Six months ago I wrote about Tu B’Av, a Yom Tov that brings hope after the terrible events of Tisha B’Av. There is something about the fifteenth day of the Jewish month that relates to redemption. The first day of Pesach and the first day of Sukkos, as well as Tu B’Shevat and Shushan Purim, all occur on the fifteenth of the month.
As we approach Tu B’Shevat, an appropriate question would be: Why is the fifteenth so special that momentous days of redemption consistently fall upon that day? What sets it apart from all the other days of the month?
The moon gives a hint.
The essence of what I wrote six months ago (“Full Moon,” front page essay, July 31, 2015) is also relevant to Tu B’Shevat. The moon never remains the same. Each night it assumes a different shape. At the end of the month it disappears completely. Then, on Rosh Chodesh, a crescent-shaped sliver glows in the sky. The moon has returned. And we rejoice at its reappearance.
In fact, Rosh Chodesh celebrates the moon’s renewal. Then it grows until it becomes full on the fifteenth of the month, a glowing ball of light in the night sky.
Amazingly, the day of the full moon is the one day of the month on which the moon rises at precisely sunset and sets at precisely sunrise. This indicates that the day of the full moon is a day when both luminaries exist in harmony; each one exits in order for the other to have a grand solo entrance. They give kavod to each other on the day of the full moon.
Both Pesach and Sukkos begin on the fifteenth. As we sit at the Pesach Seder, a full moon watches over the house. As we sit in the sukkah on the first night of Sukkos, a full moon is visible through the sechach.
Why all this glory on the fifteenth? The sun and the moon are giving kavod to each other. Is this not the secret of Am Yisrael’s simcha on Pesach and Sukkos? All of our rejoicing is based on the kavod we give to each other as one united mishpachah. Did we not stand at Har Sinai “k’ish echad b’lev echad” – “like one man with one heart” (Rashi on Shemos 19:2)?
We are in exile because of sinas chinam; we will be saved by ahavas chinam. Am Yisrael will be redeemed in the merit of our achdus, and we know this from the sun and the moon on the fifteenth day of the month, the day the moon is full.
This seems to be an important insight into the power of the fifteenth day, when honor is extended to each other by the sun and the moon, but particularly by the moon, because the sun does not change but the moon does.
We learn from Chazal that the moon was diminished at the beginning of history when it said to Hashem that there cannot be “two kings utilizing the same crown” (Chulin 60b). Hashem then diminished the moon. Presumably, before that time its appearance was constant, like the sun’s. But at that time it began its cycle of waxing and waning, in which it reappears on Rosh Chodesh, grows full at the fifteenth day, and then diminishes each succeeding night until it disappears at the end of the month.
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The moon’s waxing and waning is said to resemble the rise and fall of Am Yisrael’s fortunes during galus. Presumably, when galus ends the moon will no longer vary in appearance. We say during Kiddush Levanah, “May it be Your will, Hashem…to fill the flaw in the moon that there be no diminution in it. May the light of the moon be like the light of the sun…as it was before it was diminished…and may there be fulfilled upon us the verse that is written: ‘They shall seek Hashem…and David, their King, Amen. ’ ”