Latest update: January 15th, 2015
Question: I have numerous questions about Kiddush Levanah. First, why is this prayer called Kiddush Levanah? Shouldn’t it be called Chiddush Levanah considering that the prayer concerns the renewal – not the sanctification – of the moon? Second, why do we greet each other with the words Shalom Aleichem at Kiddush Levanah and why do we repeat the greeting three times? Is it because we have not seen a new moon for a whole month? Third, why does Kiddush Levanah – and other prayers – contain verses (aside from the Shalom Aleichem greeting) that we are supposed to say three times? Please elaborate on this mitzvah.
Answer: The blessing that serves as the core of Kiddush Levanah is “Baruch Ata…mechadesh chadashim – Blessed are You Hashem who renews the new moons.”
We stated that the moon forms the basis of the Jewish calendar, which revolves around the lunar cycle. Extreme care was given to the timing and proclamation of rosh chodesh in the Temple era since the dates of all the festivals follow from it.
We quoted Rashi who writes that G-d actually showed Moses the exact shape of the moon that witnesses must see for beit din to declare a new month. We see that the mitzvah of sanctifying the month contains such exacting specifications that only after G-d personally gave a demonstration did Moses fully grasp it.
Last week, we reviewed Sanhedrin 42a, where Kiddush Levanah is discussed. Rashi explains that this mitzvah is so great that it alone is sufficient to sustain us each month. We looked at the various parts of the prayer added over the years, including several phrases that we repeat three times, such as the greeting “Shalom aleichem.”
The Levush says that “Shalom aleichem” signifies that greeting another Jew is in harmony with greeting the Divine Presence; thus we symbolically turn from G-d to greet our fellow. The Lechem Yehudah explains that it refers to the harmony between the sun and the moon. They once shined equally until the moon protested that two kings cannot share one crown. Although Hashem then diminished the moon, it still dutifully performs its nighttime task. It is as if the moon is greeting the sun in a sign of harmony.
The Perisha explains that we repeat “Shalom Aleichem” three times because we previously cursed our enemies with “Tipol aleihem.” We therefore want to assure our friends that we do not wish this curse upon them; on the contrary, we seek their peace.
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In explaining why certain verses in Kiddush Levanah (and many other prayers) are repeated three times, we might turn to the following:
In Az Yashir, Bnei Yisrael sang, “Hashem yimloch le’olam va’ed – G-d will reign forever and ever” (Exodus 15:18). Onkelos, in his Aramaic translation/commentary, writes, “Hashem malchutei ka’im le’alam u’le’almei almaya – The reign of G-d is eternal, forever and ever.” Onkelos employs the word alam three times in his translation to express everlasting eternity.
The Avi Ezer (loc. cit.) writes that any time the words netzach, selah, and va’ed are mentioned, something without interruption is denoted. “Le’alam u’le’almei almaya” provides that meaning.
A mishnah on Sanhedrin 81b rules that a person who has been lashed twice, yet sins again, is force-fed barley bread (which results in death). The Gemara cites Rabban Shimon b. Gamliel who maintains that to deserve such a severe punishment, one has to have established a behavioral pattern of sin – i.e., one has to have already been found guilty of three separate offenses.
The Rambam (Hilchot Sanhedrin 18:5) writes similarly: “If he yet again, a third time, violated a karet prohibition and was warned, he is condemned to be fed barley bread until he expires.” Rambam stresses that he is given three warnings; only after the third unheeded violation does he receive capital punishment.
We also find the necessity of repeating something three times in regards to the nullification of vows (Yoreh De’ah 228:3). Beit din nullifies vows by pronouncing three times either “mutar lach – it is permissible to you,” “sharei lach” (whose translation is basically the same), or “machul lach – it is forgiven to you.” (The Shach, however, explains that beit din only says these words three times for emphasis; really, though, one time is sufficient from a strict halachic point of view.)
Yet another instance where repeating something three times is significant concerns asking someone for forgiveness. The Talmud (Yoma 85b) states that regarding “sins between man and his fellow man, Yom Kippur does not atone until he asks his fellow’s forgiveness.” The Gemara (87a) quotes R. Hisda, who maintains that a sinner must ask forgiveness before three groups of three people each. R. Yosi b. Hanina states that whoever asks forgiveness of his fellow man should not do so more than three times (if the latter remains unappeased).
The Mechaber (Orach Chayim 606:1) rules accordingly. After pleading with one’s fellow three times – and being rebuffed three times – the offender no longer bears any iniquity, and Yom Kippur will surely atone.
(To be continued)Rabbi Yaakov Klass
About the Author: Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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