
his teacher, the rivers feeding the seas.
Indeed, two kings cannot wear the same crown.
For it is only out of the interplay between giver and recipient
that new realities are born. Without this give-and-take dynamic,
our world would be as static as a museum display; with it,
the world becomes vibrant and creative.
One can say that the giver is the great element
in the relationship and the recipient the small.
The suns of the world are givers by virtue of
their superior resources and prowess; its moons
are recipients due to their lack of whatever it is that they
receive. This, however, represents but one perspective on
the relationshipthat of the giver and the recipient
themselves. But what about the designer and creator of their
reality? How does the ultimately objective viewer see it?
Seen from G-ds perspective, is there any real difference
between the fact that He provides the rich with wealth-generating
talents and opportunities, and that He provides the poor with
rich men with generous hearts? Both are thereby enabled to
sustain themselves and contribute to the overall development
of the worlds resources, each in his own way. Is there
any qualitative difference between His making the sun a cauldron
of energy and His making the moon a passive ball
of matter positioned so that it reflects the sun in a certain
fashion? Both are thereby enabled to illuminate the earth
and generate the rhythmic cycles of life, again each in its
own way. From G-ds perspective, they are all recipients
in that He gives them everything they have, including the
capacity to give and/or receive; and they are all givers in
the sense that through their partnership with each other,
So every sun and every moon in G-ds
world is a great luminary. It is only that the
way in which they are great luminaries
is by forming partnerships in which some of them are great
and abundant and others are small and wanting. As far as G-d
is concerned, darkness is just another form of light, poverty
another form of wealth, imperfection another form of perfection.
Yes, He created the sun and the moon to differentiate
between night and dayto polarize His creation between
the givers and the receivers, between illuminators and the
reflectors. This, however, is not a differentiation between
great and small but between great and greator rather,
between great as great and small as great.
Therein lies the significance of the dialogue between G-d
and the moon. The moons greatnessher capacity
to receiveis born of a sense of diminution and insufficiency.
So when G-d created two great luminaries, it is the moon who
criedher very nature demanded itWait a minute!
We cannot be equals! If we are, where is the differentiation?
Where is the creative relationship? Only one of us can givethe
other must receive. Only one of us can shinethe other
must be dark.
You are absolutely right, says G-d. Go diminish
But why me? asks the moon. Just because
Im the one who spoke up?
Yes. Thats precisely why you spoke upbecause
you are the recipient. The sun feels perfectly comfortable
with his greatness; thats his roleto be great
through giving. But you are different. It is you who cannot
reconcile herself to a world that consists only of givers;
it is you who senses the necessity for a receptive element
in My creation.
But why should I be the lesser one in the relationship?
You are lesser only in the reality of your
perception. But in essence, you are equals. In fact, youre
even superior in certain ways.
When the day ends, the sun drops out of the sky. The
night is inaccessible to him. But you are present not only
at night when you illuminate the world, but also during the
day, when your light is not seen.
But Im a luminary. If Im not illuminating,
Exactly. Thats the difference between you and
the sun. He illuminates by illuminating, but you illuminate
by virtue of your nothingness, through your passive reception
of his light. So when he isnt seen, he isnt there.
But youeven when youre nothing, you are present.
I don't understand.
Of course you dont. If you didif you sensed
your own greatnessyou wouldnt be a recipient.
And so it goes. G-d tells the moon about the unique qualities
of lunar time, where, unlike the steady, unfaltering solar
cycles, diminution and extinction give rise to rebirth and
He tells her of the great men of history who achieve true
greatness by virtue of their humility and perpetual sense
But the moon persists: I still feel inferior!
Of course you do, says G-d. Your smallness
is the essence of your greatness. If you did not feel inferior,
you wouldnt be driven to receive, and would not actualize
your greatness. I see your greatness, but you cannotat
least not until the ultimate realization of your role. Then,
on the day that all the givers and takers in my creation have
produced the perfect world I have charged them to create,
the true worth of the recipient will come to light.
But Ill tell you what, G-d continues. I
know that all of this is My fault. After all, the concept
of a world in which giver and recipient join to create new
realities was My idea in the first place. I could have created
a perfect world, or no world at all. It is because of My desire
for an imperfect, self-perfecting world that the moons
I created must initially experience darkness, weakness and
poverty. So I will join you in your plight. From My perspective,
you are already greatyour potential as good as realized,
your future perfection already recognized. Still, I shall
enter your world and perspective, and together with you strive
for and await redemption. Until that day when the light
of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, I, too,
will subject myself to the ups and downs of lunar life.
Based on an address by the Rebbe, Shavuot 5747 (1987)
Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Yanki Tauber
 Talmud, Yoma 86b; Tanya, ch. 7.
 See The Journey, WIR, vol. IX, no. 29.
 Likkutei Sichot, vol. VII, p. 284.
 Ethics of the Fathers 4:19.
 In Deuteronomy 28:15, the Torah
adds the word laHashem, for G-d, to the commandment
to bring the he-goat sin-offering on the first of the month,
which marks the new moon. The word does not appear in connection
with the sin-offerings of the other festivals.
 See Jewish Time, WIR, vol. X, no. 25.
 Likkutei Sichot, vol. XXX, pp. 8-15.