Roy Neuberger - Jul. 31, 2015

A remarkable day called T’U b’Av (“the Fifteenth of Av”) occurs this Friday, July 31. The Midrash describes it as “the day on which the digging ceased” (Eichah Rabba).

Commencing from the first Tisha b’Av in the desert, a decree was promulgated against the six-hundred-thousand men of that generation who had listened to the spies, had cried and were subject to the penalty of ‘in this wilderness you shall perish’ (Numbers 14:29). Each year, on the eve of Tisha b’Av, the men of the generation would dig their graves and sleep in them. The next morning, fifteen-thousand would not wake up (See Book of Our Heritage, p. 949 ff).

“On the last Tisha b’Av in the Wilderness, the remaining fifteen-thousand men dug their own graves and waited. But G-d granted them a reprieve and they survived. However, when they arose in the morning… they did not know that they had been spared. Instead, they concluded that they must have been mistaken in calculating the date. They therefore lay down in their graves every night for the following five nights. When the Fifteenth of Av arrived and they saw the full moon, they knew that their calculations had been correct and realized that, since Tisha b’Av had passed, the decree of death upon them must have been rescinded. They therefore observed the Fifteenth of Av as day of celebration” (Ibid, page 1022).

Thus, the fifteenth day of the month of Av became a day of national rejoicing. The moment which had seemed hopeless became the moment of Redemption! “In the evening one lies down weeping, but with dawn – a cry of joy!” (Psalm 30)

Many questions arise, but the first one is: why did G-d rescind the decree in the fortieth year, before all the men of that generation had died? Did He simply want to give the Jewish People a “present” before they entered the Holy Land? Had He relented in His decree? What happened in the fortieth year which had not happened in the previous thirty-nine years?

I have a theory. When, for the first thirty-nine years after the decree, the men of the generation had dug and slept in their graves on the eve of Tisha b’Av, perhaps they thought, “Maybe I will be one of those who is spared.” Indeed, each year some were spared. But in the final year there were only fifteen-thousand men left. It was clear that none of them would wake up the following morning. So they had no hope! Apparently, the “certainty” of their death instilled in them a strong regret which caused them to return to G-d from their actions. For that reason the decree was rescinded and they all survived. Repentance turned the tide in the fortieth year!

For this reason, T’U b’Av became a day of joy almost unmatched in the Jewish calendar. “The spirit of festivity in which Israel celebrated the fifteenth of Av was rooted in their joy at having achieved forgiveness for the sin of the spies. In this sense, it is similar in character to Yom Kippur. On Yom Kippur, G-d became reconciled to Israel after the sin of the golden calf. It was on Yom Kippur that Moses came down from the mountain with the second tablets after the first tablets had been broken…. In early generations, there were no greater days of celebration than on these days when G-d forgave Israel her sins, Yom Kippur and the Fifteenth of Av!” (Book of Our Heritage, Pages 1025-6)

And what did they see on the Fifteenth of Av which jarred their souls and aroused certainty that the decree had been lifted? What shook them to their essence?

They saw the full moon!

But how can the full moon trigger a day of such celebration, a day akin to Yom Kippur, a day of forgiveness that resembles liberation from death? What is it about the moon?

We say during Kiddush Levana: “May it be Your will, G-d … to fill the flaw of the moon that there be no diminution in it. May the light of the moon be like the light of the sun and like the light of the seven days of creation, as it was before it was diminished, as it is said, ‘The two great luminaries.’ And may there be fulfilled upon us the verse that is written: ‘They shall seek G-d their G-d, and David their king. Amen.’”

What flaw? What’s wrong with the moon?

“The moon said before the Holy One, Blessed is He: ‘Master of the Universe, is it possible for two kings to utilize the same crown?’ G-d said to her, ‘Go and diminish yourself’” (Chulin 60b with Artscroll commentary).

Apparently, the moon was “asking” G-d, how can the earth function with “two kings,” meaning a king of the day and a king of the night? The world cannot function with two kings. According to this understanding, the question was an act of righteousness, in that the moon was concerned for mankind, wanting to make sure that the earth was governed in the best possible way. It is as if the moon asked to be diminished in order to enable the world to function optimally, that is, with one “king” in the sky.

Question: since when does the moon “ask” anything? Is it alive, that it should speak?

Well, I want to tell you that each blade of grass has an angel assigned to it which tells it, “Grow! Grow!” (Midrash Rabba, Genesis 10:6) Do you think that, when a bulldozer uproots trees and plants, the blades of grass don’t cry out to G-d to save them? Don’t be so sure!

Every sabbath morning, we say the following words: “Good are the luminaries that our G-d has created … strength and power He has granted them, to be dominant within the world … Glad as they go forth and exultant as they return, they do with awe their Creator’s will.”

The luminaries do “with awe” the will of their Creator. Doesn’t this imply that the sun, the moon and the stars have some kind of feeling, perception, some kind of soul? “He called out to the sun and it glowed with light. He saw and fashioned the form of the moon…”

So let’s say that the moon has some kind of soul.

According to the Talmud in tractate Chulin, the moon asked G-d how the earth can function with two “rulers,” one by day and one by night. It is not an ideal state of affairs to have two kings, and it does not reflect the Reality of Creation, over which there is only one King, the One G-d.

So the moon asked a good question. The moon was not asking to be the sole king; the moon simply asked a good question. The proof that the question was asked without jealousy is that, according to this piece of Talmud, G-d took upon Himself “an atonement” for having diminished the moon. This implies that the decree upon the moon had no pejorative implications.

But what exactly happened to the moon? Why, in the Kiddush Levana prayer, do we ask that it be reversed?

The moon is by nature secondary to the sun, because it glows by reflected light. Is the moon asking to have this condition reversed, or is some other condition the problem?

The sun is the unifying force in the solar system. The planets revolve around and receive their life-force from it. Through its gravitational pull, the sun literally holds the solar system together, nor would there be life without its light and heat. So the solar system actually is a kind of physical representation of the spiritual world, in which all creation receives its life-force from G-d and revolves around Him. Certainly nothing would exist without Him.

That the moon receives its light from the sun is a beautiful thing, just as it is beautiful that we receive our existence from G-d. Our subservience to G-d is our glory, and the righteous in the world acknowledge that their existence is totally dependent upon Him. Evil people, on the contrary, refuse to acknowledge their subservience to G-d.

So the moon’s subservience is its glory! In fact, the moon offers mankind a type of “mussar schmooze” lesson in ethics. The moon is not complaining that it gets its light from the sun! That is not a source of shame, but rather its glory. The moon is telling mankind, in effect, that G-d calls it a “great luminary,” while at the same time it is not the source of its own light. So the moon is telling us that this is also our glory! We exist as a result of the “reflected light” emanating from G-d! “This is your glory, your beauty, your radiance! Learn from me!”

Certainly, the moon is not dissatisfied in that its light emanates from the sun. But what then is the “diminution” that will be rectified in the End of Days? What is “painful” for G-d in relation to the moon?

My friends, I believe it is very clear.

The moon never remains the same. Each night it assumes a different shape. At the end of the month it disappears completely. Then, on the New Moon, a tiny crescent-shaped sliver glows in the sky. The moon has returned! And we rejoice at its reappearance. In fact, the festive Rosh Chodesh celebrates the moon’s renewal. Then it grows until it becomes full on the fifteenth of the month, a glowing ball of light in the night sky. Amazingly, the day of the full moon is the one day of the month when the moon rises at precisely sunset and sets at precisely sunrise!

This indicates that the day of the full moon is a day when both luminaries in fact exist in harmony; one exits in order for the other to have a grand solo entrance! They give honor for each other on the day of the full moon, which is the fifteenth day of the month.

What else happens on the fifteenth of the month?

Both Passover and Sukkos begin on the fifteenth. As we sit at the Passover Seder, a full moon watches over the house. As we sit in the sukkah on the first night of the holiday, a full moon is visible through the sechach branches covering the sukkah.

And why all this glory on the fifteenth? The sun and the moon are giving honor to each other! One exits while the other enters, making way for each other. Is this not the secret of the Jewish People’s rejoicing on Passover and Sukkos? All our happiness is based on Shalom Bayis (domestic harmony), the respect we give to each other as one united family. Did we not stand at Mount Sinai “k’ish echad b’lev echad … like one man with one heart?” (Rashi on Exodus 19:2) We are in exile because of baseless hatred; we will be saved by baseless love. The Jewish People will be redeemed in the merit of our unity, and we learn this from the sun and the moon on the fifteenth day of the month, the day the moon is full.

From this, I believe we can learn what about the moon was diminished at the beginning of time and what will be rectified in the End of Days. It seems quite clear that what will be rectified in the end of days is the fact that the moon changes shape every day.

The phases of the moon parallel the story of the Jewish People and this is the reason for such celebration on Rosh Chodesh. When the moon disappears at the end of every month, it is likened to the phases in the life of the Jewish People and our relationship with G-d during the times of exile. “May Your mercy be aroused and please take pity on Your beloved, because it is so very long that I have yearned intensely to see the splendor of Your strength…. So please take pity and do not conceal Yourself” (Yedid Nefesh prayer). Thus we cry out to G-d from exile!

“True, G-d cannot be seen by the human eye, but He can be recognized through His almighty and wondrous acts, as it is written, ‘Truly You are a G-d Who hides Yourself, but at the same time You are the G-d of Israel, the Savior,’ (Isaiah 45:15) … because You have revealed Yourself by the numerous miracles and acts of lasting deliverance which You have wrought on behalf of Israel.” (The World of Prayer, Vol. II, page 139, quoting Rabeinu Yonah).

The phases of the moon reflect the situation of Israel during exile, before the Messiah comes to restore our eternal luster and brilliance. It is quite clear that the moon’s phases – its reappearance on Rosh Chodesh, its increasing fullness until the fifteenth of the month, its diminution until it disappears entirely at the end of the month, and then its reappearance once again – this cycle represents the history of the Jewish People, the Children of Israel, throughout history. “Israel views the monthly renascence of the moon as the guarantee, permanently written into natural law, as it were, that Israel … will ever be reborn despite our setbacks when it seems as if we have disappeared, G-d forbid, from history, and we will be constantly and miraculously delivered from threatening destruction and restored to life eternal” (World of Prayer, Volume II, p. 140-1).

Thus, at the End of Days, when Israel is freed from our enemies, the moon – which represents our status throughout the period of exile – will no longer disappear at the end of the month. On the day when the Messiah appears and the Holy Temple is rebuilt, Israel will be as stable as the sun, bright, shining and “full.” The night will no longer be dark and Israel will no longer be threatened, G-d forbid, with “disappearance.” Israel will render constant homage to the Source of Life and G-d will fully and permanently cast His light upon us. And there will be “fulfilled upon us the verse that is written: ‘They shall seek G-d, their G-d, and David, their king. Amen’” (Hoshea 3:5 and Kiddush Levana).

May we see it soon in our days!


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