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The New Moon

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       This new moon (Ha’chodesh Hazeh) shall be to you the head of months (This week’s Torah portion – 12:2).

Moses found difficulty with the renewal of the moon…G-d therefore showed him with His finger the moon in the sky and said to him, “You will see a moon like this and you will then sanctify [the month].” Now how did G-d show it to Moses? Did He not speak to him only by day? …Rather, this chapter was said to Moses just before sunset, and He showed him [the moon] when it became dark (Rashi, from Midrash Mechilta. Talmud Menachot 29a)

Why did Moses have a problem with the moon’s renewal?

And what did G-d show him? If there was a moon in the sky, Moses could have looked up and seen it on his own. And if there was no moon yet – which is more likely because the new moon was just being born – what exactly did G-d show him? How can a new moon be seen with the naked eye?

Various reasons for Moses’ difficulty are posited by the sages. Some explain that Moses was unclear as to the exact criteria necessary to determine when we must sanctify the new moon. Others suggest that Moses was unsure how to determine whether he was actually seeing the new moon or perhaps the final stages of the old moon. But all these explanations seem inadequate for several reasons: Moses, who was quite an educated man, could have figured out, like any astronomer, the factors that constitute a new moon. Why did he need G-d to show it to him? Clearly, Moses was disturbed by something that only G-d could resolve. Additionally, as mentioned, the new moon does not yet have any shape and form, so what exactly did Moses see?

The mystics explain that Moses was struggling with some of the fundamental dilemmas of existence as they are reflected in the birth of the new moon (see Ohr HaTorah on this chapter, vol. 8 pp. 2902). Here we will focus on the psychological and personal application of this strange episode – which illuminates one of the most profound challenges in life: How to deal with pain and loss.

But first, another practical question. Why is the mitzvah of sanctifying the new moon told to Moses as a prelude to the redemption of the Jews from Egyptian bondage? What connection is there between the moon’s renewal and the Egyptian Exodus?

The waxing and waning moon reflects the ups and downs of life and history. The waning moon represents difficult times; periods that get darker and darker, like the fading moon. But just as the moon disappears, when all seems bleak and lost, we experience rebirth, newfound life – a new moon has been born.

The long Egyptian exile was the first documented instance of institutionalized oppression perpetrated by one nation against another. Multitudes of Jews were killed, tortured or worked to death in forced labor. The moon was dark indeed.

By commanding Moses to sanctify the new moon G-d was in effect imparting to Moses the power of renewal: Just as the moon is reborn right after its disappears, so too will the Jewish people experience a renaissance following their darkest moments.

Moses, however, was disturbed. He was happy to hear that the time of redemption – the birth of the new moon – had arrived. But he was bothered by the fact that when things get so dark, to the point that the moon emits no light at all, how can mortal man hold on? How do we gather strength when we don’t see any glimmer of hope? If we don’t have the energy to see it through, we can be consumed and destroyed by the darkness, and then never reach the new light…

Philosophically, Moses understood that a mortal human being will never fully fathom the mystery of pain and suffering. He also understood and believed that the “end story” was that we will endure and prevail over all our adversaries. Indeed, the Egyptian oppression forged a nation with enormous power, an eternal nation. The more they were oppressed, the more they proliferated and grew.

But Moses was disturbed because he knew that this was not enough. Moses in effect was saying: “If you want man to grow through the dark challenges, You, G-d, must give us the power of hope – the strength to see it through and forge ahead despite the inability to see the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’.”

G-d agreed. In response, G-d “pointed His finger” and showed Moses something that is otherwise impossible to see: The birthing itself. The point when the darkness turns into light, the exact moment when the seeds of suffering yield the fruits of greatness

When we cry over a disappointment or loss we feel pain and sorrow. We (and others) may understand that “those that sow in tears will reap in joy” (Psalms 126:5). But while we weep and taste our bitter tears, we cannot at the same time see the joy that will come. The seed by its very nature conceals its future fruit.

G-d therefore divulged to Moses the mystery of transformation, how darkness turns into light. And He revealed it as the sun was setting. Usually G-d spoke to Moses during the day. But in this instance G-d wanted to show Moses that even darkness yields light. He therefore spoke to him just before sunset, and He showed him the moon as darkness was falling.

This vision of Moses has a perpetual effect for all generations to come – to give us the power to make it through any challenge, no matter how difficult.

All birth in this world comes only after a moment of darkness. Growth is always preceded by a void. Creativity is a child of frustration. But when things seem bleak we get demoralized, and that in turn makes things far worse. If only we were able to see the birthing to come we would be able to endure the hardest times. The problem is that we cannot see from beneath the rubble the light ahead.

So once in history a man was shown the moment of rebirth. Once in history the invisible became visible.

That one vision has given us strength throughout history, as our lives have waxed and waned like the moon, to see it through. Even as we have stood at the abyss, at the brink of extinction, something deep inside us reminded us that all is not lost.

Where does such conviction come from? How does a mother have strength to fight for her child even when all doctors have given up hope? What power did the Jews have when they were herded into the gas chambers to sing “Ani Maamin” (“I believe”)? How is it possible that against all odds, in situations that were absolutely hopeless, a nation has not just survived but thrived?

This enormous, superhuman, power is rooted in Moses’ vision one lonely night in Egypt. As he looked up into the skies Moses saw nothing. The moon had completely disappeared. But then G-d pointed his finger and directed Moses to look closer: Hachodesh hazeh – here, look at the secret of rebirth, here I show you the moment that no man has ever seen and no man will ever see – the moment of transition, when one state is about to end only to open up a new state. Here is the invisible intersection where dark meets light, pain meets joy and exile meets redemption.

Birth means something new. We therefore can never actually see the exact moment when the old becomes new. But Moses did see – once for all times. G-d showed Moses the new moon at its moment of rebirth, and said to him: “When the moon is reborn, mark the beginning of a new month.”

As we now read the story of Exodus, the “book in which Israel goes from darkness to light” – the story of process, the process of loss and renewal, of suffering and growth, the process of death and birth – we can gather in our own lives much fortitude from the events that took place over 3300 years ago.

When the next new moon arrives, go outside and look up into the sky. If we look hard enough perhaps we may get a glimpse of what Moses saw. But even if we can’t, our very gaze into the dark heavens, looking, searching, yearning, for the sliver of the new moon’s birthing, carries immense power – strength that can help us though any challenge.

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Question for the Week: What does the moon mean for you?

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NORMAN HAUPTMAN

The moon is a pleasure, As the low light of night. Unlike the Sun, Which warms and Brightens Earth, As its yearly journey Is being done.

The changing nature of the Moon mirrors our lives with the complexity of our experiences while reassuring us of Lifes continuity(this message was stronger due to the total solar eclips two days ago). The monthly cyclical rhytm takes on special significance in the yearly seasonal renewal. In my personal life-cycle as a mature woman, I humbly ask Hashem that we may celebrate our daughters wedding and for continuity in our grand-children.

SUZI CLARK

I dont really know, but after reading this article, perhaps it means HOPE, A new beginning. maybe an opportunity to start over, or rebirth, maybe even a return to good and purity. I hope this doesnt sound too childish.

new moon

bHThe new moon is the beginning of the full moon that ultimately makes dogs howl and cats and humans sing, makes cats frisky. Its a gradual revelation of things hidden. Out of Megillas Esther in which the name of HASHEM is hidden, emerges the nascent crescent to which the Muslims subscribe, but which will end in the gleaming round Challah which symbolizes for us the fullness and the circle of life and also the Achdus. The new moon means that we get another whack at experiencing this revelation; the new moon reminds us of this Parshas HaChodesh with the Yetzias… Read more »

Ryfkah

The Birth of the New Moon

From out of the womb
Tunneled the new moon
A sliver of silver
Taking her first breath
Sighing her first cry

The Holy Name pointed
High in the sky
And declared Celebrate
The man Moses had confusion
wondering how

A snow haired woman
With averted eyes
Shrugged bony shoulder
Murmured respectfully
Remember the golden calf

Ryfkah

would not worship the golden calf

zlata

The meaning of the new moon – it is very interesting that this is the very first mitzvah we received as a nation and the reading of this portion is always about the time of the month of shvat. Tu bshavat is a uniquely Jewish celebration – this is the only kind of holiday the other nations of the world do not have. This is purely a Jewish characteristic – to seem as though we have fallen to the abyss and no hope to rise seems possible. No other nation in history was able to rise and create some form… Read more »

Sandy

When I see the New Moon, I am mesmerized its beauty and say the New Moon blessings to draw down the inherent energy as a planting for renewal. Your commentaries are so warming to my Soul. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with all of us.

mordi

This is a fascinating take on the new moon. Each month the little bit of Moses in us can go right back to the moment in time between Moses and G-d of which you speak. You pose the greatest question about suffering. Why does G-d allow us to suffer. I dont know is the answer and it is wise of oyu to state this instead of some of the myriad explanations that dont mean anything. You metaphor of the seed is apt. The suffering represented by the seed is explained by the emergence of the fruit.Thank you. Good Shabbos !

Steve Lack

My sympathy to the poor fellow who asked why R. Jacobsen didnt provide the simple scientific explanations regarding the waxing and waning of the moon. He sounds just like that fool that debated with Tony Blair a while back on the subject of his view that religion was the cause of all bad and how ridding the world of religion was a first step to improvement. No, sir, you are near the head of those who say that seeing is believing, when the Truth is that Believing is to See. Have you no notion of a Superior Being? You also… Read more »

Mark orman

Sir: To me, the waxing and waning of the moon is due to the motion of this body around the earth, while the sun stays (relatively)fixed and shines continuously. Nothing supernatural, nothing complicated,just the most elementary dynamics and geometry. Sure, the moons periodicity provides a very useful timepiece, particulalry for ancients who had no clocks and needed calendar information. But why is this simplest of explanations completely left out of these discussions, particulary when it happens to be true? Just as sunrise and sunset are never discussed in terms of their simplest explanation; i.e., that the earth rotates? If one… Read more »

W.V.

For some time, the moon has definitely meant that to me–the faithful witness in the sky (or, as this article made clearer, the witness of faith!), marking the pattern of the generations yet to be born of the kingdom of Yisrael until in their fullness Mashiach comes forth and brings renewal to the heavens and the earth. Thanks to this extraordinary article, I now see it with even more depth, breadth, and yet more personal closeness, especially as it came at just the moment in my life when I really needed that understanding of rebirth on a personal level. I… Read more »

Dovid M

Whenever I look up at the bright, dazzlingly shiny white beautiful light of the full moon in a pitch black sky, I cannot help but be convinced that this is a manifestation and a representation of an incredible supernatural reality. The beauty and power of the sight blows me away every time.

A.G.

It seems to me that many of the points made about the moon being the symbol of regeneration and renewal can be made about the sun as well. It must have been terrifying for ancient man to see the sun disappear, be enveloped by darkness, and have no reassurance of the next day. Conver-sely, it must have been enormously relieving to witness the sun rising once more. Perhaps, the emphasis should be directed toward the fact that for the Egyptians, the sun was their major god, deemed the source of all life, and the attempt here is to redirect the… Read more »

Cecilia

Such a stunning article. Thank you.

When I see the moon I always realize that at the most I perceive only half of what really exists…..sometimes I forget and think I am supposed to understand everything….

Chaya Gross

The moon is a metaphor for women. Because women by their nature are cyclical. They are either full with life or in the process of renewal. And each month this reality repeats itself. For this reason the cycle of the moon does not affect a woman in the same way that perhaps a man would relate to it, because for a women it is intrinsic to her nature. She experiences the renewal within her being, with perfect faith because the physiological reality is in sync with the world. Whereas, a man has only his faith, which when doubts seep in… Read more »

Lynn Rice

The moon means to me a new birth from Self to a representative of G-d (a shaliach) – reflecting the Light of G-d – …the moon is reborn right after it disappears…. The mitzvah of sanctifying the new moon (to me) is like sanctifying the new birth from darkness to light, from self to G-d. It is like G-ds mitzvah to sanctify the Sabbath day – a ceasing from our own works, and entering into His spiritual rest. The moon is associated with the #12 – the people of G-d, and Shabbat with the #7. The birth of the new… Read more »

moon

Moon means night, birkat ha levana, mother as in the dream of yossef.

Also, the moon is a radiant queen with her escort, the stars.

sheperd cohen

To me, the new moon represents eMOONah!

🙂