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: Last week we looked at the blessing that serves as the core of Kiddush Levanah: “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, based on the Mechilta (Shemot Rabbah), 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.
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The Talmud (Sanhedrin 42a) teaches us another mitzvah associated with the new moon: Kiddush Levanah. The Gemara quotes R. Acha ben Chanina who said in the name of R. Asi in the name R. Yochanan: “He who blesses the new moon in its due time welcomes, as it were, the Holy Presence, for it states in our verse (Exodus 12:1), ‘This month is to be for you’ and it says in yet another verse (Exodus 15:2), ‘This is my G-d, I will glorify Him.’”
It was taught in the school of R. Yishmael that if Israel only merited greeting the Presence of their Father in Heaven once a month, that would be sufficient. Rashi explains that even if this had been our only mitzvah, it would be sufficient to sustain us. Abaye states that we must recite Kiddush Levanah while standing because of its great worth,
The Gemara also quotes R. Yehuda, who would bless the new moon with the text that we recite today, as quoted both by the Rambam (Hilchot Berachot 10:16) and the Tur and Mechaber (Orach Chayim 426, Hilchot Rosh Chodesh). The Tur, Mechaber, and Rema add extra verses quoted from Tractate Soferim (20:2), which also quotes the Gemara in Sanhedrin: “Siman tov…” three times, “Baruch yotzrech…” three times while rising on our toes, “Keshem she’ani ro’ked…” three times, “Tipol aleihem…” (“May Your fear and dread fall upon them…”) stepping three times forward and three times backward, and “Shalom aleichem” three times.
The Levush (ad loc.) explains that “Shalom aleichem” signifies that greeting another Jew is in harmony (and on par) with greeting the Divine Presence (“Shalom” also being one of Hashem’s names). Since we know that “Greater is the welcoming of guests than receiving the Divine Presence” (Shabbos 127a), we symbolically turn from the Divine Presence to greet our fellow.
The Lechem Yehudah (ad loc.), on the other hand, maintains that “Shalom aleichem” in this context refers to the harmony between the sun and the moon. Originally, the moon and sun shined equally (Genesis 1:16). However, subsequent to the moon’s protest “that two kings cannot share one crown,” Hashem shrunk the moon. Even so, the moon dutifully performs its nighttime task in a sign of harmony. Thus, it is as if the moon is greeting the sun “Shalom aleichem.”
Our present text includes some variations of additional prayers that we have added over time.
As to why we recite various pesukim three times, the Perisha (O.C. 426) explains that we thrice say “Shalom alechah” (actually we say “Shalom aleichem”) because we previously cursed our enemies with the verse “Tipol aleihem.” By saying “Shalom aleichem” to our friends, we assure them that we do not wish this curse upon them; on the contrary, we seek their peace (“shalom”).
One may find it rather odd that the Perisha does not explain why the other verses in Kiddush Levanah are said three times, including “Tippol aleihem.”
(To be continued)
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 email@example.com.
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