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.
Summary of our response up to this point: 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.
Rashi 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 thus learn 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.
Rashi on Sanhedrin 42a explains that the mitzvah of Kiddush Levanah is so great that it alone is sufficient to sustain us each month. We looked at 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 G-d 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 want to assure our friends that we do not wish this curse upon them; on the contrary, we seek their peace.
Last week we discussed why we repeat “Shalom Aleichem” three times and looked at several other examples of triple repetitions. The point of all of them is to add significance and emphasis. For example, Exodus 15:18 states, “Hashem yimloch le’olam va’ed – G-d will reign forever and ever.” Onkelos translates this phrase as “Hashem malchutei ka’im le’alam u’le’almei almaya – The reign of G-d is eternal, forever and ever,” which expresses everlasting eternity, without interruption.
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There are other reasons for repeating “Shalom Aleichem” three times during Kiddush Levanah. Bnei Yissas’char (Ma’amarim 4 and 5, Kiddush Hachodesh) writes: “According to the holy words of the Arizal, we say ‘Shalom Aleichem’ three times after reciting birkat ha’levanah because the very first kitrug [denouncement, which is the diametric opposite of shalom (harmony)] was caused by the moon, who said (Chullin 60b): ‘It is impossible for two kings to wear one crown.’ The moon was then ordered to diminish itself in size.
“However, as a consolation, the Gemara states that G-d told the moon that just like it is sometimes referred to as the small luminary – ‘ha’maor hakatan’ – so too righteous men shall sometimes be called ‘small.’ Thus we find that our Patriarch Jacob is called katan (Amos 7:2, referring to the Jewish nation), we have Shmuel Hakatan (the Tanna Samuel), and David (I Samuel 17:14), who was the katan among his brothers.” Bnei Yissas’char states that these three instances serve as further reason for the triple repetition of “Shalom Aleichem.”
He continues: “Now our blessing for the moon is that its blemish be repaired, and it restored to its wholeness, so that the light of the moon [once again] matches the light of the sun, resulting in the original harmony [at the time of creation]. Thus, as the prophet Isaiah states (11:6), ‘Vegar ze’ev im keves ve’namer im gedi yirbatz – The wolf shall dwell with the sheep and the leopard with the kid.’ Therefore, at the blessing of the moon, we say to each other ‘Shalom Aleichem – Peace be unto you.’ ” This concludes the Arizal’s statement, as discussed by Bnei Yissas’char.
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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