Counting Our Blessings

For the week ending 13 July 2024 / 7 Tamuz 5784

Kiddush Levanah: Under the Light of the Silvery Moon (Part 5)

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

Charles Duke – Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 16

The blessing for Kiddush Levana reads: Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who with His utterance created the heavens, and with the breath of His mouth all their legion. A decree and a schedule did He give them that they not alter their assigned task. They are joyous and glad to perform the Will of their Owner – the Worker of truth Whose work is truth. To the moon He said that it should renew itself as a crown of splendor for those borne [by Him] from the womb, those who are destined to renew themselves like it, and to glorify their Molder for the name of His glorious kingdom. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who renews the months.

The reference to the womb and giving birth is taken from Yeshayah (46:3). “Listen to Me, House of Yaakov, and all the remnant of the House of Israel, who are borne [by Me] from birth, who are carried from the womb.” Rashi eloquently describes how Hashem is telling us that from the very inception of the Jewish Nation He has enveloped us in an embrace that protects us from those who try to totally destroy us.

The Arizal explains that the creation of the Jewish Nation is analogous to a baby in its mother’s womb. The Arizal cites Rabbi Simlai (Niddah 30b) that each fetus is taught the entire Torah before it is born. It experiences the most astonishing clarity of Hashem’s Majesty whilst in the womb but that knowledge is taken away at birth. It is that purity and clarity that a person must strive to restore during their sojourn here in this physical world. So, too, has there never been such a vivid revelation of Hashem’s Glory as there was on the first Seder Night of history. The Jewish People left Egypt in a blaze of spiritual light. And we await the return of that intense and penetrating light to the world that will be heralding in the Messianic era.

As we watch the rebirth of the moon each month it is supposed to remind us that we, too, should be going through a monthly renewal. That it is our responsibility to both magnify and intensify the vivid and untainted light that the Torah brings to the world. Each month brings with it the consciousness that we must reattach ourselves to Hashem anew.

As a part of the beautiful and poignant prayers that we offer up on the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh, we ask for Chaim Aruchim – for a long life. Someone once asked the Ponovizher Rav why we are asking for a long life if the prayer will anyway be repeated the Shabbat before the next Rosh Chodesh. Surely, thirty days cannot be described as being a “long life”.

The Ponovizher Rav answered by relating something that had happened to him during the harrowing days of World War II. When the war broke out the Ponovizher Rav found himself in Israel, what was then called the British Mandate of Palestine, and unable to leave. By 1942 Erwin Rommel, at that point possibly the most successful Field Marshal in German history, was in Egypt waiting for the order from the Nazi high command to sweep into Palestine and to ship off its Jews for extermination. At that time the Ponovizher Rav was hospitalized with a serious throat condition that had his doctors extremely worried for his life. Despite his delicate and difficult personal medical condition and despite the indescribable dread that gripped the Jewish population of Palestine, the Ponovizher Rav summoned his son, Rabbi Avraham, and handed him money. “I want you to gather together ten students to start a Yeshivah. And please approach Rabbi Shmuel Rozovsky and ask him in my name to say shiur for them.”

The Ponovizher Rav’s son was completely taken aback at the suggestion. He told his father, “At this particular moment, I am not sure where I could possibly find ten boys who would want to join a Yeshivah. The whole world has spiraled out of control. We are living moment by moment, there is chaos everywhere. All the young men I know are not looking for a Yeshivah, all they want is to find a way to escape to a safe haven. And, even if there are ten boys who commit to enrolling, how long can a Yeshivah last with the enemy at the border?”

The Ponovizher Rav understood his skepticism, but he taught his son a lesson that he would never forget. “To have a Yeshivah, even for a few days, is worthwhile. Because even a few days can be lengthy ones indeed.”

“In the end,” said the Ponovizher Rav when telling over the story, “Rommel never entered Eretz Yisrael. My throat condition turned out to be benign. And the Ponovizh Yeshivah endures until this very day. They are lengthy days, indeed. Why do we ask for Chaim Aruchim each month? The answer is obvious! The amount of spiritual reward that a person can accrue in one month is immeasurable! A month replete with spiritual aspirations and achievements is truly Chaim Aruchim!”

That is why the blessing ends with the words “Blessed are You, Hashem, Who renews the months.” Because each month contains within its “limited” number of days the potential for limitless eternity.

To be continued…

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