Counting Our Blessings

For the week ending 8 June 2024 / 2 Sivan 5784

Kiddush Levanah: Under the Light of the Silvery Moon (Part 1)

by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer
Become a Supporter Library Library

“My walk on the moon lasted three days. My walk with G-d will last forever.”

Charles Duke – Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 16

At the very beginning of each lunar month, the moon is positioned between the earth and the sun in such a way that its light is not easily discernable. As the month progresses the moon waxes, growing to its fullest in the middle of the month. After that the moon then begins to wane, becoming smaller and smaller until it finally disappears altogether. And then the whole process begins anew with the advent of the new month. Kiddush Levanah (Sanctification of the Moon), or Birkat HaLevanah (Blessing the Moon) as it is referred to in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 426), is a mystical and beautiful series of prayers that were instituted by our Sages to commemorate the monthly reappearance of the moon. They are so lofty that Rabbi Yochanan declares (Sanhedrin 42a), “Anyone who blesses the new moon it is as if they have greeted the Shechinah.”

What is it about the moon that it is the catalyst for such a beautiful series of prayers? The verse in Bereshit (1:16) appears to be self-contradictory. The verse begins, “And G-d created the two great luminaries.” However, immediately afterwards it states, “The greater luminary to dominate the day and the lesser luminary to dominate the night.”

Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi cites an Aggadic teaching (Chullin 60b) that when first created the sun and the moon were of equal size. However, the moon approached Hashem and asked, “Is it possible for two kings to wear one crown?” It sounds as if the moon is trying to position itself to become the sole source of light in the world. However, the Maharal explains that the premise of the moon’s question was how can the earth have two equal luminaries when the most effective leadership for a kingdom is under one ruler. Hashem’s response was, “Go then and diminish yourself.” At face value it seems as if the moon is being punished for having questioned Hashem. However, the Maharal writes that the moon was not being punished. Rather, Hashem accepted the moon’s claim and, by making the moon the “lesser luminary”, Hashem was benefiting the earth.

However, the Ba’alei HaMussar ask, if the moon’s claim was correct, why did Hashem choose to diminish the moon and not the sun? They answer that when confronted with the moon’s statement the sun did not react in any way. It did not immediately begin to explain why it deserved to be the larger luminary. Because the sun did not regard itself as being a king at all.The sun looked at itself as simply being a servant of Hashem. Thus, explain the Ba’alei HaMussar, it was the moon that was diminished and not the sun. However, continues the Aggadata, in order to appease, as it were, the moon Hashem declared that a special offering would be brought in its honor on Rosh Chodesh to the Holy Temple. The Maharal expounds that the moon becomes the vehicle for the Jewish Nation to elevate themselves and to draw themselves closer to Hashem.

Fascinatingly, the Vilna Gaonwrites that the physical bodyis a parallel to the moonand the soulparallels the sun.In the same way that the moon only reflects its light from the sun so, too,the body only reflects the “light” from the soul.

From the narrative of the Aggadata he understands that the Torah is defining the sun as being “big” because it is a source of light. The moon, on the other hand is defined as “small” because it does not have its own source of light. Rather, it reflects the light of the sun. Accordingly, the Vilna Gaon explains the meaning behind one of the blessings that an eight-day old baby boy is blessed with immediately after his Brit Milah is, “Zeh hakatan gadol yihiyeh – this small child will be big.” That this small baby will receive from his parents and mentors the Torah knowledge that he needs to allow him to grow to become a moral and upstanding Torah scholar. That, like the moon, he will reflect everything that they have given to him. But, we do not stop there. We bless him that one day he will grow to the point where he is able to channel everything that he has received into giving to others. In effect, that he become a source of spiritual light to all those around him. That, like the sun, he become “gadol.

The Torah tells us (ibid. 14) that the moon will be an “ot – a sign.” An ot is something of tremendous spiritual significance. Rabbeinu Bachya explains that it is referring to the mitzvah of Kiddush Levanah. That we, Hashem’s Chosen Nation, who King Shlomo describes as being as beautiful as the moon (Shir Hashirim 6:10), step outside to greet the new moon and to reinforce within us the knowledge that our task in this world is to reflect the holy and pure light of Hashem.

To be continued

© 1995-2024 Ohr Somayach International - All rights reserved.

Articles may be distributed to another person intact without prior permission. We also encourage you to include this material in other publications, such as synagogue or school newsletters. Hardcopy or electronic. However, we ask that you contact us beforehand for permission in advance at and credit for the source as Ohr Somayach Institutions

« Back to Counting Our Blessings

Ohr Somayach International is a 501c3 not-for-profit corporation (letter on file) EIN 13-3503155 and your donation is tax deductable.