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.
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.
Bnei Yissas’char, though, not completely satisfied with the above answer, asks again: Why do we specifically recite the verses three times? He answers as follows: “It is written (Psalms 119:165), ‘Shalom rav le’ohavei toratecha ve’ein lamo michshol – Manifold peace to the lovers of Your Torah, and they shall not encounter any stumbling blocks.’ This is in accord with what our sages (Gittin 46a) state: yamim (days) refers to two, whereas the term rabbim (many) refers to three. Therefore the use of ribbuy [lit. rav], the plural count, refers to three. The verse actually means that when shalom is recited many times – [at least] three – no stumbling block will be encountered.”
Therefore, at the monthly renewal of the moon, we say “Shalom Aleichem” three times to ensure that we don’t encounter any stumbling blocks during the new month.
Bnei Yissas’char also points out that Tanach calls the moon by three different names: yare’ach, levana, and sahar. This, too, serves as a reason to recite “Shalom Aleichem” three times – once for each of the moon’s names.
We find yet another explanation in Bnei Yissas’char (found in this discussion as well as in Ma’amar Kislev 13). He suggests that we say “Shalom Aleichem” three times for the three fundamental mitzvot: Kiddush Hachodesh, Shabbat, and Milah. (It was these three mitzvot whose observance the Syrian Greeks attempted to squash, and thus, all Torah observance – see Megillat Antiochus.)
Interestingly, we conclude Kiddush Levanah with the prayer of “Aleinu Leshabe’ach,” the same prayer that concludes Shacharit, Minchah, and Ma’ariv. Rabbi Yisrael Chaim Friedman of Rachov (Likutei Mahariach, order of Rosh Chodesh) explains that we do so because it is well known that Joshua composed this prayer of thanks upon conquering Jericho, and our Sages (in Bava Batra 75a) compare Moses and Joshua to the sun and moon, respectively. The face of Moses – the teacher – is compared to the sun, and the face of Joshua, – his student and thus his reflection – is compared to the moon.
Rabbi Friedman also offers another explanation. Since we “danced” before the moon during Kiddush Levanah, we may have accidentally given the impression that we were – heaven forbid! – praying to the moon. We therefore conclude with “Aleinu Leshabe’ach” which clearly indicates, without leaving any doubt, that our entire prayer was to “Adon Ha’kol – the Master of all [creation].”
With the Likutei Mahariach’s explanation, we can now also understand why we conclude each of our three daily prayers with Aleinu. We want to confirm that each and every word that we prayed from the outset of that prayer was directed only to G-d.
In concluding, I would like to note that the Aleinu prayer itself contains a triple repetition: “shelo asanu k’go’yei ha’aratzot – that He has not made us like the nations of the earth,” “shelo asanu k’mishpechot ha’adamah – that He has not made us like families of the earth,” and “shelo sam chelkeinu kahem ve’goralenu k’chal hamonam – that He has not made our portion like theirs, nor our lot like their multitudes.” All three verses are basically making the same statement: that G-d has chosen us and given us a standing unique among all the nations, from our very beginning and for all eternity.
What a beautiful prayer with which to conclude a prayer that beckons our souls to cleave to Hashem, repeatedly, every single month, as we await our final deliverance with great anticipation, speedily in our days!
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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