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Notes from Limmud 2007

Four Gemaras to Live by: (iii) Concerning the Monthly

Dr Raphael Zarum

[Standard disclaimer: All views not in square brackets are those of the speaker, not myself. Accuracy of transcription is not guaranteed.]

There are two monthly Jewish rituals; ראש חודש and קידוש לבנה, Sanctification of the Moon.

Genesis 1:14-1:19 בראשית א יד־בראשית א יט
God said, Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to divide the day from the night; they will serve as signs for the seasons, and for days, and years; they will serve as lights in the expanse of the sky to shine upon the earth. And it was so. God made two great lights; the great light to dominate the day, and the small light to dominate the night, and the stars. God set them in the expanse of the sky to shine upon the earth, to dominate the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good. There was evening and there was morning, a fourth day. ויאמר אלהים יהי מארת ברקיע השמים להבדיל בין היום ובין הלילה והיו לאתת ולמועדים ולימים ושנים׃ והיו למאורת ברקיע השמים להאיר על הארץ ויהי כן׃ ויעש אלהים את שני המארת הגדלים את המאור הגדל לממשלת היום ואת המאור הקטן לממשלת הלילה ואת הכוכבים׃ ויתן אתם אלהים ברקיע השמים להאיר על הארץ׃ ולמשל ביום ובלילה ולהבדיל בין האור ובין החשך וירא אלהים כי טוב׃ ויהי ערב ויהי בקר יום רביעי׃

Note a contradiction here, in v. 16. (It's not that the Moon does not give light itself; the Torah is written in the language for people to understand.) The contradiction is that it says there's two big lights, but then it says that one's big and one small!

One interpretation is that the difference in size—calculated as far back as the Rambam—is exactly matched by the perspective difference; this is how lunar eclipses work. (Though the knowledge of this probably does not go back to Biblical times.)

The Talmud says, in Tractate חולין, which is primarily about כשרות:

Chullin 60b חולין ס ב

R. Shimon b. Pazzi pointed out a contradiction: One verse says G-d made two great lights, and immediately the verse continues, the great light... and the small light.

The moon said to G-d, "Sovereign of the Universe, is it possible for two kings to wear one crown?"

G-d answered, "Go then and make yourself smaller."

The moon replied, "Sovereign of the Universe, because I spoke out I must become smaller?"

G-d replied, "Go, and you will rule by day and by night."1

"But what is the value of this?" cried the moon, "of what use is a lamp in broad daylight?"

G-d replied, "Go, and the days and years will be reckoned by you."

Said the moon, "But it is impossible to do without the sun for the reckoning of the seasons," as it is written, And let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years2.

G-d then said, "Go,3 the righteous will be named after you: Jacob... the Small One4 [Amos 7:2,5], Shmuel the Small5 and David the Small [q.v. Sam. I 17:14]."

On seeing that it would not be consoled G-d said, "Bring an atonement for Me because I made the moon smaller."

This is what was meant by R. Shimon ben Lakish when he said: Why is it that the he-goat offered on the new moon is different, in that says: in it... for G-d [Num 28:15]?6 Because G-d said, "Let this he-goat be an atonement for Me for making the moon smaller."7

רבי שמעון בן פזי רמי כתיב ויעש אלהים את שני המאורות הגדולים וכתיב את המאור הגדול ואת המאור הקטן

אמרה ירח לפני הקדוש ברוך הוא רבונו של עולם אפשר לשני מלכים שישתמשו בכתר אחד

אמר לה לכי ומעטי את עצמך

אמרה לפניו רבונו של עולם הואיל ואמרתי לפניך דבר הגון אמעיט את עצמי

אמר לה לכי ומשול ביום ובלילה

אמרה ליה מאי רבותיה דשרגא בטיהרא מאי אהני

אמר לה זיל לימנו בך ישראל ימים ושנים

אמרה ליה יומא נמי אי אפשר דלא מנו ביה תקופותא דכתיב והיו לאותות ולמועדים ולימים ושנים

זיל ליקרו צדיקי בשמיך יעקב הקטן שמואל הקטן דוד הקטן׃

חזייה דלא קא מיתבא דעתה אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא הביאו כפרה עלי שמיעטתי את הירח

והיינו דאמר רבי שמעון בן לקיש מה נשתנה שעיר של ראש חדש שנאמר בו לה׳ אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא שעיר זה יהא כפרה על שמיעטתי את הירח׃

  1. You can see the moon by both day and night. Rashi says G-d also created the stars to mollify the moon: the stars come out for the moon.

  2. The Jewish calendar is luni-solar.

  3. Where's the moon going to go? Perhaps it means to rotate around the sky.

  4. Small can be beautiful—and humility is a good thing, hint hint! Some say it's referring to Gen. 32:11:

    Genesis 32:10 בראשית לב י
    Jacob said, O G-d of Abraham and G-d of Isaac, I who said to me "return to your land and your birthplace and I will do well with you"; I am not worthy [lit., smaller] of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands. וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב אֱלֹהֵי אָבִי אַבְרָהָם וֵאלֹהֵי אָבִי יִצְחָק ה׳ הָאֹמֵר אֵלַי שׁוּב לְאַרְצְךָ וּלְמוֹלַדְתְּךָ וְאֵיטִיבָה עִמָּךְ׃ קָטֹנְתִּי מִכֹּל הַחֲסָדִים וּמִכָּל־הָאֱמֶת אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתָ אֶת־עַבְדֶּךָ כִּי בְמַקְלִי עָבַרְתִּי אֶת־הַיַּרְדֵּן הַזֶּה וְעַתָּה הָיִיתִי לִשְׁנֵי מַחֲנוֹת׃
  5. The problem with this is that there is no Shmuel the Small in the Bible. It could be a rabbi, but that comes before the reference to David, who is described as the smallest of his family:

    1 Samuel 17:14 שמואל א יז יד
    And David was the youngest: and the three eldest followed Saul [to fight Goliath]. ודוד הוא הקטן ושלשה הגדלים הלכו אחרי שאול׃

    Now, the Jews are like the moon. Q.v. Esther 8:16 "the Jews had light and joy". Just as the moon renews itself every thirty days, so did Esther:

    Esther 4:11 אסתר ד יא
    All the king's servants, and the people of the king's provinces, do know, that whosoever, whether man or women, shall come unto the king into the inner court, who is not called, there is one law of his to put him to death, except such to whom the king shall hold out the golden sceptre, that he may live: but I have not been called to come in unto the king these thirty days. כל עבדי המלך ועם מדינות המלך ידעים אשר כל איש ואשה אשר יבוא אל המלך אל החצר הפנימית אשר לא יקרא אחת דתו להמית לבד מאשר יושיט לו המלך את שרביט הזהב וחיה ואני לא נקראתי לבוא אל המלך זה שלושים יום׃

    Also, the moon waxes and wanes, taking fifteen days to do each. There are fifteen generations from the first Jew Abraham to Solomon, the pinnacle of Israelite statehood. Then it all goes downhill for fifteen generations, until the last king Zechariah. We are children of the moon. Hence, this story isn't about the moon, really; it's about us.

  6. Each offering in Num. 28 says שעיר לחטאת, but here is says חטאת לה׳. Normally this is translated "a sin-offering for G-d", but it could be interpreted to mean G-d sinned!

    Numbers 28:15 במדבר כח טו
    And one kid of the goats for a sin offering unto the LORD shall be offered, beside the continual burnt offering, and his drink offering. ושעיר עזים אחד לחטאת לה׳ על עלת התמיד יעשה ונסכו׃
  7. So the moon-people—us—bring the offering to G-d, and He forgives... Himself! What is this about? If G-d was wrong, then why not make the moon big again? And if not, why did He need a sin-offering?

    Three suggestions: First: You don't concede a thing in a public argument, because it shows weakness. This is what the moon does; the moon's mistake is to concede. The moon says "It's not fair." G-d says you're right it's not fair, even though you're right. It can't be changed because that's the nature of human argument: sometimes the more davka-nik person wins the argument even though the more rational person is correct. It doesn't make good leadership. G-d saying to bring an atonement is because the morality of it is more important than the fairness of it: "I feel bad about it, and therefore I need you to bring an atonement for me every month."

    Second: Public inquiries are a really bad idea because all they do is embarrass the public authorites. But they are a good idea because the truth will be found out, not swept under the carpet. If we don't, we'll turn into something we don't want to be. This can also be expressed [lacuna]
    growth leads to awareness and thus separateness from G-d. When you grow up—when someone dies, when you learn about the Holocaust— you ask difficult questions and become distant from G-d. Little children believe with a complete faith: In the Yemenite communities, when the rain won't come, they get little children to go up on the bimah and shout out to G-d, because G-d won't refuse the faith of little children.

    Consider אין כאלהינו. Why do we say "There is none like our G-d" and then "Who is like our G-d?" and then "You are our G-d?", in that order? It's recapitulating our first innocence, and then questioning, and then gaining a second innocence, which is different from the first, because it is an informed one.

    G-d is saying I know you are going to be distant from me; I feel bad about that, but I am not willing to sacrifice human free choice and awareness; would you really have wanted it any other way? So every month bring an atonement for Me for My sin. So keep going, and I'll be with you through your pain.

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