Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 27 December 2008 / 30 Kislev 5769

In the Light of the Slivery Moon

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Rebecca Mark in NYC
Dear Rabbi,

Where does the halacha for kiddush levana (blessing for the New Moon) come from and have there been any Torah authorities who were opposed to it? Also, why do we bless one another during the service with ‘shalom aleichem’?

Dear Rebecca,

The source for blessing the new moon comes from the Talmud (Sanhedrin 42a). To my knowledge, there have never been any Torah authorities that opposed it.

I assume that your question is based on the misconception that sanctifying the moon bears a resemblance to moon-worship. This is an absolute fallacy. We are not worshipping the moon; we are praising G-d for His marvelous creations, including the miracle of the moon’s monthly rebirth. One of the principal ways to recognize G-d is through His works; the immutable monthly cycle of the moon is one of the more visible aspects of G-d’s masterful creation.

Additionally, we see the monthly rebirth of the moon as a symbol of G-d’s promise to overthrow those who seek to destroy us and ultimately redeem the Jewish People and make us complete and in a state of peace.

It is for this reason that in the course of kiddush levanah, we pray for the downfall of the enemies of the Jewish People. In particular, we quote the verse from the ‘Song at the Red Sea’: “May dread and fear befall them, they should be silent like stone...”. Since this verse does not specify who “them” refers to, we therefore turn to the people standing nearby and say “Shalom Aleichem” to show that they are not included among those whose downfall we seek.

Another explanation for blessing others at that time is as follows: After you say a blessing on an apple, you take a bite of the apple. So too, after blessing G-d for the moon and its light, you benefit from the moon’s light by using it to recognize your friends and wish them well. This latter reason is also why some have the custom to separate the tzitzit at the conclusion of kiddush levana – to use the moon’s light in order to enhance a mitzvah.

Perhaps both ideas are connected: After praying for the ‘dis-empowering’ of our enemies, we untangle the tzitzit as if to show our anticipation of the day we shall no longer be entangled and tied down by our foes but rather shall be liberated and unfettered to fulfill the mitzvot in the full light of G-d.

  • Rema, Orach Chaim 426:2
  • Magen Avraham 426:11
  • Megilla 3a and Tosafot “Chayshinan”

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