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Question: Why do we say Shalom Aleichem at Kiddush Levana, when we bless the new moon, and why do we do so three times? Is it because we have not seen a new moon for a whole month? Can you explain a little more about this mitzvah?

Ira Warshansky
Philadelphia, PA

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Synopsis: Last week we discussed the biblical source of the mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh, the first commandment given to the Jewish people as a nation. The correct timing of the months is important because of the necessity to keep the festivals in their proper seasons. To ensure an accurate understanding of the beginning of the month, G-d Himself showed Moses an example of the new moon. Finally, we sought more understanding as to why the verses to be recited when we bless the new moon – Kiddush Levana – are recited three times

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Answer: We find several references in the Gemara and Tanach to a triple repetition of terms.

In the Washkansky Song at the Sea in parashat Beshalach (Exodus 15:18), it states, “Hashem yimloch le’olam va’ed – G-d will reign forever and ever.” Onkelos, in his Aramaic commentary-augmented translation, states, “Hashem malchutei ka’im le’alam u’le’almei almaya,” which is translated, asThe reign of G-d is eternal, forever and ever.” We thus find in his translation a threefold repetition of the word alam to express everlasting eternity.

Similarly, in the commentary Avi Ezer (loc. cit.) a similar triple repetition occurs when he states that any time the words netzach, selah, and va’ed are mentioned, it notes something that is without interruption – for example: “Le’alam u’lalmei almaya.

Also, the Gemara (Sanhedrin 81b) cites R. Shimon b. Gamaliel whose view is inconsistent with the Mishnah (ibid) that says one who had been lashed twice and sinned again is given the severe punishment of a forced diet of barley bread [resulting in death]. R, Shimon b. Gamaliel rules the sinning behavior is only established as a pattern by three separate offenses. Rambam (Hilchot Sanhedrin 18:5) underscores the point, stating, “If yet again a third time he violated a karet prohibition and was warned, he is condemned to be fed barley bread until he expires.” Thus, only after the third unheeded violation is capital punishment applicable.

Another instance (Yoreh De’ah 228:3) of repeating something thrice is seen in the nullification of vows: The Beit Din nullifies vows by pronouncing three times either “mutar lach” [it is permissible to you]; “sharei lach” [a similar meaning] or “machul lach” [it is forgiven to you]. The Shach (ad. loc.) explains that these three terms are to emphasize the point because as a matter of strict halacha, one term would suffice.

The Talmud (Yoma 85b, Mishna) states “[regarding] sins between man and his fellow. Yom Hakippurim does not atone until he seeks his fellow’s forgiveness.” It then quotes R. Chisda, who requires the sinner to ask forgiveness before three groups of three people each. R. Yosi b. Chanina states whoever asks forgiveness of his fellow should not do so more than three times [if the latter remains unappeased]. The Mechaber (Orach Chayyim 606:1) rules accordingly.

There are other reasons for repeating “Shalom Aleichem” three times during Kiddush Levana. Bnei Yissas’char (Ma’amarim 4 and 5, Kiddush HaChodesh) states:

According to the holy words of the Arizal, we say Shalom Aleichem three times after reciting the Birkat Ha’levana because the very first kitrug [denouncement that is the opposite of shalom] was caused by the moon, which said (Chullin 60b): “It is impossible for two kings to wear one crown.” The moon was then ordered to diminish itself in size. As a consolation, the Gemara states that G-d told the moon that righteous men shall be named in reference to the moon, the small luminary [hama’or hakatan]. Thus, we find that our Patriarch Jacob is called katan (Amos 7:2, referring to the Jewish nation); we also have Shmuel HaKatan [the tanna Shmuel]. We also find that David (I Samuel 17:14) was the katan amongst his brothers. These also constitute a total of three.

Now our blessing for the moon is that the blemish [in its light] should be repaired so that be restored to its wholeness, and thus the light of the moon will be like the light of the sun, resulting in a restoration of harmony. Thus, as the prophet Isaiah states (11:6), “The wolf shall dwell with the sheep and leopard will lie down with the kid…” Therefore at the blessing of the moon, we say to each other “Shalom Aleichem – peace unto you.”

Bnei Yissas’char then asks: “Why do we specifically recite verses three times? It is written (Psalms 119:165) “Manifold peace to the lovers of Your Torah; they shall not encounter any stumbling blocks.” This is in accord with what our Sages (Gittin 46a) state: yamim‘ [days] refers to two, whereas rabbim [many] refers to three. Therefore ribbuy, the plural count, refers to three. The verse 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 so that there be no stumbling block for us during the new month,

With numerous reasons for repeating these special phrases three times as we recite Kiddush Levana we do so every month as we anxiously await our final deliverance, speedily in our days.

To be continued.

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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.